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Aerospace and Nuclear Engineering

  1. Nov 4, 2013 #1
    I have twin sons who are interested in Aerospace and Nuclear Engineering. I want them to follow their interests, but I am concerned they will not be able to find jobs. Would majoring in a different branch on engineering, such as mechanical, chemical, or with a minor in aerospace or nuclear be a better option? Or would majoring in Aerospace with a minor in mechanical be better. Is a minor even useful? They both are considering minoring in German (they have taken 5 years of German in high school and like it), which I think would be useful, but I doubt if they could take more than one minor. They will have to take out loans to attend the school with have aerospace and nuclear; they qualify for good scholarships at other schools which don't offer those but have chemical, etc. They will have to at least decide which school to attend in the next 6 months. One other thing, one of the schools offers a "certificate" in nuclear engineering...what possible good having that be? I don't see how that would be very beneficial. Lastly, I hear "power" engineering is an up and coming area....seems like it is a concentration of electrical engineer. Any thoughts about that?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 4, 2013 #2


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    Most of what "aerospace" or "nuclear" engineers actually do, day to day, is mechanical, electrical, or control systems engineering, or even civil engineering, for nuclear (and there are a few chemists as well), applied to that specific application. Your sons might have vague ideas about wanting to "design airplanes" or whatever, but the reality is usually that teams of hundreds or thousands of people do that, not individuals, unless their ambition is to be another Bert Rutan or Elon Musk (in which case they had better have a backup plan!)

    There's no problem working in either industry with one of the "big" engineering disciplines like ME or EE.

    "Learning" doesn't stop when they get their degree certificate. You keep doing that for the rest of your working life, and you pick up the detailed specifics of whatever small part of the field you are actually working at any given time in as you go along, in my experience. You certainly won't learn everything you need to know about "how to design an airplane" in first degree, or in grad school.

    As for a minor in German - well, that would be useful if they plan to do something that involves reading, writing, or speaking German. But if they want to work for a German aerospace company, they probably don't need it. The international language of aerospace is English. (I can't speak for the nuclear industry on that point). Sure, you have a better social life if you can speak a bit of the local language, but you don't need a minor in it to do that.
  4. Nov 4, 2013 #3
    I'm a nuclear engineering student and a good bit of the courses are mechanical engineering courses. In fact I had to take all of the core mechanical engineering courses and even more math and physics than the mechanical engineering students. The same will be the case for aerospace engineering. If you compare the curriculums to a mechanical engineering degree, you'll see that they all have that mechanical engineering core in common. My best advice would be to advise them to major in mechanical engineering and then take the minors in aerospace and nuclear engineering, that is essentially what my curriculum looks like. This also future proofs them, because mechanical engineering is a much more flexible degree. It's easily the broadest engineering degree and probably one of the most flexible stem degrees there is
  5. Nov 5, 2013 #4
    Let me start by saying I'm a nuclear engineering graduate student.

    The reality of the situation is that engineers of all disciplines are in demand, and engineering jobs pay well. If your sons take college seriously, and do well in their classes, then they will be able to get an well paying job regardless of their engineering discipline. This is true for both nuclear and aerospace engineering. If you don't believe me, ask colleges for statistics on the employment rate of their students by degree. They have this data, and I know typically nuclear does very well, often better than mechanical and civil.

    I encourage you to encourage your sons to major in the field they want to study. Here is why:

    1) Engineering is hard. Really hard. Not just academically but also socially. As engineering students your sons will have a lot more homework than their non-engineering friends. There will be many late nights where your sons are working on their homework while their friends are out playing. If you sons enjoy what they are doing, then it will be much easier to overcome these hardships. I know this sounds silly and little trivial, but its not.

    2) Most engineering students take the same basic core classes their first 2-3 semesters. So the initial choice of discipline isn't too important, and early on it is easy to switch between disciplines.

    3) Many universities offer survey courses and/or research opportunities to incoming students to help them decide if their chosen discipline is right for them. The opportunities have limited spots, with priority going to students who have expressed interested in a particular discipline.

    4) While the core concepts are the same across discipline, the applications vary a lot. Each department will tailor their courses to emphases the applications relevant to their field. For instance a fluid course in nuclear engineering my place special emphasis on two phase flow, while a similar course in aeronautical engineering will place a greater emphasis on lift and drag. This emphasis better prepare your sons for a job in their chosen profession, and when it comes time to get a job, this emphasis will give your sons an advantage over those who took the generic engineering route.

    5) Finally, getting a good job is made easier by have a good network. Departments know this, and use this to help get their students get jobs. Professors have friends and former students in the industry. Many professional organizations have student chapters which bring in industrial representatives to give talks and interviews. If your sons major in nuclear and aeronautical engineering they will have direct access to networks for these fields.
  6. Nov 5, 2013 #5
    You make a lot of good points but for my nuclear engineering undergrad program heat transfer and fluid dynamics covered the same material as the mechanical engineering students and in fact its the same course. Most schools do it that way. That other stuff like what fluid dynamics and heat transfer can do for us as nuclear engineers is covered in reactor engineering which the gray transfer and fluid dynamics courses are perquisites. Trust me they will be taking a lot of courses with the mechanical engineering students and then they will get the specialized courses that apply the fundamentals from the mechanical engineering courses to their specific field
  7. Nov 5, 2013 #6
    Plenty of good advice above. As to the German -- I also took German through high school but dropped it in college since at that time, a second language wasn't required. That's one of my few regrets, I wish I had kept studying German. Now (35 years later) I can recall a few words, and I can read it if I have a dictionary with me, but I can't speak it and I can't really follow a conversation. I think after 4 years in HS, you're just beginning to get it, and if you keep at it for just a little longer it would stick with you. Not that it's important in my work - it isn't. But just as a matter of self-fulfillment. There's more to being educated than heat transfer coefficients and Navier-Stokes equations.
  8. Nov 7, 2013 #7


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    the above advice is good.
    my background: Im an electrical engineer working for an aerospace company doing control systems design.

    the aerospace industry goes on boom and bust cycles. what that means is there is a lot of hirings, and a lot of layoffs. that being said most kids out of college (at least from my college) had no trouble finding jobs.

    the aerospace engineering degree is a very specific degree. it is a specific role that can, at times, not be as strongly suited for other jobs as a mechanical or electrical degree would be.

    as far as airplanes go, mechanical engineering design the air-frame and engines. they tell the electrical engineers what the requirements for the control systems are. the electrical engineers use those requirements to create the complex control systems. Aerospace engineers usually fill the role of mechanical. they come out of school knowing more about aerospace than their mechanical counterparts, but they have less job choices. I would recommend only going down the aerospace road if they are dead set on aerospace. a mechanical degree with aerospace would be better in my opinion.

    that being said, form your own opinion. dont take anyone elses advice 100%
  9. Nov 8, 2013 #8
    I have friends who work in the nuclear industry. Most of them are engineers. Most of them are not nuclear engineers. If you are good, you have the same career opportunities regardless of your engineering specialization. One of the major advancement paths at many power plants is to become a senior reactor operator, which is not in engineering but in operations. Beyond that, you would move into management.

    The big difference the engineering specialization makes is what you do *before* that stage. The nuclear engineers are working as reactor engineers, or in the fuels group, etc. The mechanical engineers are working on pumps, diesel generators, and piping systems. The electrical engineers are working on the electrical systems. The civil engineers are working on structural and seismic topics. If you decide (or are unable) to go the senior reactor operator route and you stay in engineering, I would imagine your choice of engineering would have a bigger impact on your day to day work. However, they are all paid very well.

    Note, one of the guys is actually a aerospace engineer too. He works in one of the more nuclear related groups, but he does have a Ph.D.

    I would think if your sons work hard and major in any engineering field, they will be ok with respect to jobs. I see quite a lot of job postings that just want an engineering degree in any field.
  10. Nov 8, 2013 #9
    Just a point. A lot of schools offer dual degrees for Aero/Mech. This is a great option for those students who want to pursue a career in Aero but would also like to be well rounded and able to look for jobs that demand a mechanical background. Most schools that offer this, do so in the same time frame as a single degree, as long as you're willing to take a few extra hours of courses per semester.
  11. Apr 21, 2014 #10
    New dilemma: Both sons were offered a full-tuition scholarship at UAH and University of Alabama. Son 2 is going to accept at UAH and wants to do a double major in Aerospace and Mechanical ( he has 32 AP credits, so it should be doable). Son 1 really wants to major in nuclear engineering, which would require him turning down the scholarship and going to a different school, which will cost much $$. I am encouraging him to take the scholarship and major in mechanical engineering ( if he does this he will either minor or double major in Physics, he also has about 30 AP credits). I encourage him to look at the online minor in nuclear engineering at Kansas state which you can take if you are in school at any college in an engineering discpline. I told him if he does this , he can try to get a job at a nuclear plant and seek a graduate degree in nuclear, his employer may help him pay for. Is this all too complicated, should I just tell him to go for the nuclear degree and worry about paying for it later?? I am worried if he declines the scholarship then decides he want to change his major, he is stuck. He has to decide by May 1st and we are all stressed out!
  12. Apr 21, 2014 #11
    P.S. We are from Pennsylvania, so going off to Alabama is a big decision, but my one son he is going no matter what his twin brother decides.
  13. Apr 21, 2014 #12
    I'm a nuclear engineering major. He should be fine with a major in mechanical engineering. The vast majority of the curriculum is mechanical engineering. Statics, strength of materials, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, heat transfer, engineering materials, AutoCad, engineering problem solving and mechanics of materials lab

    There's also the general education and math coursework.

    Nuclear engineering courses:

    1. Nuclear energy
    2. Fundamentals of nuclear engineering

    3.ionizing radiation
    4.Radioisotope lab
    5.reactor engineering (thermal hydraulics)
    6.reactor theory
    7.special topics (mncp)
    8.reactor design (capstone)
    9.environment and economic analysis 10.reactor lab
    11.approved nuclear engineering elective

    So as you can see a lot of it is mechanical engineering and physics.

    Reactor engineering is thermal hydraulics which is about heat removal from nuclear reactors which is heat transfer, fluid dynamics and thermodynamics which are all mechanical engineering courses. All engineers take an economic course, all engineers will take physics 1-2, although nuclear engineers also take modern physics (relativity and nuclear physics). All engineers take calculus 1-3 and differential equations. Nuclear engineers here also take advanced engineering mathematics (partial differential equations,Fourier series,etc). All engineers take chemistry 1-2. All engineers will take some sort of problem solving course where they use tools like Matlab, mathematica and maple to solve engineering problems, the course at my school focused on nuclear engineering and mechanical engineering problems. So as you can see a mechanical engineer with a minor in physics should do just fine, if he is smart which obviously he is then taking the full ride would be the best choice and then seek a graduate degree in nuclear engineering. Most of the engineers at the nuclear power plants are mechanical and electrical engineers. After all a reactor is a big mechanical object, a large water heater that produces steam to generate electricity. He should be able to find a job in the nuclear industry if he goes the mechanical engineering and physics minor route.

    Some Physics minor courses that would be good

    1. Nuclear physics 1
    2. Nuclear physics 2
    3. Modern physics
  14. Apr 21, 2014 #13
    Your son who wants to be a nuclear engineer has a hard decision. He was offered a lot of money, but its not the school/program that he wanted. Many adults struggle with similar decisions. (People often have to chose between their dream job and a better paying job). There's no right answer, and there's no wrong answer. However, I stress that this is your son's decisions, and he needs to be the on to make it. Help as much as you can, but trust him to make the right decision.

    That being said, my opinion is that if you want to be a nuclear engineer then you want to study nuclear engineering. Yes, you can get by with other degrees, but you will be at a disadvantage. I have faith that your son will be able to overcome those disadvantages. It sounds like he has a good head on his shoulders. Nevertheless, I'd encourage him to take the path the best prepares him for success.

    I will also mention that the American Nuclear Society has a number of scholarships for nuclear engineering students. Many of the deadlines have passed for this year, but he'll still be eligible in the future. Nuclear engineering is a small field, and many people who apply for a scholarship receive one.


    There are also a number of fellowships and work study programs designed to help offset the cost of tuition. Many of these programs include paid summer jobs in the industry. If you son studies nuclear engineering, where would he go? Contact that schools NE department and ask about available options.
  15. Apr 21, 2014 #14
    Yes, I did tell him the decision is his to make. I am hoping that if he does choose to pursue a ne degree, he will have the opportunity to co-op and earn some experience and funds that way.
    Thanks for the input, it is much appreciated!
  16. Apr 21, 2014 #15

    D H

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    You worry too much, twinmom. You would have a case if one of your twins wanted to be a rockstar and asked you to pony up several thousand for a Les Paul guitar, while the other wanted to major in English lit and asked you to pony up a hundred thousand for a scholarship-free college education.

    You should instead be proud and relieved. When they graduate there's a good chance that you will start seeing some weird green pieces of paper appearing in your wallet.

    Hopefully the economy won't be so bad for college grads in the four years it takes your twins to get through school. You could be in *my* place. Our youngest graduated from college with an EE degree three years ago. He couldn't find a job. Nobody was hiring fresh outs at that time. One day he came home and said "I have a job!" He had joined the Army, Explosive Ordinance Disposal. When someone yells "bomb!" most people run away. Those in EOD don't. They run towards the bomb.
  17. Apr 21, 2014 #16
    Let me second what D H wrote. ANY engineering degree is a relatively safe bet.

    Ultimately, this is a decision for your sons to make. You can choose to support it or not. In the scheme of things I've seen kids study (including brothers, sisters, cousins, and many nieces and nephews), this is one of the best situations you could hope for. I write this as an Electrical Engineer by education who decided to pursue Control Systems Engineering. I also write this as an uncle of many and as a parent of three, including two teens.

    If they complete this education, chances are they'll do just fine. In any case, when they leave the nest, they're on their own. You have to let them do that. Don't worry, they won't forget you.

    By the way, attending the same school or a different school isn't always relevant. My brothers attended the same school as undergraduates, studying computer science and mechanical engineering respectively. They rarely made the effort to see each other. It is important at some point in one's life to stand on your own two feet to become your own person, so that you can gain perspective on who your family is. That's often regarded as "the college experience", though it has less to do with college and more to do with personal development that just happens to take place because one is not living at home any more.

    Wish them good luck and the fortitude to keep at it.
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