What is it like to work as an Astrophysicist or an Aerospace Engineer?

  • #1
Hi all.

I'm currently an aerospace engineering undergraduate student in my second year, but I'm going through a very confusing process of second guessings and would greatly appreciate advice from older people who work in the Aerospace or in the Physics/Astronomy fields to help me compare the two. I've researched this, I've found topics in the forums similar to this, but I think I need more help with it.

The reason why I chose this course is simply "I like space", but I'm starting to think it is very difficult to land a job on something actually closely related to space with this degree, and therefore I'm afraid I'll actually end up doing something I don't like or don't find inspiring or fulfilling; on the other hand, I'm afraid if I go the physics route, the same thing will happen unless I get deep into graduate studies in Astrophysics and even then I might end up with a job that has nothing to do with space.

If you're an Aerospace engineer or an Astrophysicist, what field do you work with and what's your typical day in the job?
How hard is it to actually get in the space industry as an Aerospace engineer, and how hard is it to work with research as an Astrophysicist?
Do you find your work inspiring? Or do you feel like your expectations haven't been met?

Perhaps a better question would be, "what career path should I choose that gets me closer to working with something directly related to space sciences?".
If I were to finish my aerospace course, I'd like to work with big space agencies with awesome jobs such as in a propulsion lab, or designing something interesting, instead of having a boring job that only indirectly relates to space travel and barely differs from any other boring office job.
If I were to go into astrophysics, I wouldn't mind sitting in a chair in front of the computer all day if it is directly related to data obtained from a telescope, or doing any kind of research; I just wouldn't like to get a job in a company that has nothing to do with all this because there were no other jobs for me.

Lastly, and I know I've said a lot so far, but what about getting a masters in Astrophysics after I graduate? Are the two courses compatible? There's a good university nearby that has a masters in Astronomy and Space Instruments. Or maybe a masters in physics with a focus on astro?

I know I sound naive, but that's because right now I'm lost. I'm 19 and have no idea what I'm doing, I just know what I like. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Answers and Replies

  • #2
In aerospace engineering, significant unbalance do exist between number of engineers and development funding level i consider comfortable. In Japan during my work in JAXA, ratio of applicants/funds was about 10:1.
Therefore, if you are in the top 10% of your aerospace engineering study group, please proceed with aerospace engineering. Otherwise, please choose other topic.
  • #3
Science Advisor
Gold Member
There's no single answer--as always, it depends on your intellect and skill level; on where you end up; on how effectively you steer your own career; and on luck (do you have a great mentor, a bad boss, look for a job during boom times, etc.) "Doing" space is pretty vague, but it seems like you are open to doing a variety of things which is good. (For some it's being an astronaut or nothing at all. These types can expect a lot of disappointment in their futures.) I'd personally prefer the challenges working for a 2nd tier supplier on a box or subsystem that is space-qualified (high radiation, thermal and vibration environment), low power and absolutely reliable to being "directly" involved in space like tightening bolts on a rocket or reading numbers off a monitor in a mission control room prior to launch. Getting a degree in aeronautics/astronautics is as good a way to get into the field as any. Studying hard and doing well is probably the most important thing.

I'd recommend also applying for summer internship positions. Many aerospace companies have them.
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