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Dream vs Reality: which one?

  1. Jun 8, 2013 #1
    When I graduated college w/ honors in May with a BS MechE degree without a job offer I was upset and depress. I did co op with GE Aviation, research projects, got 3 minors, Dean's list... don't know what's wrong, been looking since start the of Fall.

    Then this week, I suddenly got offers from GE Aviation and NASA. Lockheed Martin also told me they are getting me their offer ASAP. I was very happy initially, then now I am miserable choosing the correct path. I am actually loosing sleep, getting headache over this.

    So here's the problem what I got.

    -GE Aviation offer me a full time position with a very decent salary, bonuses, benefits and all. They offer to pay for grad school after hired.

    -Lockheed Martin offer me a 6 months contract to work on making satellites. After that they might convert me to full time depends on my performance and business needs. The site is also very close to home so I can take care of my parents and younger siblings. They also offer to pay for grad school after I get converted to full time.

    -NASA offer me a permanent Pathway Intern position at Glenn. Basically, I have to return to school to do my Master's degree while doing multiple intern rotation with them, completing 640 hours before graduation. At that time I can be qualify to convert into a full time position. The salary is about 50% less than what GE offers me and I have to pay for grad school myself.

    Logically, GE gave me to best offer, best salary, benefits and all. However, I dream to work in the space exploration industry since I was young. Thanks to Star War, Apollo 13 and many others. I especially want to work for NASA because of all the cool stuffs they do, explore other planets and all. I'm sure some of you will understand, it just can't be described by words. Plus they put more emphasis on science instead of military, which I admire the technology but hate the idea of war. My original plan for college was to use GE as a stepping stone for building resume to get in Lockheed or Boeing after college(I told the interviewer too), gain experience there for years to qualify to get in NASA. But seems like life just somehow work out by giving me this opportunity to go to NASA directly after college.

    To work for NASA, I have to get myself into debt on top of what I owe from undergrad and risk my future. Who know how it's like at NASA, there's no guarantee that I will like it. And in the current situation, looks like NASA is going down hill. Another thing is that I am a Chinese. Don't get me wrong, I am proud to be a Chinese. But with all those hacking the Chinese government is supposedly doing, I might be targeted sometime in my career just because people tends to do stuffs like that. Even though most people in the US are nice, discrimination do exist, it makes me afraid. I just want to do science and contribute to society without worrying about politic!

    I have been talking with my parents, and we have just been struggling with the idea. I am leaning toward the NASA option since it's my dream and it will give me great experience trying out different engineering position before committing to one. But the thought of the opportunity cost and paying for college meanwhile I am pretty much set to have someone else to pay for it is just killing me. It's like proceeding with an idea that you know is very dumb, like seeing a banana peel on the ground but you just have to step on it. On the other hand, going for GE will kinda cap me at the jet engine stuffs in exchange for stability in life. Which I am afraid I will never ever have the opportunity again to get in NASA to fulfill my dream since getting into NASA the normal way is very difficult to my knowledge. I might regret either way.

    Any advice on this matter?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 12, 2013 #2
    I'm definitely not in the position to give advice, though I'd personally go with NASA. At least since I could care less about money, as long as I'm interested and involved with my job.
    You probably SHOULD go with Lockheed or GE Aviation, but you'd probably be disappointed and would probably always wonder what it would be like to work at NASA. At least that's how I would be.

    Edit: Actually.. I take the 3rd sentence back. Not sure why I said you "SHOULD" go to Lockheed or GE Aviation but I think it had to do with saving money but honestly that's a terrible reason. Go with where you are most interested.. aka NASA. Otherwise if you care about money, go with Lockheed.

    But as I said, I'm not in the position to give advice. Though I don't see anyone else giving input so I figure some input is better than none, right?
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2013
  4. Jun 12, 2013 #3


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    My advise is to contact mentor D H since I believe he has experience working with NASA and be able to provide you better insight on the work environment there. This is clearly a very tough choice with no right answer. While it is easy to be the outsider and encourage a person to follow their dreams, it's much harder to be the person having to decide between a better financial situation versus your dream. I made that choice years ago, and the most important aspect on making that choice is making sure you don't regret it.
  5. Jun 12, 2013 #4


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    One piece of advice I would offer is simply to point out that a lot of your stress seems to be coming from a mindset that there is only one "correct" decision to be made here. The reality is that you're in the rather enviable position right now of chosing between what seem to be three good options. There is no "correct" or "incorrect" path - just different paths, each with their advantages and disadvantages.

    I've been in a similar position before and I can understand how the pressure feels. What helped me was to really assess the reality of each position. Find out as much as you can about what you will actually be doing and attempt to assess how happy each will make you. Chosing a particular path simply to impress others by saying I work at ____, is unlikely to be all that fulfilling, particularly if it's not combined with day-to-day work that you enjoy.
  6. Jun 12, 2013 #5
    Working for NASA can be frustrating. Many positions there are basically technical contract management. The real fun stuff is often done by contractors.

    You can also look in to firms such as SpaceX, Lockheed, Orbital Sciences, and others.

    Or you can realize, like I did, that cool technology is where you make it. The stuff I do isn't cutting edge, but it is leadership and new to our industry. OK, so working at a utility may not be what people dream of doing. But it is important work, and you do get to do some really cool things in everyday places that most people have no idea exists...
  7. Jun 13, 2013 #6


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    To the OP:

    From what you described, it appears that GE Aviation provides the most lucrative offer, based on compensation and benefits (including paying for further graduate studies, which is very generous), with Lockheed Martin a close second (the 6 months contract is in someways not that different from a 6 month probationary period where you will be assessed on how good you are).

    So if I were you, I would weigh in and take either of these 2 offers. I'm not an engineer, but if I'm not mistaken, both GE Aviation and Lockheed Martin provide contracting work for NASA, so for broader experience both of these places may be better places to start off with rather than going straight to NASA (especially if you have to take on further debt, which is not a good idea).

    That being said, of course ultimately which offer to accept is your decision and yours alone, so you can take whatever advice I or others give you for what it's worth.
  8. Jun 13, 2013 #7
    Just my 2 cents for what it is worth. After working many years in Silicon Valley (Lockheed neighborhood), most everyone I knew who accepted 6-month contracts from Lockheed Martin were let go after the 6 months due to contracts not being renewed. I have many good friends who work at NASA in California and NONE of them work directly on "space" stuff. One works in the wind tunnel, one works with rocket fuels, and my cousin worked on biological tests in the space shuttle program but is now kind of looking around for something "more fun" to do. I don't know anything about GE Aviation.

    My 2 cents: It is the project and the people that make the job fun or horrible - not the name on the sign outside the building.

    Find out what exactly you will be doing every day, meet (or at least try to research) the people you will be working directly with and reporting to, and ask to tour the facility and the labs before you sign up. NASA has a cool name, but it is still a job. Every job has stuff you will come to dislike and stuff you will like.

    Good luck in your career. Be sure that once you have made your choice you don't ever look back. The grass always appears greener in the other pasture...
  9. Jun 14, 2013 #8
    plife makes a few excellent points:

    1. The way you feel about your work often has more to do with the work-place culture than it does about the kind of work that it is. Find a group of people you enjoy and respect and stick with them.

    2. The actual business of space flight is really a much larger field than it first appears. There are thousands of specialties. We are way past the day where entire projects were built in garages and hangers.

    3. The aerospace industry in general does not have a good reputation for keeping people on staff long term. Yes you can make good money, but you have to stash it away for the inevitable bust that follows the boom. They're not paying you big money because you're a rocket scientist. They're paying you that way because you are doing very specialized work that does not allow you to make a smooth transition to other businesses, and you have very little job security.

    Remember, your dream job can also be done on the side. I really enjoy tinkering with RF. I got a ham radio license and later my degree in electrical engineering. But I don't use those skills much where I work. Instead, I play with radios in my free time and I am free to follow my curiosity wherever it leads.

    The same goes for aviation. I learned to fly. But when I saw how commercial aviation treats most pilots, and the scary stuff they do for a living, I chose instead to do it for fun. If the weather looks unpleasant, I'll stay on the ground and not have to wonder where my next meal will come from.

    Again, good luck. Don't wait for people to pay you to pursue your dreams. It doesn't all have to be in the context of your work.
  10. Jun 14, 2013 #9


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    @OP: You have gotten some good advice here. If I were in your shoes, I'd jump at the GE offer. You get a decent salary and the guarantee of financed higher education. NASA is not that big and not that stable, since they are dependent on US budgets year after year. If you look around, you'll find that a lot of their work, including designing satellites and their support systems and running those systems, is performed by academics and/or contractors (like GE). If you go with GE and you're good at what you do, you might easily end up on NASA projects anyway.

    Good luck, no matter what you choose. You are in an enviable position, IMO.
  11. Jun 14, 2013 #10
    I'd go with GE as well. What a fantastic offer! I didn't know companies paid for graduate school anymore. For me it is a pretty clear choice.

    For what it's worth, I have heard the same thing about Lockheed not hiring many of its 6-month contractors.
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