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Astronomy to engineering?

  1. Aug 22, 2013 #1
    I'm currently working on a BS in astronomy (basically a physics degree with astronomy/astrophysics courses to fill electives) and am hoping to also obtain a MS in astronomy as well. My question is in regards to non-academic paths taken by degree holders in physics and astronomy, particularly those with just BS and MS degrees.

    I've seen a few engineering jobs posted at engineering firms looking for individuals with degrees in engineering or hard sciences, specifically in CS and physics. I've been particularly interested in aerospace/systems engineering. I know a degree in either of these fields would be ideal, but the only qualifications for a lot of these jobs is a BS/MS in engineering or related science. Has anyone made the jump from physics/astronomy to engineering, specifically in the aerospace industry?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 22, 2013 #2


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    Plenty of people have made the jump. However, it is much easier to break into engineering with an engineering degree. Have you thought about a BS in Astronomy and an MS is Systems Engineering? You're making it harder on yourself otherwise.
  4. Aug 22, 2013 #3
    if you want to do engineering get an engineering degree. I know what the ads say but do you honestly think they'd hire a physics major over an engineering major all things being equal for an engineering position? They might but I'd say its not likely. If you want to do aerospace systems engineering then get a degree in mechanical or aerospace engineering. Why waste time with an astronomy degree? If its just personal interest than read on it in your spare time
  5. Aug 22, 2013 #4
    I've got two examples for you from my own school. Something really important here is my alma mater has deep relationships with both companies involved, which is why this is possible. When I graduated from college, I didn't understand why this matters, and it hurt my ability to find work.

    First, a company I interviewed with a year after graduation, is a defense company that tends to hire about half the physics graduates from my school. A physics or physics and astronomy degree was just fine with them. I interviewed there, got a job offer, but I didn't end up working there.

    Second company, I managed to get an interview through personal contacts, and have been working there since. This one is a medical device manufacturer. I have made a point to encourage interviews with bachelors and masters students from my alma mater. We also interview a lot of MEs from the same school. Not everyone who has interviewed has had the appropriate skills and interests for an engineering role, but some very good engineers have been hired in this way.

    It is very much possible to move into aerospace, or other fields with your degree. Perhaps not unusual, depending on the school. What is really important, however, is the relationships. My physics program worked with the defense organization regularly, and knew we produced quality graduates who met their needs.

    The second company has come to accept physics students as possible engineers, but it has occasionally been a struggle. I've done what I can. The relationship of the school/program to the company matters. Having a connection to someone who already works at the company matters. Look to see what relationships already exist, and start there.
  6. Aug 23, 2013 #5


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    If you are interested in aero/systems, I agree with analogdesign that making a switch for your MS makes a lot of sense. It will likely be easier to get a job going that route, and with your BS in astro you should have the tools to teach yourself advanced astronomy topics in your free time if that is your passion. I am an engineer, and where I work the true "engineering" groups seldom hire physicists, while some of the groups that focus more on big picture issues and look at potential new markets/technical areas we can move into often hire a mix of physics, math, and engineering grads to work more as generalists. But in all cases the engineering degree would be a good move.

    I think caldweab is being a little harsh saying that astro is a waste of time - I am convinced it is a good education - but the basic point he is making is valid, especially in this economy.

  7. Aug 23, 2013 #6
    If you get some research experience doing image analysis, I would think that is directly applicable experience to some defense related jobs. Think GIS. But I could be wrong.

    But I agree with the above. If you want to do engineering, get an engineering degree. I have no illusions that I could do the work of a mechanical or structural engineer, or many other kinds of engineering, but there are certainly some engineering jobs that I COULD do, yet have had zero success getting a foot in the door. I am an experimental physicist, but my actually grad degree is in Astrophysics, because of an odd historical fact at my university. I could tell you stories about how that minor fact has caused me issues.

    I could also tell you stories how I was told by a company with a large engineering population, full of jobs that I'd be just fine at, that I was unable to be hired because I didn't have a 'degree in science'. If you want to work for a company like that, just get an engineering degree and save yourself a lot of headaches.
  8. Aug 23, 2013 #7

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    Aerospace as an industry is much larger than aerospace as an engineering discipline. Aerospace companies hire chemists and chemical engineers to work on propellants, materials scientists to work on the advanced composites used throughout modern aircraft and spacecraft, mechanical engineers to work on vehicle structures, electrical engineers to work on the electrical buses and the hardware side of the avionics, computer programmers to work on the software side of the avionics.

    They also hire physicists and astronomers. The going is a bit tougher because those disciplines are only indirectly related to aerospace, but they do hire them. About 10% of the professional staff in the aerospace company for which I work have a degree in physics or astronomy.
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