MSc Aerospace engineering

Is it worth doing an MSc Aerospace engineering?

The short answer is, probably yes.

(But never go with short answers.)

The long answer begins with some questions:

Why do you want to do it? What are your long-term goals, and what are your goals for the course of study?

To improve my chances of getting an aerospace job,

You’ll be gambling. It might pay off, it might not.

I did an MSc Aerospace engineering for precisely this reason. After eight years as a practising engineer, I’d found myself typecast as a chemical/environmental engineer. (No kidding.) I wanted to re-orient my career towards aircraft design, but found all the doors at aerospace firms closed to me. My CV screamed, Chemical engineer! (This despite two degrees in mechanical engineering.) That’s all recruiting people could see.

I eventually realized that a brief return to education was my only chance of success. So I gambled. Sold the house, car, everything, and moved my family across the Atlantic for a year doing an MSc aerospace engineering.

The gamble paid off, but it nearly didn’t. At the end of the year, with a new degree, wife, kids, and no money, I had precisely one job offer. Which I took. The rest is history. I worked at Airbus for 10 years, and got heavily involved in the design of the world’s largest airliner.

The main advantage of a non-research graduate degree lies with the personal connections you will build at and through the university. Academics are generally very well connected within their industry, and they can open doors for you that will otherwise remain closed.

Yes, you will learn much in a graduate degree through your study, some of which (but not all) will serve you well in future jobs.

But a large amount of the value of this study lies in this fact: It persuades your instructors that you’re worth recommending for a job at a company to which they’re connected!

So an MSc Aerospace engineering (or a graduate degree in anything, for that matter) will only be as good as the doors that you can be reasonably sure will open up for you afterwards. But don’t go otherwise. Do your homework on this!

I can’t find an aerospace job, so I might as well fill my time in graduate school.

Bad reason.

You’ll be wasting your time, spending your parents’ (or your own money) doing something that prepares you for nothing. Wasting time is always bad, but paying to waste time? That’s foolish at best, and unethical at worst.

I recommend reading Penelope Trunk’s post on LinkedIn, entitled Don’t Go to Grad School. The tone of it is a little harsh, perhaps, but her reasoning is sound.

If you can’t find an aerospace job, then start designing aircraft and spacecraft on your own. Don’t wait for someone to pay you. Find (or create) some online open-source projects. Work in a coffee shop on the side to keep the bills paid, if you have to. But call yourself an aerospace engineer. And work like one.

To do a research project that is just so cool, I won’t be able to live with myself if I don’t do it.

OK, probably good reason. Especially if a life of academic research is unquestionably your goal. These days, it’s incredibly easy to do technical research projects on the side, via open-source. But some projects (building nuclear fusion reactors, or devices to defend against chemical warfare, for example) are still part of the academic domain, often for good reasons.

My father was a chemist, whose final-year undergraduate thesis proved to be so fascinating for him, and for his supervisor, that he lost interest in everything else. So he carried right on with it into graduate school, eventually earning his MSc and PhD in just three years. That’s an example of a good reason to be in graduate school.

The company is paying for it.

OK, probably good reason, IF it’s something that suits your goals as well as the company’s. An MSc Aerospace engineering will still cost a significant amount of time. Your time. There is no point doing it if it isn’t something you really want to do as well. The company is paying for it because they intend to recoup their investment in you. If the course of study doesn’t grab you, you are setting yourself up for years of career misery.


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