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Aerospace: Physics or Mechanical Engineering

  1. Nov 14, 2006 #1
    I have been thinking about going into the aerospace industry and was wondering if a physics degree or a mechanical engineering degree would be more beneficial? Or, what are the pros and cons of having either of them and going into that industry?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 14, 2006 #2
    Honestly, I would think an ME degree would be more beneficial for the aerospace industry than a physics degree. How about aerospace engineering?

    However, the aerospace industry does hire physicists, of course. But the typical physics curriculum does not cover things like aerodynamics and fluid mechanics very much.

    However, with a physics degree you show that you are capable of learning these things.
  4. Nov 14, 2006 #3
    I would also lean ME.

    If you are leaning towards graduate study in aero after your undergrad, ME was the much more common background for the aerospace graduates students that I knew while I was in grad school. As an aside note, the aerospace engineering grad students I knew also were not well-supported by the department financially (while those in Chem E, EE, and ME etc. were -- not sure on civil), so if you are thinking about grad school, that will be something to consider. I know that their studies were often prolonged (I know one currently in his 8th year, which was not considered uncommon) because they couldn't concentrate on research 24-7, since they usually needed a way to support themselves if they weren't taking out huge student loans. It COULD just be the particular program (and the high competiveness to get into it in the first place), but it will be something you should definitely ask about when you are applying to programs if you decide to go that route.

    Others can inform you better about aerospace engineering careers straight out of undergrad... or where there may be aerospace undergrad programs.

    Good luck!
  5. Nov 14, 2006 #4

    D H

    Staff: Mentor

    My degree is in physics and I work in aerospace. We hire a lot (a whole lot) more MEs than physicists. 20:1 ratio, to be precise (it's a small company; I am the one). My advice in a nutshell:
    • If you plan on just an undergraduate degree, go with the ME. Undergraduate degrees are a dime a dozen. You need something to open the door. Most companies don't want to bother with the extra training needed to bring someone with just a BS, non ME/Aero BS to boot, up to speed.
    • If you plan on getting a graduate degree, think about getting your undergraduate degree in physics, graduate degree in ME/Aero. A bachelors degree in physics gives a very solid basis for advanced technical work, better than any other engineering degree IMHO. On the other hand, a masters in physics isn't of much use in our industry: Wrong focus. Aerospace uses 300 year old physics plus a lot of new-fangled engineering; both are orthogonal to most of what is studied in graduate-level physics.

    Edited to add
    Whichever way you decide to lean, please take some computer science beyond the intro level. Many different jobs in aerospace require some amount of computer programming. Most physicists and mechanical engineers that I know do program occasionally and they do it quite badly.
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2006
  6. Nov 14, 2006 #5
    I'm currently a physics major, but I don't really like the outlook of my degree plan. I got to University of Texas at Dallas. I've been looking at University of Texas at Arlington's Aerospace/ME graduate studies. One thing they said on their website was: "All entering students must be proficient in mathematics, engineering analysis, and computer programming." I was thinking about getting my bachelors in Software Engineering here at UTD and then going to UTA for grad school. Would Software Engineering be a good base? Here's the degree plan if anyone wants to take a quick look: http://www.utdallas.edu/student/catalog/ugcurrent/ugprograms/ecs-se.html

    Thanks a lot everyone, all the feedback is really helping.
  7. Nov 14, 2006 #6

    D H

    Staff: Mentor

    While most of the physicists and engineers I know make bad programmers, most of the software engineers I know make even worst aerospace engineers.

    The programming in aerospace is mostly done to solve some problem in aerospace. Knowing the subject matter well is more important than knowing how to program properly.

    A dual degree in physics and software engineering ... now that would make a fantastic base.

    Edited to add

    Aerospace engineering is a huge subject area. Just to rattle a few subtopics of interest off the top of my head: avionics; sensor technology; propulsion; trajectory planning; guidance, navigation, and control; structures; aerodynamics; environmental control; power systems; human factors; ... There is absolutely no way any one person can comprehend the entire gamut of aerospace engineering.

    To avoid giving you potentially ill-advised advice, could you state what aspects of aerospace are you interested in?
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2006
  8. Nov 14, 2006 #7
    Aerodynamics was the main draw for me into aerospace engineering. Lately I have been becoming interested in Unmanned Ariel Vehicles and the computer systems in those. That's kind of where I thought the SE would come into play.

    I think the reason I'm shying away from physics is because I expected more on aerodynamics. But looking at my future courses I'm seeing Optics, Quantum mechanics, Subnuclear particles, and just things I'm really not interested in.
  9. Nov 14, 2006 #8
    If I were you, I'd finish the physics degree and then apply for a masters program in aeronautical engineering. If you just get a BSME, you are not going to be doing anything in aerodynamics anyway since that is generally reserved for people with advanced degrees.
  10. Nov 15, 2006 #9
    I'm really nowhere close to finishing the physics degree and I have no interest to. I have about two years left and all the credits that I have accumulated will transfer seamlessly to an engineering degree. Also, I'm not planning on just getting a bachelors.

    Oh and to clarify, by SE I meant Software Engineering, in case there was any confusion.
  11. Nov 15, 2006 #10
    I would agree with DH, if you want to make a living devloping code then SE would be a good degree but if your going to grad school, I don't see SE as being a very good base. Its easy to learn to program, and once you do it awhile you'll become better and better.

    Perhaps computer engineering would be a better base for you for grad school.
  12. Nov 15, 2006 #11
    Would a bachelors in Electrical Engineering be a good base for Aerospace grad school?
  13. Nov 15, 2006 #12
    ME would probably be better.
  14. Nov 15, 2006 #13
    The reason that I haven't really mentioned a bachelors in ME is because my school doesn't offer it and because of lots of complicated factors transferring schools for my undergrad wouldn't work out very well.
  15. Sep 6, 2007 #14
    Crossroads: Aerospace

    Hi guys,

    Was browsing and came upon this same question that I am facing.

    I am beginning to get really interested and excited about getting into the aerospace industry, with all the excitement about space tourism and and manned missions and stuff.

    The question is how???

    Some background: I did my undergrad in physics (particle physics), worked a year in a quantum information lab, started phd in physics (wanting to do cosmology/gravity/astroparticle etc). But in the end had to give up cos of the difficult career prospects (financial mainly and other reasons) in fundamental research, but am still really really interested in science and stuff. In the end, I ended up with a masters degree and is working in a consultancy firm (sales and marketing consulting in pharmacuetical). Not sure why I ended up here, but I'm not excited or interested in staying on here.

    Any advice on what options are available? Any good job sites? Recommendations on companies?

    How hard is it to get into a aerospace phd/masters with my background? Or do I need that in the first place? i read that companies employ 1:20 physics majors vs engineering.

    Alternative is to stick around in consulting, and get MBA and then switch to aeorspace after, though this would be business aspects rather than hard-core science.

    advice much appreciated! thanks!
  16. Dec 13, 2010 #15
    hai guys
    iam a graduate of bachelor in physics and masters in computer may i know any opportunity for programming physics application in any research or aerospace...help me.reply to my mail.(thamsg@gmail.com)
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2010
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