Author Topic: How to transition from Mech Eng to Aerospace  (Read 656 times)

Offline Glorky FCY

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How to transition from Mech Eng to Aerospace
« on: 04/08/2019 04:01 pm »
Currently I am a new grad mechanical engineer who finally accepted my passion for aerospace in my last year. The CRS-5 landing attempt sparked a fire in me that kept burning. Over the years found myself becoming more immersed in the industry, reading articles, textbooks, forums, whatever I could get my hands on. (I've even designed and built my own pressure-fed throatless, pintle engine with all the plumbing/test stand, which I've never had the guts to fire).

Now that I have graduated I find myself wondering if I picked the wrong field of study. Sure mech eng and aerospace have plenty of overlap, but as a new grad I am finding a hard time finding just any engineering job as I have limited experience. Finding employment in an aerospace company as a new grad mech eng is near impossible even with my inside contacts. Canada isn't the greatest country for a new grad engineer to find work in. I considered going for a Masters in Aerospace, but since I never planned on doing a Masters, I never networked as necessary and have no one to write reference letters for me.

Recently I applied to an undergrad program for Aerospace Engineering at a few universities, but I am still unsure if this is the proper path towards my goal of designing hardware that ends up in orbit.


TL;DR: Am new grad mech eng in Canada, can't find job in aerospace, going back to school for aerospace.

Offline gtae07

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Re: How to transition from Mech Eng to Aerospace
« Reply #1 on: 04/09/2019 07:02 pm »
I canít speak specifically to space jobs (Iím an engineer at an aircraft manufacturer) but for the aerospace field in general thereís basically nothing to be gained from going back for an aerospace undergrad (or another undergrad in general).  To put it more bluntly, youíd be wasting your time and money and actually making yourself less attractive to future employers.  Outside of very specialized roles (maybe stability and control, or some CFD) there wonít really be a hard preference for AE vs. ME.  Youíll be treated the same, and once you have a bit of work experience nobody will care what field your major was in, anyway.

Do you have any previous relevant work experience?  Entry-level jobs in this industry are hard to find, and theyíre a lot harder to get if you have no experience because youíre competing against people with internship and co-op experience.

Donít be dead-set that you just have to get into the space industry from day 1.  Find an aerospace job in general if you can; if not, get a job somewhere.  Having at least a year or two of good solid engineering job on your resume, even if itís in another field like automotive, oil and gas, etc. will suit you better than more academic qualifications.

I work with people from all different work backgroundsóautomotive, civil, oil & gas, manufacturing, engines, electrical components, industrial food packaging, coonstruction equipment, etc.  We all wound up in aerospace one way or another. 

TL;DR: Just get a job and get experience, then apply for other jobs.  Youíll have a lot more open doors with an ME degree anyway.

Edit: Oh, and if you have any decent hands-on  ability, mention it on your resume and in interviews.  Show off your rocket engine. Most employers will value an engineer who isnít afraid to get their hands dirty.  Mentioning that Iím building an airplane at home, and that my wife helps me rivet, helped get me my current job.
« Last Edit: 04/09/2019 07:05 pm by gtae07 »

Offline ThereIWas3

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Re: How to transition from Mech Eng to Aerospace
« Reply #2 on: 04/09/2019 08:09 pm »
Don't forget that Gwynne Shotwell has a degree in Mechanical Engineering.  There is more to aerospace than the "sliderule" stuff.

The aerospace engineer may design what it looks like and how it works, but the mechanical engineer figures out how to build it.
« Last Edit: 04/09/2019 09:28 pm by ThereIWas3 »
"If you want to build a ship, donít drum up people to collect wood and donít assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea" - Antoine de Saint-Exupťry

Offline RonM

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Re: How to transition from Mech Eng to Aerospace
« Reply #3 on: 04/09/2019 09:18 pm »
My father worked at Lockheed for over 35 years on aircraft, wind tunnels, and flight simulators. He was a mechanical engineer and said it was the most flexible engineering degree for getting a job.


Offline gtae07

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Re: How to transition from Mech Eng to Aerospace
« Reply #4 on: 04/10/2019 10:45 am »
Iíll add that, although  I was an AE and Iíd known thatís what I was going to do from a very young age (as that was my dadís major and I wanted to be a pilot like him) I think an ME degree would have been more useful in what Iím doing day to day.  I also think an ME degree, or an AE degree from almost anywhere else, would have been better preparation (at least in terms of academics) for a real-world job. 

I owe my job to the schoolís  co-op program, but my alma materís AE program is heavily geared towards those who intend to go straight into grad school and possibly never leave academia.  I needed remedial structures education and I never really grokked controls.

And donít get hung up on the idea that you need to be designing new cool stuff from day one, either.  Too many engineers come fresh out of school and think ďnow Iím qualified to design the cool new shiny stuff!Ē  and thatís all they want to do because itís the glamorous jobóeverything else is beneath them, apparently ::)  Thereís a lot more to the field than simply designing new things, and it would really be better to get a couple of yearsí experience supporting production, service, maintenance, etc. so you can get a better idea of how things are done and why before you sit down to start making the next greatest thing. 

You may find out that designing stuff really isnít your preferred brew, anyway.  I can do it but Iím not very good at it and I donít like it.  I found my niche doing systems troubleshooting and incident analysis, with a side of process improvement.  If you enjoyed making your rocket engine and test stand, try to find a test engineering position.  It may take you a little time working other  jobs before you find one, but they can be very rewarding as well, particularly if you like to ďget dirtyĒ.  I started my career designing and supporting test rigs.  I learned a lot.  When you screw up or draw something stupid, you learn a lot faster when the guys building your drawing haul your butt out on the floor and make you fix it yourself  ;D

Offline Glorky FCY

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Re: How to transition from Mech Eng to Aerospace
« Reply #5 on: 04/10/2019 01:56 pm »
Wow, thanks for all the replies.
I really respect the people on this forum and the friendliness/professionalism I've seen so far.  :D

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I canít speak specifically to space jobs (Iím an engineer at an aircraft manufacturer) but for the aerospace field in general thereís basically nothing to be gained from going back for an aerospace undergrad (or another undergrad in general)

From my research and my job hunting experience, it appears that all the aerospace positions I've seen are either very specialized and specific or looking for interns. My goal in going back to an undergrad is to:
1. Get education on relevant aerospace fundamentals: Aerodynamics, Propulsion, Orbital mechanics, Avionics
2. Be eligible for internships again
3. Build those important relationships with profs and try to get a research position

Quote
Oh, and if you have any decent hands-on  ability, mention it on your resume and in interviews.  Show off your rocket engine. Most employers will value an engineer who isnít afraid to get their hands dirty.

I don't know if I can do that... It is really embarrassing.  :-[
It took me a lot of guts to even mention it here, I'm sure if anyone in the aerospace community saw it, they would probably run in the opposite direction. I've been meaning to work on a new aerospace project, something more electronic and safer.

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Youíll have a lot more open doors with an ME degree anyway.

Don't forget that Gwynne Shotwell has a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

He was a mechanical engineer and said it was the most flexible engineering degree for getting a job.

Yup, I agree with all the statements above. Mechanical Engineering really is the most flexible since it can branch off into many other disciplines. It's the reason I picked mechanical engineering over mechatronics (the other option I was thinking of as a highschool student). still ended up doing a mechatronics minor anyways.
However now that I am done my degree I've realized that aerospace is the industry I want to pursue. I have no doubt that if I was living in the states I would be able to find some employment that can lead me to aerospace or maybe even find a job doing some drafting or something mundane for the industry. However that is not the case. Here in canada there really isn't much of a space industry outside of MDA (which I have been applying to repeatedly). I've also been applying to the aircraft section of the industry, but with no results to show for either. It's not easy to compete with those with prior experience or an AE degree. So far, my roadmaps are:

work in canada not aerospace-> transfer to aerospace in canada
work in canada not aerospace -> transfer to us -> get green card -> transfer to aerospace
go back to school for aerospace bachelors + masters -> get aerospace related job somewhere in the world

The first option isn't easy as there really aren't many opportunities here. (Although that might change given the acceleration of newspace and canada's commitment to NASA's moon missions). And the second one doesn't really have a definitive timeline. Even the third one isn't really guaranteed, but it seems more likely to work despite the financial cost. Dreams require hardwork and risk so I'm told, having an eye on the goal isn't good enough for me. I have to be working towards it in some meaningful way. Side projects and textbooks are good, but I feel like I would learn more from a professional. I'm not saying that this roadmap is the easiest. But it's the one I feel would get me closer to my goals. I made this thread hoping to find insights from others who already made it in.

Offline ThereIWas3

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Re: How to transition from Mech Eng to Aerospace
« Reply #6 on: 04/10/2019 03:56 pm »
Part of Electrical Engineering (at least back when I took it) was Control Systems.  This covers feedback loops, transfer functions, servos, and all that stuff.  Any aircraft or spacecraft is going to make use of those systems and especially these days when so much is controlled by computers.   Something as simple as opening a propellant valve involves a servo-motor control system.  The AE will decide the valve needs to be there, the ME will design the valve itself and the tooling to make it, and the EE will develop the computer and electrical system that operates it.

It is not exactly a union shop though;  no matter which letters are on your degree you can always learn the other stuff.  Its mosly math anyway - just different formulations.
"If you want to build a ship, donít drum up people to collect wood and donít assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea" - Antoine de Saint-Exupťry

Offline gtae07

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Re: How to transition from Mech Eng to Aerospace
« Reply #7 on: 04/10/2019 05:12 pm »
Wow, thanks for all the replies.
I really respect the people on this forum and the friendliness/professionalism I've seen so far.  :D

Quote
I canít speak specifically to space jobs (Iím an engineer at an aircraft manufacturer) but for the aerospace field in general thereís basically nothing to be gained from going back for an aerospace undergrad (or another undergrad in general)

From my research and my job hunting experience, it appears that all the aerospace positions I've seen are either very specialized and specific or looking for interns.
Then get a job in another field right now.  Job > > no job.  It's experience, outside perspective, and money.

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My goal in going back to an undergrad is to:
1. Get education on relevant aerospace fundamentals: Aerodynamics, Propulsion, Orbital mechanics, Avionics
Aerodynamics will be covered some with an AE degree, but now you're looking at a niche within a niche (aero within the space industry).  Talk about setting your bar high...
Propulsion is just applied thermodynamics.  If you took heat transfer and thermo you're 90%+ of the way there.
Orbital mechanics... honestly my "specialty" such as it was as an undergrad was orbital mechanics.  90% of what I learned about orbital mechanics I'd picked up before I took any classes in it, from playing with Orbiter.  All the class did was teach me the math.  Go play Orbiter (or I guess even Kerbal, which wasn't around at the time) for a while and learn Matlab, and then you can teach yourself from a book a whole lot easier.
Avionics isn't taught in undergrad at all.  AT ALL.  As others mentioned, controls should have been covered already.  Some programming experience will help but it's really something you'll learn on the job.
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2. Be eligible for internships again
Why get an internship if you can get a real job? 
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3. Build those important relationships with profs and try to get a research position
Do you want to make real hardware that actually goes in space, or do you want to fart about in a lab calling your job complete when you have what a company that actually makes hardware considers a preliminary trade study?

Look, I'm an engineer in the aerospace industry.  Typically, real experience > > > academics.  Every manager I've ever worked for would rather hire a guy with some other degree and experience in even an only vaguely-related field than some guy who went back to school for another undergrad and then a master's.  Going back to school for another undergrad in a similar field right after finishing one, and then maybe topping it off with a master's, looks less like "this guy is really dedicated" and more "this guy just wants to be a perpetual student".


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Oh, and if you have any decent hands-on  ability, mention it on your resume and in interviews.  Show off your rocket engine. Most employers will value an engineer who isnít afraid to get their hands dirty.

I don't know if I can do that... It is really embarrassing.  :-[
It took me a lot of guts to even mention it here, I'm sure if anyone in the aerospace community saw it, they would probably run in the opposite direction. I've been meaning to work on a new aerospace project, something more electronic and safer.
No, quite a number of us would think it's cool as penguin feces and want to know how well it worked.  They don't expect you to turn out professional quality work because you aren't a professional yet.  You just got out of college, which means all they expect you to know how to do is math problems.  Show them you put effort into doing something real, whatever it is, and that's major bonus points.

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Youíll have a lot more open doors with an ME degree anyway.

Don't forget that Gwynne Shotwell has a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

He was a mechanical engineer and said it was the most flexible engineering degree for getting a job.

Yup, I agree with all the statements above. Mechanical Engineering really is the most flexible since it can branch off into many other disciplines. It's the reason I picked mechanical engineering over mechatronics (the other option I was thinking of as a highschool student). still ended up doing a mechatronics minor anyways.
However now that I am done my degree I've realized that aerospace is the industry I want to pursue. I have no doubt that if I was living in the states I would be able to find some employment that can lead me to aerospace or maybe even find a job doing some drafting or something mundane for the industry. However that is not the case. Here in canada there really isn't much of a space industry outside of MDA (which I have been applying to repeatedly). I've also been applying to the aircraft section of the industry, but with no results to show for either. It's not easy to compete with those with prior experience or an AE degree. So far, my roadmaps are:

work in canada not aerospace-> transfer to aerospace in canada
work in canada not aerospace -> transfer to us -> get green card -> transfer to aerospace
go back to school for aerospace bachelors + masters -> get aerospace related job somewhere in the world

The first option isn't easy as there really aren't many opportunities here. (Although that might change given the acceleration of newspace and canada's commitment to NASA's moon missions). And the second one doesn't really have a definitive timeline. Even the third one isn't really guaranteed, but it seems more likely to work despite the financial cost.
The third one is probably less likely to work, because all your potential employers are going to see is some guy who's getting close to 30 and yet has zero work experience and a whole bunch of school.  What makes you competitive against a guy with 3-5 years of real work experience on real-world problems?

Again, you're putting way too much emphasis on the specifics of the title on your degree.  Once you get your first job under your belt nobody gives a rodent's posterior.  As long as you have a bachelor's in some form of engineering that box is checked as far as HR is concerned.

Also, one of my coworkers/friends is from Canada.  He started out working in machine shops, got his degree, worked in the power generation field for a while, and then hired on with Bombardier.  He later got a work visa, came to the US to work with us, and is working on his green card.  He was not an aerospace major. 

I would suspect that any company outside Canada who would be willing to hire foreign nationals and sponsor them on some form of work visa or residency is going to prefer someone with documented, proven work experience over someone without.

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Dreams require hardwork and risk so I'm told, having an eye on the goal isn't good enough for me. I have to be working towards it in some meaningful way. Side projects and textbooks are good, but I feel like I would learn more from a professional. I'm not saying that this roadmap is the easiest. But it's the one I feel would get me closer to my goals. I made this thread hoping to find insights from others who already made it in.
I strongly believe your hard work would be better placed getting actual experience rather than doing more school.


The vast majority of anything you're going to do in a real-world engineering job will be learned on the job.  All of the math problems and idealized closed-form work you do as an undergrad just proves you can put up with crap for a while and can learn something.  You have all the schooling you need, now get some work experience.

Heck, certain industries would probably transfer well over into space.  Something in petroleum/gas, power systems, environmental controls... all of that stuff can transfer over.  Find an airline and get on with their maintenance group.  I know you're all fired up to get into the space industry, and it's not the answer you want to hear... but I can't emphasize enough, by and large employers don't care much about the title of your degree and it's mainly just an HR checkbox.  Go work in a field with at least a little transferable skills, be a kickass employee, and that'll look a whole lot better to potential employers than more classroom time.

Heck, if absolutely nothing else, get a real job, save up money, and use it to travel to industry conferences.  Press the flesh.  Meet people that way.  I met multiple astronauts and space industry folks doing that on my own dime as an undergrad.  You want to show dedication, that shows a lot more than another round of undergrad education.
« Last Edit: 04/11/2019 10:06 am by gtae07 »

Offline ThereIWas3

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Re: How to transition from Mech Eng to Aerospace
« Reply #8 on: 04/11/2019 01:24 am »
The most useful things you learn in an undergraduate engineering degree are 1) Math does not have to be scary and 2) HOW to learn new stuff quickly.  If you did not already have the necessary sense of curiosity about how things work you would not have gone into Engineering in the first place.

The only people impressed by more degrees are the FIRST one who hires you.  After that, experience wins.  Get out there.
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Offline novak

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Re: How to transition from Mech Eng to Aerospace
« Reply #9 on: 04/11/2019 03:47 am »
Every job I've worked has hired Mechanical and Aerospace as if they were the same degree.  It's really not much of a difference.  Sure, the average aerospace engineer might study some subjects more than the average mechanical engineer, but if you are knowledgeable in the field that shouldn't slow you down at all.  And I don't think the name of your degree on your resume will either.

I graduated in the middle of the 2008 downturn so I also had a bit of a time looking for a job.  A couple of tips on places you can get into aerospace more easily:

1) Outsourcing companies.  May not be the most glamorous work, but they generally hire fairly new grads and turn them into experts in a narrow field, doing work for big companies.  I worked for a CFD outsourcing company straight out of a bachelor's in aerospace and it helped me get into a pretty specialized field pretty fast.

2) Startups.  Sure, you may not want to work for certain startups, but most of the time the companies with deep pockets get their pick of the field and startups are willing to settle for smart and willing to learn.  It's also a good way to be involved in a wide variety of different types of things.

Neither of those will generally pay as well as a big company generally does, but you can take that experience somewhere better in a couple years if the first place you land isn't cutting it.  At that point, you'll have a much easier time landing a job in a field you already work in.
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Re: How to transition from Mech Eng to Aerospace
« Reply #10 on: 04/11/2019 04:02 am »
Not sure if you are East or West Coast of Canada, if East then there are a lot more space businesses than just MDA.
West Coast the only ones who comes to mind are MDA and Urthecast.

Check out the SpaceQ podcast, they regularly interview Canadian companies, might give you some ideas on places to apply to, you could always ask them for suggestions on companies to apply to.

If not aerospace maybe you can get on board with a startup company, spend some time searching through Canada's Tech Accelerator programs in the tech sector like MaRS https://www.marsdd.com/who-we-work-with/
https://www.marsdd.com/work-in-tech/community-job-board/

Speaking in general terms to make yourself stand out as a job applicant:
As for your engine, fire it! (safely from a distance in a non combustible area). Then learn what did and didn't work, document that. Improve it. Demonstrate that you are able to do your own research, be a self starter, be driven and passionate, and be able to evaluate and improve on your mistakes.

Need some inspiration for that? Look up an interview with Peter Beck. He went from strapping a home built rocket engine to a bicycle to eventually founding his own rocket company. Oh and he has stated in multiple interviews that when Rocket Lab is looking for new hires they really don't give a damn what your credentials are so long as you can demonstrate being passionate and able to take on new challenges. Show people what you can do.
« Last Edit: 04/11/2019 04:13 am by GWH »

Offline leaflion

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Re: How to transition from Mech Eng to Aerospace
« Reply #11 on: 04/11/2019 04:22 am »

Speaking in general terms to make yourself stand out as a job applicant:
As for your engine, fire it! (safely from a distance in a non combustible area). Then learn what did and didn't work, document that. Improve it. Demonstrate that you are able to do your own research, be a self starter, be driven and passionate, and be able to evaluate and improve on your mistakes.


Totally agree. There is no hazard that a long distance can't mitigate.

I'm an ME working for a space company (US), and that is the kind of thing I specifically look for when interviewing candidates.  I got here by working in oil and gas for a bit before moving into space.  I have never done nor been expected to do any aerodynamics, orbital mechanics, propulsion or avionics.  A typical aerospace degree is 95% aero and 5% space.  Most of my coworkers have ME degrees.  Aerospace engineering that I'm familiar with you won't learn much if any avionics, that would be an EE degree.  Most engineers working avionics are EEs, then MEs, I'm not sure if there is a single AE working avionics.  Propulsion is more of a mixed bag, but its typically MEs and AE masters.  ME undergrad with an AE masters with a propulsion-centric thesis could be an effective combination.  I agree with other posters that a second undergrad would be a waste.  Nobody cares what you did in undergrad after a couple years' experience, and spending twice as long on undergrad will add no value.  To echo others, I would recommend getting any engineering job, working there a year or two, then breaking into space.  If the aero industry in Canada is tiny, then you could use that time getting non-space engineering experience to get a green card and kill two birds with one stone.

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