How do I go from one kind of nerd to another?
May 21, 2013 5:08 PM   Subscribe

What steps should I take to switch to the aerospace industry from the academic world?

I am currently a post-doc in pure mathematics (in Canada), with a background in mathematical physics; that said, even the physics I did was theoretical, so I don't really know any practical skills from that.

I've been thinking more and more that I might like to do a drastic shift in careers and move into the aerospace industry, but I honestly don't have the foggiest clue how to do that.

My naive guess would be that I need to go back to school into either an engineering program or into a heavy-on-applications-to-space physics/computer science program, but I don't know if this is the best way or not. If it is, how does ? It seems that going back for an undergraduate degree wouldn't make sense (it'd be a little funny to have to take an engineering calculus class, for instance, since I've taught those...), but having glanced around a little bit I'm not sure what graduate programs to look into either. I'm also worried that regarding graduate programs, that I don't have sufficient background in practical applications.

I guess my main questions are the following:

If I need to go back to school, where should I go? What universities within North America (or even Europe, I guess) have good programs that would move job in the space industry?

What other advice can you suggest for someto make this leap?
posted by vernondalhart to Science & Nature (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"The aerospace industry" is a huge thing. What exactly do you want to do?
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:28 PM on May 21, 2013

Fair question. I'm not 100% sure what is out there, which is part of why I don't know what the right step is. This is why I was thinking that going back into school would be a good idea, so that I could more directly be exposed to what there is out there.
posted by vernondalhart at 5:40 PM on May 21, 2013

An easy step 1 would be to just start looking at job postings. See what the jobs are, see what they're asking in terms of qualifications. You could very well already be qualified for some things. It will give you an idea of what you might need to be considering. You could also do some informational interviews with some people in the industry to ask some of your questions (just don't do this as a backdoor job interview, really only use it for the informational part).
posted by brainmouse at 5:49 PM on May 21, 2013

I think you've been in school long enough and you are more than capable of doing the kind of work that happens at aerospace companies. Certainly you're just as able as a fresh engineering grad, and they can get hired straight away. School can be kind of a trap for us academic-types (speaking from experience). What you need to make yourself employable is practical experience and a professional network.

I would start by doing some intensive research on the aerospace industry. Look for job boards; make a list of relevant companies and look for open postings on the 'careers' sections of their websites; try to find active online communities, such as on LinkedIn, or out there on the web in general. It's within your abilities right now to gain an understanding of what kind of jobs are out there and what kinds of skills and experience are required -- you don't need a school program to do this for you. Once you see how you might fit into such roles, it will be more obvious what you need to do to get there. The next step would be to reach out to people in the industry. But do your homework first.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:53 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hobbyspace is the most comprehensive site I know of that gathers general news of the space industry.
posted by Sophont at 6:58 PM on May 21, 2013

Defense Contractor R&D divisions have use for pure Math PhD's. If the country you are looking for work in has an equivalent to the US's DARPA, i would find out which companies get the contracts, and see what postings they have.
posted by TheAdamist at 7:43 PM on May 21, 2013

A lot of aerospace is government contracting, which has well-known issues. A research-focused or non-Govt.-contracting company would likely be most rewarding.
posted by sninctown at 8:13 PM on May 21, 2013

What skiills and experience do you have that would be of use to an aerospace company? ------- little more than anybody else with a non industry specific docorate.

Do aerospace companies target recruit non industry specifci post docs?----No, as far I know.

Do aerospace companies target recruit graduates with non industry degrees -----Yes, as far as I know.

I assume Canadian colleges have carreers advisers. Maybe he or she can ratify my though process and help you to apply for appropriate graduate programmes. If not you can research it and do it yourself. Perhaps you can phone a few HR execs. I reckon you could get them to spend some time chatting about the industry's recruitment strategy and you might even develop some useful contacts.
posted by BenPens at 4:40 AM on May 22, 2013

I'm a rocket scientist in the aerospace industry. I have an aerospace engineering degree and I work in spacecraft flight operations. I have worked with at least 5 math majors in my career. These math majors have performed jobs such as ground system engineers, subsystem engineers, flight operations engineers, software developers, and mission operations managers.

To the best of my knowledge none of them ever did anything special to get a spacecraft ops job other than apply, and these are all people with math undergrads only. Once you figure out what in aerospace you would like to do, find a place that does that and apply there.

To answer your questions: I don't believe you need to go back to school. Any company you work for will train you in how that company works. Some universities I would suggest (anyway, since you asked) would be Penn State, University of Maryland, Virginia Tech, and Capitol College.

The other advice I would give you is become a US citizen since a lot of work in the US aerospace field involves export-controlled data and articles than can't be exported to non-US persons.
posted by Rob Rockets at 10:15 AM on May 22, 2013

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