1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Aerospace or Chemical Eng. Career Help

  1. Mar 10, 2012 #1

    I am 25 years old and am returning to school a few years after I received a business degree and working in the upper-management industry. After much debate, I have decided to go back to school and get an engineering degree. I have quite a bit of background in STEM fields from my early decisions to be a pre-med. I switched to business because at the time I couldn't fathom going to school longer than the original 4 years. After years of mindless droning in the business field, I figured I should do something I'm interested in since I am going to be doing it for the rest of my life.
    To my original question, I am trying to determine which field, aerospace or chemical, will be best in terms of job security, job opportunities, salary, benefits, etc? I'm pretty aware of the differences in the 2 fields. My interest in the two fields are very high. In terms of chemical, I absolutely love Chem and O-Chem and thoroughly enjoy lab. In terms of Aerospace, I have a child-like obsession over airplanes, astronomy, and NASA. I'm confident I would be happy with either field, but I have a family to take care of and student debt to pay off and the topics the question poses are of concern.
    Any help would be much appreciated. Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 12, 2012 #2
  4. Mar 14, 2012 #3
    Hi addicol,

    Can't really say much for aerospace (other than wanting to pursue it myself - still want to get my pilots license). I chose ChemE. Just a fair warning, ChemE is not that much chemistry. It is used, but not at the scale chemists use it. The main focus is on scaling up smaller processes and distillation (refinery) operations.

    ChemE will likely offer you more flexibility, but both degrees, given enough time (upper-management) would probably earn about the same. Depends on what you want to do.
  5. Mar 14, 2012 #4
    Thank you for the response. I appreciate the insight into the ChemE major. You mentioned that you think ChemE will likely offer more flexibility, what do you mean by this?

    Thanks again.
  6. Mar 14, 2012 #5
    Well, the main industry ChemEs go into is obviously the oil and refinery industry. However, chemical plants, production plants all need ChemEs. A common option (if you want to go the bio route) are drug manufacturers (most drugs are done in batch reactors - a ChemE process). I'm personally going to go the alternative energy route (likely fuel cells), but I've still got a year of school left to go (I'm a 2nd semester junior). There are a lot of options for career paths

    Whereas, I believe aerospace is limited to careers by companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. And of course NASA.
  7. Mar 14, 2012 #6
    I've noticed my University offers ChemE - Standard, ChemE - Biomedical, and ChemE - Biotechnology.
    The only thing that necessarily deterred me from saying ChemE is 100% the way to go is the bls.gov statistics saying "Overall employment in the chemical manufacturing industry is expected to continue to decline, although chemical companies will continue to employ chemical engineers to research and develop new chemicals and more efficient processes to increase output of existing chemicals." Whereas, for Aerospace it says "Aerospace engineers are expected to have 10 percent growth in employment over the projections decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations. New technologies and new designs for commercial and military aircraft and spacecraft produced during the next decade should spur demand for aerospace engineers. The employment outlook for aerospace engineers appears favorable." I know these statistics are typically speculation and not accurate all of the time. I just have a large hesitation of being in the same shoes I am currently in where I have a degree but it essentially gets me a job that is not desired or needed.

  8. Mar 14, 2012 #7


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Does your school offer a four year degree in Aerospace? It's typically treated as a subset of Mechanical Engineering, with many schools only offering a BSME with emphasis on fluids and such. If you're looking for a door opener then there's no broader offering than straight Mechanical Engineering. You can get into any industry you want, albeit almost any engineering degree carries weight beyond it's specificity.

    I myself have experience in the chemical industry, am going back for a BSME, and going to try to specialize in fluids and rotating equipment. I enjoy working in the chemical industry and will probably go back, but at this point it's not certain. Many of the jobs filled by chemical engineers that I worked with were also open to MEs, along with a huge need for mechanical only positions.

    Personally I'd consider both of your choices to be somewhat limiting. I read the link you gave, but living in the Houston area which hosts major amounts of jobs for both industries, I'd be more wary of the Aerospace degree than the chemical. If I was to do Aerospace, it would be to get a BSME and then MS in Aerospace, which is the main route I am considering.
  9. Mar 14, 2012 #8


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    If you like chemistry and related courses, Chem E is a pretty good field. Manufacturing plants all over the country need Chem Es, and that gives you some flexibility to live about anywhere you want. There are pulp and paper mills all over the East and the deep South and out on the West coast, so if you gain some skills in that specialty, you'll be employable even if your first employer succumbs to a weak market or foreign competition. There are also plants (often in the south) that process petroleum products, make plastics, etc. You could even work in Iowa in an ethanol plant, though I wouldn't advise that. Ethanol is a boondoggle and someday we may get a few politicians honest enough to admit it, and kill funding.
  10. Mar 14, 2012 #9
    Thanks for the information. I have heard your ME theory before about how ME's get jobs more readily than AE's and CE's. My school does offer a ME route and an AE route. I'm going to sit down with the advisor for these majors next week and pose some questions to him, but from my outside view it would seem that an AE is an advanced and more specializes version of an ME and if you were to put a job posting out for an ME, wouldn't you be inclined to hire an AE since he or she is more specialized? Again, this is an outside view and I could be completely off base.
  11. Mar 14, 2012 #10
    Thanks for the response. Not sure of your background, but if you are a CE, do you have any experience in job demand and salary opportunities in these types of fields?
  12. Mar 14, 2012 #11


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I was a process chemist in the world's newest pulp mill, then moved on to papermaking. After a short detour in programming, I spent years consulting with pulp and paper mills, especially in regard to the safe operation of Kraft recovery boilers. I have done consultation/troubleshooting work in mills all through New England, New York and farther south in MD, KY, AL, GA, MI, TX, FL... It's hard to believe that there was a lucrative demand for my services, but there are some things that are not covered well in many engineering schools.

    If you are going to move into pulp and paper, you'll likely make less money (initially) than the senior papermakers at your mill. However, with relevant business experience, your engineering degree could open up doors to management. Good luck, whatever you choose.
  13. Mar 14, 2012 #12
    I believe the real key is to "get your foot in the door". Once you have a job, and relevant experience, that piece of paper (diploma) becomes less and less pertinent. Who knows? I know of someone who got a BS in Chemistry and is an engineer. Probably a mix between mechE and EE, but definitely an engineer managing other engineers (and engineering projects). He came from a pure science background. If that can be done, a crossover between the relevant engineering majors (MechE, EE, ChemE, aerospace) is trivial. I guess life is weird in the way it guides people.

    Don't worry too much about which engineering degree will make you the most (because the answer to that is petroleum engineering), or the major with the highest demand. Just make sure you graduate with an engineering degree and some internships/co-ops (co-ops pay for all of your tuition). You'll be ahead of most of the country if you have the drive to be #1.
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2012
  14. Mar 14, 2012 #13
    Thanks for the advice! I really appreciate it.
  15. Mar 14, 2012 #14


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Not at all. A specialization is more limiting, by both definition and practice. The large chemical company I worked for doesn't hire any aerospace engineers, but hires MEs by the ton. The companies they contract to design/supply compressors and such do, but those are specialized jobs and far fewer. What I'm saying is that basically all industries and companies hire mechanical engineers, especially aerospace companies, but aerospace degrees can limit you right out of college and to certain industries for careers. If I knew for certain that I was doing aerospace, which I still may, it would be to get a BSME then MS in aerospace. My interest is in turbomachinery rather than the rest of the vehicle, so again maybe it's a little different.

    I'd like to repeat what has been stated also about getting your foot in the door and engineering degrees in general being desirable. It's much easier to work yourself into a position within a company or get relevant experience that might not be exactly what your degree is and move to another company. Like I said, my work experience is chemical processes, but my degree will be mechanical. For one, I'm more interested in mechanical engineering and want to have a broader knowledge, but a plus is that I'm not limited when looking for jobs.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook