I am Laila Fadli Dokkali, I was born in Spain as a daughter of African immigrants, where I also grew up and lived, until moving to the UK four years ago.
From a very young age, my interest in cars, machinery, trains, aircraft and puzzles, translated into having a very curious mind throughout my childhood, wanting to understand how things worked and how I could improve them.
Following that path of curiosity, I was introduced to Formula 1 by my uncle, which at such a young age completely fascinated me and inspired me to draw my own racing cars and try to build them in Legos. My goal was to one day be part of one of those teams and create the new generation of racing cars.
To get there, I focused my studies on STEM subjects, achieving a Spanish Baccalaureate in Science, which opened the door to higher education. To achieve my goals, with the unconditional support of my family and savings, I was able to move to the UK to study BEng Aerospace Engineering at Brunel University, graduating in July 2023 with a First Class degree with Honours.
My inspirations growing up
Sadly during my childhood, there weren’t many role models in STEM, especially aviation and motorsports, that looked like me or had a similar background to me. As a child that is something that sticks with you, representation is key at such a young age – to be able to dream about being in a specific role or position and set it as your goal. It was very difficult to imagine myself being where I am, let alone where I wanted to be as a child, when everything I saw on TV and in books was white men, and being completely neglected by teachers I was the ‘different’ one, the neuro-divergent daughter of immigrants.
My special needs were never addressed by the education system, nor was the racial abuse. However, at home, I was blessed by two incredible parents, who prioritised my education and happiness over everything, they became my main teachers and inspiration in life.
My mum was the first woman in engineering and a professional welder, that I encountered in my life, her passion, skills and strength to gain a position in a man’s world, was something that I always aspired to.
My dad, a man of philosophy and history, always made sure to make me proud of where I came from, and the importance of not forgetting it; he taught me the power of knowledge, breaking social norms and using philosophy as a way of seeing the world. Their role in my life is priceless and has motivated me to get to where I am and to continue to grow.
Another key character that inspired me and continues to, is Lewis Hamilton. I still remember how excited I was on his first appearance in Formula 1, to finally have representation and someone who broke the socio-economic barriers to become the first black man in the sport and the best driver in history.
The pride and happiness, of being represented in the sector, fuelled me to keep on working and being my best self to make myself a place in the motorsport industry.
Why I chose Cranfield
In the final year of my undergraduate degree, it was clear to me that I wanted to continue with my education to specialise further, become a Chartered Engineer and in this way, be prepared to get a job in the industry.
I knew of Cranfield before moving to the UK, its academic excellence and solid reputation in the aerospace industry; I knew very clearly that when the time came, Cranfield was the postgraduate university I wanted to attend.
Looking into the courses that Cranfield offers, I found the MSc Aerospace Vehicle Design course, which had a completely different learning approach, as well as a structural option, making it the ideal course according to the skills and passion that I gained during my undergraduate course.
However, funding was already difficult for the undergraduate degree, and another year of education would have been very difficult to fund, even with the support of my parents. I remember getting the acceptance letter from Cranfield and not being able to be fully excited because of the economic barrier.
Applying for the MSc Motorsport Scholarship Programme
I started to look into different funding options, and I remember hearing about the MSc Motorsport Scholarship a few months before, but I was not sure if the course would be eligible for it. However, the Scholarship Programme Team encouraged me to still apply, just a few days before the deadline.
During the application process I tried being sceptical, but a part of me really wanted to get this life-changing opportunity; the day I received the email that I was selected as one of the five awardees I could not help myself to cry, and so did my parents.
It is not just a scholarship, it is the first time, after everything that I went through during my life, that someone believed in me and my potential, it was the first time I was given the opportunity to solely focus on my education and showing my best potential without having to worry about making it to the end of the month. Being one of the five awardees is one of the best things that has happened to me and a life changing opportunity.
On Thursday 12 October, we were invited to the launching event of the MSc Motorsport Scholarship at the Silverstone Museum. We received the invite around a month prior and I was extremely excited to finally get to meet the other four awardees and get officially started with this experience.
Meeting the other awardees was amazing; being around like-minded people, who come from a similar background as you and have similar goals and sharing your thoughts and experiences was priceless. I felt part of a powerful group that one day will lead the engineering field in motorsports.
We also had the opportunity to meet some of the Mercedes Formula 1 Team graduates, which provided us with a good insight into the application process and how working for an F1 team really is. The museum allowed us to explore their different facilities, as well as try their F1 simulators, which were incredibly realistic and a lot of fun. The Mission 44 team was also there during the day and took some incredible pictures and videos of us. They were cheerful and incredible to work with, especially being the first time that the five of us were in front of cameras, we were quite nervous.
My experience at Cranfield so far
Since I have been at Cranfield, I have been mostly focused on my course, attending lectures, and working on an exciting Group Design Project, which will be my main focus during the next six months.
This learning approach of applying the knowledge acquired during lectures to a real-life group project is an enjoyable experience and is making me understand the content at a higher level as well as getting familiar with working with industry.
I also have been working with different schools like IASTI2030 to help promote diversity and inclusion in the aerospace sector and engineering field, as well as helping to inspire the future STEM generation regardless of their background.
I am excited to see where this year in Cranfield is going to take me and what opportunities it might bring. I am looking forward to all the knowledge that this institution can provide me with and all the progress we can make in terms of diversity and inclusion.
My future aspirations
I hope to become part of an incredible team of engineers and together make the world a better place, technologically, and socially. I hope to get a strong career in motorsports and/or aerospace, making the field safer, more sustainable, and more diverse and inclusive; for me being an engineer goes beyond the technological advances.
I hope that one day my work and the work of engineers from the same background as me, help to inspire the future generation of lead engineers, providing every child with role models and the possibility to dream of being whoever they want to be.
| The MSc Motorsport Scholarship Programme was launched in June 2022 with inaugural funding from Sir Lewis Hamilton HonFREng and Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team, now continued through the work of Mission 44. The scholarships provide financial and career support to individuals completing their masters in motorsport or a related degree.
Applications can be made via the Academy’s website. Closing date is Friday 8 March 2024 at 4pm.