2 answers

How to enter/help develop Space Industry?

Asked Pullman, Washington

Hi, Thanks for clicking on the question link. I am not sure what to do and would like to hear some anonymous advice.

Who am I? Someone who has dreamed about whats in outer space, but currently, I am a College student who will be graduating this semester with a B.S. Degree in Economics and a minor in Psychology (~3.23 cumulative g.p.a.). Though, I could have graduated last semester I decided to stay an extra semester and pursue an interest I have in a Engineering/Science degree. I did this by studying Mechanical Engineering because it appears very versatile, though I was close to choosing astrophysics (Seems like for astrophysics, it would take at least 20 years to get where you would want to be). The purpose of this would be to eventually allow me to work somewhere in the space industry. I would greatly enjoy assisting government or third party space companies/programs develop (i.e. NASA, Space X, Deep Space Industries, or Planetary Resources).

The Dilemma, it would take another 6 semesters (3 years) of hard work and money to finish this second B.S. degree and I am not so sure it would get me any closer to my dream job. I have been contemplating earning a PhD in economics and try to help that way (I do have some research ideas and would not mind teaching), but it would take at least another 7 years of school and I am not even sure I could get in or could afford it because my g.p.a. of ~3.23 is low for even getting accepted to grad school. I think I have summed up my problem well, but if there is anything relevant that could help you, help me feel free to ask. Thank you again for your help! Tim #business #engineering #economics #astrophysics #space-planning

2 answers

Harikrishna’s Answer

Updated Boston, Massachusetts

Hi Tim,

This is a dilemma indeed. I will try to answer your question to the best of my ability. I would like to ask you a clarification question (or rather have you ask that to yourself). 1. Are you looking to make machines that work in space? 2. Or are you looking to dream about understanding the workings of the cosmos by trying to theorize about black holes and dwarf stars and whatnot and/or finding new habitable planets by using wonderfully high end telescopes?

If you are thinking of designing, creating, and making machines that will help assist space exploration expeditions, then Mechanical Engineering/Aerospace Engineering would be a way to go. If your answer is more along the lines of stuff in the second question, then astrophysics (usually a PhD) is what you need.

Many people are misunderstood by the disciplines in engineering. You don't have to have a degree in Aerospace Engineering or Space Engineering for Astrophysics work. As you said, Mechanical does give you a wonderful perspective into many other engineering disciplines and it can help you "create" a path that is important to you rather than you taking a predefined path which may or may not completely satisfy you. (I would like to clarify by saying that I am a bit biased towards Mechanical Engineering because I am a Mechanical Engineer and I have seen many with an ME into Aerospace, Biomedical, Biology, Chemistry, Industrial Engineering, Electrical, and many more).

Now as of your main issue regarding the personal and monetary investment, although it is true that getting another bachelors would help you reach your goal of doing something in the space industry, I would recommend sticking with economics as a profession (given that you still like it) and learning engineering through online videos, lectures, books, etc. Besides, remember that you can always take like 1 class per semester for fun and keep learning science and engineering on the side. Most of the people will tell you that engineering is hard and very time consuming and it is almost like having a full-time job. This is true for most, however, if you are truly passionate, you will be able to juggle economics and engineering. And by not committing yourself completely to the engineering field, you are keeping the option of leaving engineering always open. Practically speaking, I think it makes more sense to continue Economics but for the sake of sanity, do not lose hopes and do not leave Engineering. It is a beautiful discipline.

Lastly, I don't think that you should feel too bad about your GPA. In most cases, grad schools look at your GRE first, then your research that you may have done at your undergrad institute, and then your GPA (I am quoting one of the graduate studies advisor that I met at a grad school fair). If you have had some experience doing research, then it is a really good resource. If not, try to get as good of a score in the GRE as you can. I would say that you should think about this from the most practical perspective as you are trying to build a career for yourself and making a hasty decision without putting much thought into it may not help.

If you want more time to think, get a job/internship at an economics firm and see if you still like what you would do there. Then go get an internship in an engineering firm (I know that this will be hard for you given your background but you can always ask a company to let you volunteer without getting paid). Shadow an engineer, learn a thing or two about the engineering industry from them. You will then know where your heart and soul belongs.

Check out this professor at San Jose State University. See how he fulfilled his passion for science after getting a PhD in Economics. I highly recommend asking him for some advice also. http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/resume2.htm

You can do volunteer work too at the places you may want to work. some have programs for kids and daily tour guides you would make a great volunteer for something like this and this will help you on your resume. Not to mention independent tutorials and independent studies. Good luck
Hi Harikrishna and Holly! Thank you for the quick replies. With an economics degree I learned a great deal about opportunity cost (which is implicit and explicit cost of doing something) which keeps popping in my head. However, I am not always sure that opportunity cost alone can be completely accurate. Like you said, I have some things to consider. Thanks again!
Oh, I will send that professor an email also. Thanks!

Ethan’s Answer

Updated New York, New York

I can probably add to the above answers, as I almost did go into the space industry on several occasions.

If you merely want to be involved in the space industry and aren't as concerned with what you'll do, your best bet is get an MBA and go into the business side of things. The guys who run Lockheed Martin and Space X aren't necessarily engineers, though many of them started that way, but once you get to the higher level, of any profession, its all about business. Lockheed, Boeing, etc hire plenty of finance accounting and economics majors.

If you want to actually go INTO space, rather than build equipment for it, and you are physically healthy, a US Citizen, and have good eyesight, an interesting, though by no means guaranteed way of getting into space is the US Air Force. Go and be a pilot or CSO (formerly called navigator) and see if you can roll that into astronaut training. (Unfortunately Space Operations Officer jobs are closed to non-STeM degrees) The pay isn't good and there's absolutely no guarantee you'll get what you want, but it may be worth it to live the dream.

If you actually want to be involved in the nitty-gritty of space technology, you'll have to pick up an engineering degree. No number of Youtube videos and TED talks is going to convince an employer at one of these places to hire an economics major to do an engineer's job. Defense contractors are among the most competitive places for engineers to get into. Working at Lockheed for a Mech E is like working at Google for a Comp Sci Major. In terms of what type of engineer: as Harikrishna said, its not just Aerospace Engineers. Mechancial/Aerospace, are honestly, nearly interchangeable at the undergrad level if you take the right high level classes. If you have that degree, you'll get to work on a bunch of different parts of a spacecraft such as the structure, the propulsion system, control systems, etc. But you can also go more specialized, Electrical, Material Science, or Chemical Engineers, and do more in depth work in specific areas.

Thanks Ethan! You layout possible options very nicely and actually in a vague way I have been thinking about those three options. My grandfather would be happy to see me work at Lockheed with my economics degree if I decided to apply, he used to work there as a contract manager (or something similar). Trying to live the dream or make parts of space craft is also very appealing though. Lots to consider! I was wondering if you could tell me why you did not end up in the space industry? If you don't want to answer that is completely okay. Thanks again for your reply!