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Engineering Career stability in astrophysics and aerospace engineering

  1. Jul 6, 2012 #1
    I have heard much about how careers in aerospace engineering and astrophysics can be hard to find, one has to move around a lot, and the salary is not great. As far as money goes I don't care too much, but I'd like to make at least 75k a year, but I don't want to have to move around more than 2 or 3 times in my career. So my question is, If you get a PHD from a top graduate school ( say MIT, Stanford Cornell ), is there a good chance to find a stable, relatively high paying salary(75k). Also just curious, where do people who work for NASA work.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 15, 2012 #2
    If you get a PhD in astrophysics, it seems like you have to move away for a postdoc, stay there for 2-3 years, then do it again and maybe even a third time. Also, I have heard that postdocs only make between $30-50,000, which is awfully low considering how much school we've had. (Also, considering that there are some two-year degrees with comparable starting salaries!) Anyway, if you're OK with all of that then I'm sure that after you finish your postdocs you'll be able to find a job at a university making the amount you specified.

    I've heard that bachelors degrees in aerospace engineering get paid more than PhDs in astrophysics. The two fields are very different though, so you have to decide which one interests you. I'm not sure how much aerospace engineers have to move around.
  4. Jul 16, 2012 #3
    I’ve worked mechanical engineering jobs in many fields over the last 35 years. Everyplace I’ve been, I’ve had coworkers who were very well paid with PhD’s.

    But here is the kicker. Whatever your level of education between a BS and PhD, what you learn in school teaches you only a very tiny percentage of what you need to hold down one of these jobs. The fact that you have one of these degrees is only valuable to potential employers because it demonstrates that you have a good basic general understanding of the field, and that you have the ability to learn what you need to learn to get the job done. And you will do much learning.

    Ten months ago, I changed jobs into yet another field in which I had little or no understanding. They spent nine months training me, and now I’m finally doing productive work. They did not hire be because I knew anything about what they did for a living, because I made it clear that I had no education or experience to prepare me for the job. What they looked at was my history of taking on a great variety of different jobs in different fields, and being successful at them. They therefore assumed that I could be successful in this work, too.

    Any of these degrees only opens doors for you. What you do after that depends on so much more.
  5. Jul 16, 2012 #4
    Sigh. Yet another person who, upon graduation, thinks that a cushy salaried job with lots of benefits and job security will be handed to them --just because they graduated with good grades.

    It ain't like that.

    In the real world, you have to think like an entrepreneur. You have to produce results for a client, even if that client happens to work within the same company.

    The aerospace field is significantly less stable than most other fields of engineering. You can get paid a lot, but you don't get much job security. Even well established firms such as Boeing can go through boom and bust cycles.

    Setting a goal that you'd like to be able to settle down and not move more than 2 or 3 times in your career is rather interesting, given your choice of careers. I'm not saying it can't happen. It has. But you also have to realize that projects can evaporate overnight, and can leave you unemployed faster than you might think.

    Aerospace Engineering is a very competitive field. Many want to do this sort of work. You will be competing with some of the very best. Once you realize that, perhaps you will temper your expectations. I speak from the personal experience of those close to me.

    A Ph.D helps, but actual, hands-on, can-do experience matters too. In particular, pay attention to the engineering economics courses, and the entrepreneurial classes. You need a lot more than just theoretical knowledge.

    Pay attention to what Pkruse wrote. His estimates of acclimation are optimistic. Where I work, recent graduates would need anywhere from 2-3 YEARS before they can be safely left on their own to do productive work. Even people with significant experience will need at least a year just to figure out what the practices are, and where the assets and resources are located.

    Good Luck!
  6. Jul 17, 2012 #5
    Jake: I'm doing productive work after ten months of training. But the assignments are of low criticality and I'm closely supervised. It is the sort of work a new grad might do after 2-3 years of he were really sharp, perhaps 4 would be more common. This from a guy who has been an engineer long enough to retire if I wanted to.

    That recent training was all highly structured and completely technical. It was not just learning about resources. I have designed many things in my career from wood chippers to airplanes and spacecraft. But when I got into jet engines I found out how little I knew.

    I was making pretty much the same points you made.
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