Careers in Aeronautics
After reading about how airplanes fly, what tools are used to design them, and the people behind it all, you might be interested in a job in such an exciting field! Just think, that could be you creating and using the technology for a futuristic passenger airplane or fighter jet. You could be improving and modifying existing airplanes for safer, cheaper and more environmentally friendly flights. You could be responsible for the new types of air and space vehicles today's engineers haven't even dreamed of!
Check out the wide range of research areas (fluid mechanics/aerodynamics, propulsion/thermodynamics, stability and control, and structures and materials) needed throughout the airplane design process to get an idea of what you might want to do. What is really neat is the way these research areas all overlap, meaning you get to collaborate with many different people in many different fields. If you are interested in learning more about the fascinating jobs in aerospace, read on!
What are the different kinds of jobs in aerospace?
There is great variety in the types of jobs available in the aerospace field. A great way to learn more is to read about specific NASA engineers and scientists and to follow their day-to-day work in their field journals. An aerospace team is made up of: engineers, scientists and technicians working together towards a common goal. The following are some of the major kinds of roles. (Source: AIAA)
Scientists and Technicians
Before engineers can try to answer "how" questions like "how can we design an airplane for this specific function?" they need to have an understanding of the science behind it all. Scientists seek answers to "why" questions that provide these clues to the general science concepts that are applied by the engineers.
Scientists usually work in one of three places: Industrial Research and Development (R & D), Private and Government Labs and Academic Research. Scientists are vital to the discovery of new products and processes or to broaden the field of science by deriving or clarifying theories and concepts to be used by others. In an academic setting, many scientists teach at a college or university while they are also doing their research.
Technicians support aerospace engineers and scientists in many roles - from assisting in the collection and analysis of data to building and maintaining important models and equipment.
Almost every task in the aerospace field requires the teamwork of engineers, scientists and technicians.
What kind of education and experience do I need?
Most jobs in a high-tech field like aerospace require that you have a college degree. To get accepted to your first-choice college it helps to take as many challenging classes in high school as you can.
High School Preparation
While academic requirements vary from college to college, most four-year colleges like their students to have taken the following types of classes while in high school. (Source: NASA)
Choosing a College
It's never too early to start thinking about where you want to go to college. A two-year college offers students a certificate, an associate of arts (A.A.) degree, an associate of science degree (A.S.) degree, or an associate of applied science (A.A.S.) degree. A four-year college or university is where you can earn a bachelor of arts (B.A.) or bachelor of science (B.S.) degree. Most colleges and universities also offer graduate degrees like a master of science (M.S.), master of engineering (M.Eng.), or Ph.D. as well as professional degrees.
Besides the kind of program, classes, and degrees that are offered, some of the most important things to keep in mind when looking at particular colleges are the cost and amount of financial assistance available. In general, state and city colleges and universities have lower tuition while private ones generally cost more. The total cost of attending a school includes: housing, food, clothing, books, laboratory fees, and other travel, entertainment, and living expenses. Take a look at the college catalogs of different schools to get an idea of what costs you can expect. Most colleges offer students financial assistance in the form of scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study programs. Also check with your high school's guidance counselor to learn about the number of outside scholarships available from companies, private foundations, and local, state, and federal government.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Education has a student guide to financial aid. SallieMae has on-line calculators you can use to estimate the cost of college, savings goals, and expected family contribution. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators has a free, comprehensive financial aid information page. Finally, there are a number of online college informational and planning guides including: the Peterson's Colleges and Universities, the Princeton Review College Guide, Yahoo!'s American's Most Wired Colleges, The College Board, and CollegeEdge. Once you gather all these facts, you can sit down with your family and make a decision together on what college is right for you, your goals and your budget.
Classes to Expect in College
Here are some of the classes that are typical to a college program in aerospace. Because classes vary from school to school, this outline is here only to give you an idea of the types of classes and when you would be taking them. As you can see, you get to study a wide range of subject areas in science and engineering. Often, in the later years of your college career, you can focus in a particular area of aerospace and develop that into your specialty. As a professional, you can use this specialty to work together with other people in particular fields. (Source: AIAA)
Again, take a look at different catalogs to get an idea of the classes being offered at the colleges you are interested in. As for getting experience in the aerospace field, it gets easier to get internships and valuable work experience once you take some classes in colleges. Check out the college's career services office to find out about summer internships and part-time jobs with high-tech companies. Some colleges allow students to do hands-on research with professors and faculty during the school year. Not only will you learn a lot through these experiences, but you will stand out more with possible employers.
Towards the end of your college career when you start thinking about a full-time job, consult the career services office again to see what job placement services are available to you. Often large companies visit college campuses to interview students for full-time jobs.
Two more tips to make yourself more marketable to potential aerospace employers: sharpen your communciation and computer skills and stay informed of current events in the world of science, technology, and particularly, aerospace.
In today's world, it is essential to be able to communicate technical ideas clearly and effectively in written and verbal form. And, as careers in science depend more and more on computers, it's also important to be familiar with various computer systems and programs.
Because the aerospace industry is constantly changing, employers like students who keep up with what products (aircraft, systems, software) are made by which companies. Read the newspaper. Periodicals like magazines like Air & Space and Aviation Week are also good places to start. Staying informed on what's new in aerospace might also modify your specific interests in this exciting field.
Where else on the Internet can I learn about careers in aerospace and aviation?
Here are a number of guides, job listings and other organizations and societies where you can learn more about and search for careers in aerospace and aviation: