Becoming an aerospace engineer
In celebration of Zoek’s competition to launch your CVs into space this May the Fourth, today we’re sharing a little information about routes into the world of aerospace and some top tips for securing your dream job in the space industry.
What is aerospace engineering?
Engineering is a huge field encompassing many subsidiary disciplines, including civil, electrical, mechanical, electronic, structural and even social engineering. Okay, that last one is a slightly different field, but apart from that, engineering is the name given to the design and construction of objects, machines, buildings and more using scientific and mathematical principles. As you might imagine, studying engineering is a protracted process due to the sheer volume of factors that go into making something entirely new that works safely and reliably.
Aerospace engineering is engineering concerned with the construction of aircraft and spacecraft. While some elements of aircraft and spacecraft design are the same across both disciplines, the huge difference rests on how these different craft take flight. An aircraft uses aerodynamics, the way that air flows around solid objects to create different pockets of pressure, to keep planes aloft and stable. By contrast, astrodynamics is all about thrust: create a force at one end of the vehicle, and it moves in the opposite direction according to Newton’s Laws of Motion. In that sense, spacecraft are a lot simpler than aircraft, as they don’t have to account for difficult particle flow physics.
However, rocket science isn’t considered one of the most complex jobs in the world for no reason. When building something that is intended to travel into and through space, every component has to be capable of taking a huge amount of strain and operating under some of the most extreme conditions we can imagine, in an environment we’re still just learning to understand.
What qualifications do you need to enter the aerospace profession?
As you might expect, aerospace engineering is an intellectually demanding vocation. To design spaceworthy craft, an aerospace engineer needs to know the physical properties of all the materials they’re working with and the physical forces which govern their performance. In short, you can’t build a rocket ship without knowing a whole lot of science.
You can study a Bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering in three years, but increasingly universities are offering four year integrated Master’s courses which include a year working in industry, where you can get valuable experience of a specialised field. Graduates who have an existing engineering degree in another field can take conversion courses to get up to speed on aerospace, and there are even university courses for further specialisation.
Alternative routes into Aerospace
But what if you’re already in the working world and don’t necessarily want to return to full-time education on your own dime? Well, entry-level positions in the aerospace field are still likely to require A-level or equivalent qualifications in Maths and Physics, but it is possible to find work as a technician with a large aerospace company who will then fund your career growth.
Another route in to engineering roles of all kinds is military service. Serving with the Royal Engineers gives you the chance to gain Level 4 qualifications in relevant disciplines, that can stand you in good stead to take up an aerospace role when you return to civilian life.
What are employers looking for in an aerospace engineer?
If you’re seeking a job as an aerospace engineer, you’re probably passionate about space flight and exploration. A personal interest is important, as the hard work requires an equally strong motivation. However, there are other qualities which are vital for someone pursuing this line of work.
Aerospace engineers seldom work alone. Even a small component in a larger system will require input from a team of people working together, not to mention that every element exists within a wider ecosystem. There’s a stereotype of people who are involved in STEM fields as being driven and passionate about their work, but strong interpersonal skills are increasingly recognised as a core requirement. Nobody wants to work with someone who’s difficult to get along with, even (especially) if they’re always right!
While engineering is grounded in scientific understanding, there’s a surprising amount of creativity involved as well. Being able to approach a problem from multiple angles and think beyond solutions that have already been developed are necessary for true innovation.
Finally, an engineer needs to be resilient. When you’re working at the cutting edge of human achievement, success is hard-won and learning from failure is a necessary part of the process. Thomas Edison, when mocked for his failures while inventing the lightbulb, famously said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This is a great example of the optimism and perseverance required of an aerospace engineer in the face of challenges.
Step into an aerospace engineering role and get a chance to have your CV sent into space here. Hurry, the competition closes on the 9th of April!