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Ask Slashdot: How To Enter Private Space Industry As an Engineer? 283

Posted by timothy
from the marry-into-it dept.
First time accepted submitter CtownNighrider writes "I'm in my senior year of high school currently in a selective program for future engineers. I have always been a good student and feel like I can get into most good schools (MIT is a long shot but RPI isn't). I plan on studying aerospace engineering (most likely getting a dual major with mechanical) in college and working for a company like SpaceX once I graduate. I would love any advice anyone can offer for my college search or being an engineer in general. I live in upstate NY and don't want to travel super far, I'm thinking about a 5 hour radius. I have the RPI medal so it's one of my top choices and MIT is my long shot but I'm having a tough time figuring out what schools are worth applying too. Academics come first hands down so male/female ratio and party scene aren't too important."
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Ask Slashdot: How To Enter Private Space Industry As an Engineer?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 23, 2011 @12:50PM (#37810650)

    You go to fancy schools because many of the students with whom you get drunk there are tomorrow's industry leaders. They are good people to know, because they will be able to provide you with employment opportunities that you simply can't get by sending off resumes.

  • by excelsior_gr (969383) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @12:56PM (#37810694)

    Don't limit you options based on the geographical factor. If the male/female ratio and the party scene are not important, then the location shouldn't be either.

  • by dlevitan (132062) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @01:08PM (#37810818)

    A few questions/thoughts to think about:

    1) How do you know you'd enjoy working for the private space industry? Sure, it sounds cool, but until you try it, don't assume you'll love it.

    2) Academics is not the most important thing. More important is getting experience. Look at the schools you're interested in and see what professors have contacts with the industry. E-mail them and, ideally, try to meet them. Most professors are very approachable and interested in working with undergrads. Sure, you'll be essentially free/cheap labor for 4 years. But you'll get hands-on experience and learn a lot, and, if you're any good, the professor will drop a note to his former students at SpaceX or whatever other company, who'll get you a job as soon as you graduate.

    3) Take classes besides engineering. You'll learn a lot, meet new people (networking is the most important thing), and get a different perspective on life. And, you might decide something else is more interesting. Treat college as a chance to explore and learn, not a something to deal with on the way to what you think you want to do.

    4) Male/female ratio and social interaction in general is essential. If you go to a good school, you will be battered by problem sets, projects, etc... You survive that by having friends, a significant other, etc... You don't survive that by just working harder. Having a good social life (which does not mean partying all the time) is vital for having a good college experience and being successful. Plus, you never know when your friends will be able to help you later in life. And learning how to socialize (which you're probably not the best at right now) while in college means you have the skills to be confident both for future personal relationships and when you look for a job and need to deal with other people.

    5) If you/your parents don't have any money, go to a good state school or to a school that gives you a good scholarship and save >$100k. It's not really worth the hassle if you really take advantage of the opportunities in your school. And you can always work with a professor at another school during the summers.

    6) If you do have the money, go to the best school you can. The advantage of those schools is not that the education is better, but that the networking opportunities are much better and that the professors there have the best connections. MIT and RPI are good. Also Cornell has a top notch engineering program (and it's my undergrad alma mater). Carnegie Mellon is very good. Also Cooper Union, UPenn, Princeton, and Columbia. Probably some others as well.

    Good luck and remember, academics is not everything in life!

  • Re:be smart (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rakshasa-sensei (533725) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @01:14PM (#37810856) Homepage
    Actually it isn't good advice; there's nothing 'good' about a telling a young person not to ask advice on life choices. The roads in life are not just simple 'engineering problems', since they are more often solved through experience rather than analysis by an inexperienced person.

    For one thing those with experience can tell you when you're asking the wrong question, which is not that easy to deduce through analytical reasoning.

    E.g. the 5 hour radius limit is stupid, studying far from home is not a disadvantage. Hell, a stint abroad is definitely strongly recommended, not just for academic but life experience reasons. Also don't study something because you want to get into a company, study it because you love what you are doing and going to bed feels like a waste. (to the point where your personal projects end up competing for time with your 'real' schoolwork)

    You don't get into a place like SpaceX by wanting to work on spaceships, and then studying the right things. You get in by being exceptionally good at some skill they need, and to become exceptionally good at something you need to spend countless hours honing your skills, and only way you will be able to do that is if you like doing it. So don't fret that much about how to gain useful skills, instead do interesting stuff and the threads will connect in surprising ways.
  • by SpyPlane (733043) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @01:40PM (#37811042)

    If you want to work in Aerospace, have you considered applying to the Air Force Academy? It doesn't meet your radius obviously, but going to a school based on location might be a mistake in general. I don't know your situation, but you asked here so you are going to get all sorts of answers.

    Yes will you have to put in some time to the Air Force when you get out, but if you have an aero degree and some time in the air force, you are almost guaranteed a job when you get out. This idea is obviously a long shot as the Academy is probably harder by the numbers to get into than MIT, but it might be the best decision outside of Caltech.

  • by TerranFury (726743) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @01:45PM (#37811080)


    Sure, you need to work hard in college. But it's also a once-in-a-lifetime to do things that, once you leave, it becomes much, much harder to do. You say the male/female ratio is unimportant? You say you don't care about social aspects? I suggest you reconsider.

    I'm not saying you need to become a binge drinker or a man-slut. But there's only one time in your life when you'll be able to date college-age girls respectably, and you don't want to waste it. If that sounds superficial, it's not entirely. As you get older, you'll find that people close up; they build walls; they get harder and harder to connect with. (Plus, college, unlike the real world, has admissions criteria.) You will never get closer to people than during college, and that's worth a lot. It's a learning experience for both of you, and without it you'll have lived quite a bit less.

    It's not unusual for students to travel, learn languages, see the world. For adults, this is discouraged. Once you get a job, you will get two or three weeks vacation annually. That's it. And time off on your resume is hard to explain. Don't waste your youth. You won't have the same socially-acceptable opportunities for exploration. Ever again.

    Sometimes I think that the purpose of life is to collect stories. How many stories will you have by the time you graduate?

    Connect with people. Travel. Learn a second language (You like engineering. German? Chinese?). Join organizations (Formula SAE, which builds racecars, is a good one) Become a well-rounded person. Don't waste opportunities, and don't fear failure. Just go out and do a bunch of stuff. Your 25-year-old self will have fewer regrets.

If this is a service economy, why is the service so bad?