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Little concern about choosing the practical major between astronomy and engineering

  1. Sep 20, 2014 #1
    I'm a grade 11 high school student who has passion for his dream of being an astronaut someday.
    My classes are mostly science related because I thought I needed them when I get to choose my major. I'm planning on going to university of toronto after I graduate, I was thinking of majoring aerospace engineering but then again I'm not sure if I really want to do engineering for 4 years in the university. I think I'm more into Cosmology but then I worry that I may be nothing with that degree if i failed to be an astronaut. I'd at least make some money with the degree of aerospace engineering and the majority of astronaut seemed to all majored aerospace or aeronautical engineering.

    So, aerospace engineering vs astrophysics? practically.

    Please share your wise words if you're experiencing or have experienced any of them
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 20, 2014 #2
    Something that is important to realize is that it is extremely (extremely) unlikely that any one person will be an astronaut. That said I can still give you some advice. The only degree requirement for astronauts are that it is in a science or engineering discipline. This is a helpful page to see what past NASA astronauts did before they got shot off the planet.


    Click on any astronaut and it will give their background. Many come from military backgrounds, many come from scientific backgrounds. Many have Masters, many have PhDs. As you can see one of the difficult things about wanting to be an astronaut is that there are no set requirements that you can follow. This page shows the basic requirements for becoming a NASA astronaut.


    The important thing to learn from this I believe is this: major in what you actually enjoy. I can't say whether Aerospace Engineering or Astrophysics is better for you because I am not you and don't know what you really like. If you don't really enjoy Aerospace Engineering, DON'T MAJOR IN IT! If you can't find enjoyment for your major for it's own sake, you are going to have a difficult time studying for the final exams where you've had next to no sleep and still have hours of work to do. Love what you learn.
  4. Sep 20, 2014 #3
    thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. well since I was little I found the stars very fascinating and often questioned myself about them. I'm currently taking transportation engineering course which is basically just fixing cars and so far, I found it interesting
    so I just wonder which one would be more practical to be an astronaut.
  5. Sep 22, 2014 #4
    Fair warning: This was my original degree program but I just didn't know how to sell it very easily to potential employers. I switched to Phys/CS to make getting jobs slightly easier.

    I would look in to Engineering Physics with a Astronomy minor if that is your passion. I don't know if it is offered there, though. It seems many colleges have the degree program but it isn't very well known.

    The great thing about it is that it is an engineering degree. Meaning that you can apply for many engineering positions. I'll warn you that getting passed HR can be hard when they read physics and not, say, mechanical or electrical. Even though often times you'll be qualified through your education to do such jobs at some level. Networking helps a lot in this regard. All the job offers I've had have been through people I've worked with in the past or that know me by proxy.

    But, this all depends on the industry you want to get into. Some companies understand the value of a bachelors in physics while some do not. Just remember that there are very few places that will look at your education and say "Minor in Astronomy.. he'll fit right in." Or "That minor will definitely be useful."

    I started out taking astronomy classes and really loved it. It was the first time that I used the physics that I like to understand something I really love. I wish I could have kept on with Astronomy but since I'm stopping at a BS I just don't see many job prospects outside of my current, boring, industry (Industrial Automation). That's not to say it is impossible to find a job, just harder. And for me, having a family and financial responsibilities made the decision more clear. If I were you, I'd take the chance but temper it with the understanding that it will make things harder. Aerospace would be more practical, for sure, but not as much fun and you may end up regretting it.
  6. Sep 22, 2014 #5
    yeah sometimes I think that you cannot do anything you want in life. I think I can do major eng. minor astronomy in U of t, though! Actually, I'm currently looking into this program called ROTP which is basically the military pays your university and makes you serve for 4 years.( just in case you didn't know.)
  7. Sep 22, 2014 #6


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    I don't know if the deal is still the same, but when I was looking at it, you more or less had to attend RMC. There were exceptions If you were in medical school, but in most cases it was RMC. That's not a bad school mind you, just something to consider.
  8. Sep 25, 2014 #7
    I have noticed that most of the medal winners in the IEEE studied physics originally, not electrical engineering. I think physics gives you a better education and preparation for engineering than engineering classes do. I would study physics (Astronomy) and if you can't get a job in that field go and do engineering. In that case, the worse case would be your best case if you studied engineering.
  9. Sep 27, 2014 #8


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    This is absurd. I have degrees in both EE and physics and this could not be farther from the truth.
  10. Sep 27, 2014 #9
    I agree, that is absurd. A physics curriculm does not prepare you for engineering better than an engineering program. Astronomy might be the most difficult sub-field of physics to market for a job that there is. If you did cosmology for your PhD and learned programming and modeling skills along the way you could market that.

    I graduated with two degrees in physics and tried for years to get a job in engineering or other STEM field. Only after taking actual engineering classes was I able to get an engineering job. But I still can never be a "professional engineer" with a licence.

    If you want to be an engineer, study engineering. If you want to be a physics professor or physics teacher then study physics.
  11. Sep 28, 2014 #10
    Are you Canadian? If so then your nationality may be a problem - I vaguely recall that the only(?) British astronaut had to get US citizenship before NASA would take him.
  12. Sep 28, 2014 #11
    I agree and disagree with Physics_UG and ModusPwnd. This is only true in so far as there are certain fields of engineering research which are still on the abstract of the spectrum, so the theoretical background of a physics education is better preparation (again for that research) than an engineering one. That isn't the case across the board though, just because you took E&M or QM from a physics undergrad (which focuses on mostly ideal situations) doesn't mean you know your way around solid state electronics or RF acoustic and radar systems.
  13. Oct 2, 2014 #12


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    Not only is it absurd, but it is also factually incorrect. I looked up the last IEEE Medal winners, and only one of them, Gordon Moore of Intel, has a Ph.D. in something other than EE (but not Physics). All the rest of EEs. You have to go back to 2003 to find someone with a Ph.D. in Physics.

    2014: B. Jayant Baliga, Ph.D. EE, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
    2013: Irwin Jacobs, Sc.D. EECS, MIT
    2012: John Hennessy, Ph.D. CS, Stony Brook University
    2011: Morris Change, Ph.D. EE, Stanford University
    2010: Andrew Viterbi, Ph.D. EE, University of Southern California
    2009: Robert Dennard, Ph.D. EE, Carnegie Institute of Technology
    2008: Gordon Moore, Ph.D., Chemistry, California Institute of Technology
    2007: Thomas Kailath, Sc.D., EECS MIT
    2006: James Meindl, Ph.D., EE, Carnegie-Mellon University
    2005: James Flanagan, Sc.D. EECS, MIT
    2005: Tadahiro Skimoto, Eng.D, EE, University of Tokyo
    2004: Nick Holonyak, PhD. EE, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    2003: Herbert Kroemer, PhD. Physics, University of Gottingen <--- FIRST PHYSICS PhD!

    So, tell me, where did you get the notion that "most medal winners in the IEEE studied physics"? If you mean EE students take introductory physics before engineering courses, you're right.
  14. Oct 5, 2014 #13
    No expert here but I've often been told that it is very possible for people who graduated with physics degrees to get jobs in engineering if they decide they want to change directions a little. Because if you graduate with physics degrees, you have already taken all the math courses that allow you to understand physics...and you need those math and physics skills to work as an aerospace engineer. So when you convert, you already have an extensive mathematical and physics background and you just apply it to space engineering.

    Whereas if you graduate with aerospace engineering degrees, you have the math skills, but you don't necessarily have knowledge about space and astronomy. So if you decide you want to become an astrophysicist, it is harder to find a job.

    At least that's what I've been told.

    And I hate the talk about linking physics/astronomy with "teaching" or "professor." Aren't there physics and astrophysics research jobs for space agencies, companies, and organizations? I find it hard to believe that ALL physicists and astrophysicists work as professors at universities.

    What about the people studying celestial topics? The people who you read about on space websites who are researching black holes and discovering Earth-like planets? There must be companies that hire astrophysicists solely to work on this stuff. Screw teaching. NASA and the SETI Institute are two examples I know of. There must be many more.
  15. Oct 6, 2014 #14


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    Sure it's possible to move over to engineering, and people are successful doing it, but with declining overall opportunity the employers are holding the cards. Why would they choose a physics major for an engineering job who has "potential" when they could hire someone with an engineering degree who already knows the basics and can become productive much sooner? Who would you hire?

    You were told wrong. Typically engineering graduates (with few exceptions) have nowhere near the math skills required to even UNDERSTAND the cutting edge of physics, astronomy, and space science. Most engineers don't take abstract algebra, or multivariate calculus, or even real analysis (there are exceptions).

    I'm sorry you hate all that talk. If you wish real hard, maybe it won't be so. Staff Scientists at a Space agency, or a National Lab, or some similar organization are the functional equivalent of a Professor, without the teaching load. It is just as hard (or harder depending on the niche) to get a full-time, career-track (what they call Tenure Track) position at a NASA Research Center like Ames in Mountain View or a National Lab like Fermilab than it is to become a Professor.

    Why would a company study black holes from a purely research perspective? How could they possibly profit from that? If you're talking about a defense contractor that administers contracts for NASA, maybe, but again, a Staff Researcher in an organization is equivalent to a professor. If you don't like teaching, sure a job at NASA may be more appealing. If you're a superstar, you may just get it.
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