Masters programs to work in aerospace/defense as an engineer

  • #1
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Hello all, I am looking for some career advice. My current situation is that I am graduating with my bachelors in physics and chemistry in December of this year. My goal is to get a masters degree in a field that would enable me to work as an engineer at one of the aerospace/defense contractors in the Boston area where I live. However, I'd like to be versatile enough to work in varied careers.

With no engineering courses under my belt, I cannot get a masters in EE, ME, or AE in a reasonable amount of time, so right now I am looking at Northeastern's applied physics and engineering masters which has a concentration in computing/modeling.

Does anyone have any thoughts on a degree like this? I know most people in applied physics work in optics/photonics/lasers but could I work on larger scale engineering projects with skill in modeling? Most importantly what are my chances of being hired as an engineer at Raytheon, Morse Corp., etc.? Any other thoughts would be appreciated.

Note that I have done my research on the job market and I know that these employers are not seeking people with degrees in applied/engineering physics but I am looking for an alternate way into aerospace engineering seeing as my background does not allow me to pursue a more traditional engineering masters.

I know materials engineers can work in aerospace but that field really does not interest me, as I said before I really want to work on larger scale projects.
 

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  • #2
Vanadium 50
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A month ago you wanted to go into applied math. I think your first order of business is to figure out what you want to do. If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.

"Skill in modeling" can mean many things. Are you an Ansys whiz? Maybe Solidworks? Solving differential equations numerically? CFD?

Here's the problem. You want to be hired as an engineer, but you don't want to do the coursework of an engineer. Imagine I am an employer. Why should I hire you? What do you offer that I can't get from a recent MIT grad who wants to stay in Boston? I think you need a very good answer to that question.

You've put a lot of constraints on the problem: one sector, one city, and at best a non-traditional preparation for the job (and at worse, underpreparation for the job). You might have overconstrained the system.
 
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  • #3
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Sure, if you have impressive modeling chops, you could get hired for that skill...

But... why can't you get a master's in engineering in two years? - (a reasonable amount of time)

With a bachelor's degree in Physics, you absolutely can get accepted into an engineering program (in EE, ME, or AE). I know several people who have gone straight from physics into graduate engineering programs.

Anyways, I just checked Raytheon's job postings. 75 hits for physics in MA. Sure, most want a bunch of experience and skills - but that's the reality of job searching.
 
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  • #4
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A month ago you wanted to go into applied math. I think your first order of business is to figure out what you want to do. If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.

"Skill in modeling" can mean many things. Are you an Ansys whiz? Maybe Solidworks? Solving differential equations numerically? CFD?

Here's the problem. You want to be hired as an engineer, but you don't want to do the coursework of an engineer. Imagine I am an employer. Why should I hire you? What do you offer that I can't get from a recent MIT grad who wants to stay in Boston? I think you need a very good answer to that question.

You've put a lot of constraints on the problem: one sector, one city, and at best a non-traditional preparation for the job (and at worse, underpreparation for the job). You might have overconstrained the system.
Well to start, part of me figuring out what I want to do is asking experienced people to weigh in. And I am having a difficult time deciding what field I want to dedicate the rest of my life to so I've decided its better to be partially qualified for many careers than to be very qualified for a single position.

But of course I see how impractical this is. I'll be outmatched when applying to any engineering position to which actual engineers will be applying. I have no answer to that other than I know a deeper background in physics can be highly valued in some engineering positions.

I am not opposed to more schooling to get a masters in engineering but by the time I graduate undergrad I will have been in college for 5.5 years and a 2 year masters in engineering at somewhere expensive like Northeastern or BU will just be too much to afford.

But you are right. Perhaps I should just try to find a job and go back to school in a couple years after I've had some experience.
 
  • #5
Lnewqban
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Keep an eye on open positions that could offer you an alternate way into aerospace engineering, but with the idea of starting from simpler jobs into which you can applied your earned knowledge.
If you get that job, you will learn something really important: whether or not you will really enjoy working as an aerospace engineer for many years, as well as how work specified by those engineers is done.
Best luck to you, and keep finding your way into the industry.
 
  • #6
Joshy
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Look at the roles that interest you and see if the program you are inquiring about aligns with it.

I'm an electrical engineer with about two years of full-time experience at two aerospace & defense contractors, and a bit more experience with several part-time and internship opportunities at a few more. Having the knowledge was important, but I personally felt like the teams were more often vain.

I've had a few friends ask me about a possible way in. Something I've noticed they were less aware of is "charge numbers." Charge numbers is a very friendly way of saying you're an hourly employee instead of a salaried employee. I can't say every aerospace & defense contractor does this, but the few I've been at do. You're salaried on paper and you probably wont get paid OT without some type of caveat or special approval (maybe "comp time" if you're lucky), but you have to report your hours. You'll likely be at risk of getting laid off if you're not reporting 40 hours or more, and so these charge numbers are precious. Mischarging will get you fired. They don't want to give out charge numbers to people who are kind of "okay" at a lot of things or put someone onto a program and see if they can fit them somewhere... nope... You'll have to sell a special skill that'll fulfill their needs to get in; you also should be very good at presenting it.
 
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  • #7
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You could be able to get funding to go get your masters. You need to speak with people who could potentially give you that funding, or let you know where you might find it.

I did a data science bootcamp that paid me a small weekly stipend according to a document that said that if I quit the company that was sponsoring the program before 12 months, I'd have to pay the money back. And, it sort ended up working out, for the most part.

I also graduated with a chemistry and physics BS, and then went to get an MS in physics at the same university I graduated from, only because I was desperate for a job, and graduate assistant is a job. I don't recommend doing that. You could take a break from school and a career and just work a simple crappy job while you try to plan your next move. As long as planning your next move doesn't take you years, I think you should be okay.

People will think you're cool and smart with your super science degree at one of those crap jobs. I worked at an Amazon warehouse for a very short time during COVID following a lay off, and I felt like I was living in a nightmare a lot of days, but there were some cute girls there.
 
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  • #8
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I think there is a website USA govt jobs or something like that. I know a graduate (albeit 3 years back) who recently got a position in a govt lab with a BS in physics and applied math. Most important is the ability to pass a security clearance, so I hope you have been leading a squeaky clean life.

However, the new hire had to move so you may not be able to pick your area in Boston. However, this new-hire is now working with people from Raytheon. Your best bet may be to job seek in a broad geographic area to establish credentials and contacts and then, in a year or two or three, you may be able to apply to defense contractors in the Boston area.

Do not be so quick to conclude employers don't want certain disciplines. You may be talking yourself out of some positions.
 
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  • #9
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I actually got a job offer to work as a research physicist a few weeks ago. I turned it down, because I'm kind of into coding now, and I also didn't want to work for the army or live in the middle of nowhere for the rest of my life ... The point is I got a job offer to be a research physicist a few weeks ago. So, the job market right now may be a little better for physicists, because I would not have thought an offer like that was possible a few years ago. The job sounded like I would write up reports, do some logistical stuff, probably some QC/QA, and maybe some experiments. I think that's what engineers actually do. I've heard from some friends who work at Raytheon that their job involves a ton of Excel spread sheets. The fantasy of "Engineer at Raytheon" may be glamorized in your mind. It doesn't sound particularly interesting to me anymore. You can make 80k a year doing other things. Also, why would anyone really want to work for the United State's military-industrial complex? It's obviously corrupt. I had only wanted to work at places like Raytheon and Lockheed because I had convinced myself that these places, and even joining the military as a soldier, were the only paths out of poverty, but they are not. That being said, a job at Raytheon is a pretty good deal, and if you can accomplish your goal of being an aerospace engineer there, I think it would provide you with a nice life.
 
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  • #10
Joshy
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Interesting work probably depends on the group.
 
  • #11
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I'm still confused about some of the premises in your first post. You want/intend to get a masters. Unless you are continuing a project you've already spent time on in undergrad, why would an applied physics degree be significantly faster than an engineering degree? Both degrees probably need ~30 hours of coursework + research and a thesis for an MS. Do you expect to transfer a handful of courses from your undergrad?

Most places offer funding for grad programs, especially in engineering. I would go as far as to say: do not pay for an engineering grad degree out of pocket... You might even be able to get a TA position helping 1st year physics students that could provide a stipend...

I'm also averse to the military-industrial complex, though they did support my graduate research.
 
  • #12
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I'm still confused about some of the premises in your first post. You want/intend to get a masters. Unless you are continuing a project you've already spent time on in undergrad, why would an applied physics degree be significantly faster than an engineering degree? Both degrees probably need ~30 hours of coursework + research and a thesis for an MS. Do you expect to transfer a handful of courses from your undergrad?

Most places offer funding for grad programs, especially in engineering. I would go as far as to say: do not pay for an engineering grad degree out of pocket... You might even be able to get a TA position helping 1st year physics students that could provide a stipend...

I'm also averse to the military-industrial complex, though they did support my graduate research.
I figure that, while I may get accepted into a masters in mechanical/aerospace, I would need to take several undergraduate engineering courses. For applied physics I would be able to jump straight into grad level courses.
 
  • #13
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But, that's not necessarily true. You may have to take undergraduate engineering courses, and you may not have to. It's not true that you will need to take them. It depends on the program and who you talk to. Even if they are required, you could have them waived. You will need to talk to people in charge of the program you're interested in to figure out what your options are. It may say one thing on a website, but in reality, things are more malleable.

I took graduate level CS courses without having taken a single CS undergraduate course. I also assumed I wouldn't be able to go to grad school in engineering or CS with a physics degree, so I didn't even try. About halfway through my master's in Physics, I realized I could have potentially did a master's in EE without having to take any additional undergraduate courses. But, by then, it was too late.
 
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  • #14
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I agree with Zap. Your specific course requirements are not necessarily clear at this point. They would vary greatly depending on university, program, focus, and advisor.

For my masters (MSME), there were not any technical courses that were specifically required. The requirements were: minimum number of math hours, min in-major hours, min hours at a specified level (6000, 7000 - depending on course numbering scheme), a certain number of research hours, etc. Students crafted their own curriculum, which had to be approved by their academic advisor.

In general, I would expect very little resistance from professors in adding a particular course without (undergraduate) pre-requisites. This is because graduate students are expected to be more responsible (and mature) when it comes to their own education. It's understood that you would be more acutely aware of the gaps in your understanding and would be better equipped to actively work towards filling those gaps on your own.
 
  • #15
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I just want to throw this out here.

There are a lot of internships available in tech, and you don't have to be a current student to be eligible for one.

I'm applying to part time internships and jobs right now.

I'm gonna try to get at least two remote jobs, preferably one part-time remote job/internship while keeping my current full-time contract.
 
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  • #16
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Something I've noticed they were less aware of is "charge numbers." Charge numbers is a very friendly way of saying you're an hourly employee instead of a salaried employee. I can't say every aerospace & defense contractor does this, but the few I've been at do. You're salaried on paper and you probably wont get paid OT without some type of caveat or special approval (maybe "comp time" if you're lucky), but you have to report your hours.
I think that this is incorrect. Every employer I've ever worked for had some sort of accounting system, and they wanted to keep track of which projects/programs were getting how much time. That is what charge numbers are all about.

When I worked at Southwest Research Institute, there was one cute little lady whose first job every morning was to each research engineer and verify that their time sheet for the previous day was complete. She was very nice about it, but she would not leave my office (or any other) until the time sheet for the previous day was completed. SwRI was probably the most diligent about this of any of the places where I have worked.
 
  • #17
Joshy
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When I say something "is a very friendly way of saying" I'm not meaning that it is literally exactly or directly that way; I also think it's fair to say most entry-level engineers probably don't care about accounting details (okay I'll admit it I didn't care and so I'll speak for myself). The bottom line is they have to report their hours with a timecard very much like an hourly employee and from my own experience none of these "charge number" companies allowed you to work less than a 40 hour work week. This timecard stuff is usually very unattractive to entry-level engineers looking at their first full-time "salaried" positions, and especially if you're at higher risk of being laid off when charge numbers become sparse.
 
  • #18
Zap
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Salaries aren't all that, though. You end up working like 60 hours a week, and you don't get paid more for it.
 
  • #19
Joshy
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Salaries aren't all that, though. You end up working like 60 hours a week, and you don't get paid more for it.
Welp, then I'm sure you're going to love "charge numbers" because usually it's like being hourly employee without overtime pay :)

The last company I was at had a big reputation for their overtime pay and even a pension. Their old school reputation does not align with recent years... definitely no pension, and the few companies at I interviewed at that did have a pensions also had substantially lower compensation. Overtime pay only exists as a remnant in their system and the barriers to earn it are ginormous along with some fun caveats. What you will likely do after working 40 hours is charge the number with a kind of added code/comment "unpaid overtime" (you actually have to report the hours you work too even if it's unpaid).

If you're real lucky you might be able to get "comp time", which is like working the hours ahead of time (work 5 extra hours this week and use it next week), but again the last company I was at had some hokey policy that you had work 5 hours unpaid overtime first before working "comp time" and only if the managers approved (in the earlier example you'd work 10 hours for 5 hours of comp time)... for some reason on my way out it seemed that they were even trying to cut down on comp time hours too, and in many cases I felt like they were more okay with schedule slip than authorizing comp or overtime pay.
 
  • #20
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Hmm. My current job is hourly. I have to submit a timesheet, but I am not allowed to work any more or any less hours than I'm allotted per year, and no more than 40 per week. So, that's about as fair as it gets, in my opinion. The only crummy thing is I don't get PTO or any benefits at all.
 

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