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Engineering Careers

¨  Professions that require both electrical engineering and aviation
¨  How do I become a rocket scientist?
¨  How do I become a robotics engineer?
¨  Encouragement for young son interested in robotics and space
¨  What courses do you have to take in a university to become a rocket scientist?
¨  I totally don't get calculus and might fail.  Can you give me advice?
¨  I don't like tinkering with things or seeing how things work.  Should I be an engineer?
¨  Advice on choosing engineering undergraduate courses
¨  What background do I need to become an astronaut or build equipment for spaceflight?
¨  Should I pursue a degree in engineering design or continue in mechanical engineering?
¨  What will I study in these electrical engineering courses?

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QUESTION:
Hello Kevin,
I always dreamed about flying and would like to become a pilot.  I think aviation is where it is.  However, I love electrical engineering too.  I plan on getting flying lessons starting this fall.  I saw that you are a EE too and a pilot.  Can you advise me what my options would be after I learn to fly?  Can I get a job where I can use both of my skills, EE and aviation?  Is there such a thing?  When I read your interview, your answers reflected my own interests.

ANSWER from Kevin Caruso on 22 June 2005:
Thank you for your note.

Congratulations on doing what you love to do: Engineering.
Congratulations on pursuing what you love: Flying.

Even if no job exists for the combination of talents, you can create such a job after you've established your skills in these areas.

My recommendation is to sign up for Private Pilot Ground School first---most
local small airports have such programs.  American Flyers is a great national program with centers throughout the USA.  This can be combined with flight training too, but I recommend the ground school first---to see if you like it, and to keep your initial costs lower.

Once you're a Private Pilot, then you can take the series of accelerated programs for the additional training you'll require.  Make a short and long term goal schedule.  Talk to other as many other pilots as possible---most of your flight instructors will also be pursuing aviation careers.  Research the combination of engineering and aviation on line---if you're passionate and persistent, and you seek answers, you will find them.

If you can dream it, you can become it. The key is to Take Action.  Listen to Nightingale-Conant's audio program by Earl Nightingale entitled "Lead The Field"---this is great foundational material for your successes throughout life.

Kevin Caruso
Stankraft Inc.
Illinois

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QUESTION:
I just finished 12th grade in India and wish to become a rocket scientist.  What courses should I take?  What do I need to do to work for NASA in this field?

ANSWER from Dean Davis on 18 June 2005:
You need to take courses in physics, chemistry, advanced mathematics including: calculus, statistics, trigonometry; propulsion, structures, thermodynamics, statics, dynamics, and computer-aided design.

Following these studies you can either join the Indian Space program or apply for a Student Visa to the United States and request a NASA intership at one of its many centers.  Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama as well as the Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia and Kennedy Space Center, Florida space launch centers would be excellent sites to gain NASA "rocket scientist" experience.

ANSWER from Stephanie Wong on 17 July 2005:
Because rockets and spaceflight is so complex, space agencies need people from all sorts of backgrounds, so the career possibilities are endless.  If you want to design and build rockets, consider becoming an engineer.  Whichever kind is up to you, depending if you want to design the structure, materials, electronics, mechanical parts, software or even select the propellant for a system.  The list goes on.  NASA needs scientists as well.

If you are not a US citizen, please take into mind that, since it is a government agency, you must be a US citizen to work for NASA.  Contractors to NASA may not have that requirement.

While in school, make sure to take all your sciences and all the math courses.  Computer science will be quite useful, too.

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QUESTION:
I am 14 and I would love to become a robotics engineer but I don't know what to do to get started.  What classes should I take in high school?

ANSWER from Mike Bastoni on 27 August 2004:
It's great to hear that you are considering engineering as a career.  I'd like you to consider several things that may help you with your engineering career choice.

1. Engineers work in teams.  This means they need to develop some essential skills that will ensure their success.  You can find out what these skills are, and which of them you possess, and which of them you will need to add to your growing talent set, by visiting any of the many SCANS websites.

This one offers a clear listing of the skills you should acquire to help ensure your success.
http://www.academicinnovations.com/report.html

2. Engineers are creative problem solvers who are willing to ask difficult and repeated questions when searching for a solution to a perceived problem.

3. The foundation skills that good engineers must have are both practical and academic.  These include:

o Mathematics skills (Get through Algebra II and Pre Calc while in High School)
o Science Knowledge (Take a physics class or two)
o Practical Experience (Design and Build stuff, take stuff apart, fix stuff, build robots, take a couple of shop classes)
o Understanding Engineering Methodologies (This means learning that there are distinct ways that engineers go about solving problems.)

4. Engineers love to learn!

In order to pursue your engineering goals, you will need at least an undergraduate degree (A Bachelor of Science Degree or BSc degree).  The choice about which school to attend belongs to you.  However the process of selecting a school can be tackled using the engineering method!And the first thing engineers do when they set about solving a problem is to RESEARCH as much information as they can about the the problem they are working on... so, start by typing keywords into a good web search engine.  Here are some you can try... but make up your own... and don't stop doing this until you graduate... from college!

Robotic engineering schools
Engineering education
Engineering colleges
Engineering Universities
Electro-Mechanical Engineering Degrees (This is pretty much a robotics degree program)
Carnegie Mellon University
USC Robotics (Home of Prof. Maja Mataric)

and there are likely a hundred more you can think up...  I tried some of these and it was amazing how many links turned up.

And don't forget, you might want to consider a career in teaching... a growing population of kids like you who are interested in engineering and robots will need qualified teachers in order to help them grow and learn to do he things they are passionate about.

The most important thing to do, is to build stuff... and find the cool truth about life... the more cool stuff you know... the more you can do cool things... and the more you can do cool things... the more fun life is!

Keep learning

Mike Bastoni
Educator
Massachusetts

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QUESTION:
My son is 10 years old.  Since the last two years he has developed his interest in space, stars, planets, robots, etc.  He would like to become a robotics engineer.  How can I develop his interest in this subject?  Which books should he refer to?

ANSWER from Stephanie Wong on 20 August 2004:
It is great to hear that you son is interested in space exploration and robotics.  It is an exciting time to get involved in these subjects.  I am not that familiar with any robotics books that are written at his level, but if you have Internet access, there are many planetary/astronomical mission websites that have materials suitable for kids.  I would suggest you check some of them out here:
http://spacescience.nasa.gov/missions/index.htm. There are some really good historical/autobiographical books by various people who worked in the Apollo moon program. They are very inspirational, but usually written with the adult reader in mind.

Encourage your son to read books about engineering and the sciences in general.  There are many people from all different backgrounds that help contribute to robotics.  Find a mentor, be it a family friend or someone at a local college skilled in engineering, to guide your son.  Encourage him to build models, build simple electronic circuits or get familiar with computer technologies (under adult supervision).  Robotics programs for kids are becoming very popular, so look into any programs in your area that he could join.

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QUESTION:
What courses do you have to take in a university to become a rocket scientist?

ANSWER from Roger Herzler on 9 December 2005:
The term "rocket scientist" is pretty generic.  That can be anything from spacecraft designer through to propulsion chemist, in my opinion.  Plus, jobs are so specialized that most "rocket scientists" likely focus on one particular part of the spacecraft, etc.  Generally there are common classes for most jobs dealing with rocket design all the way through astronomy.  They include calculus, physics and astrophysics, orbital mechanics, mechanical and electrical engineering and other related course work.  Your best bet would be to contact the college you're interested in for a list of courses that are required to take for the major.  They can be different from school to school.  Also, discuss it with your guidance/career counselor if you have one at the school you're currently attending. Good luck!

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QUESTION:
I left school at 15 to study Electrical Engineering at college as having Aspergers they thought I would thrive in a college environment.  I always excelled in maths but I totally don't get calculus and will fail my course - passed everything else but just can't click with this.  Know it's a long shot but was hoping you could give me some advice.

ANSWER from Larry Clowers on 6 March 2006:
I too struggled with calculus.  At first, I tried the usual approach of just studying the material.  That didn't work, so I contacted the mathematics department at a nearby college.  Determined to succeed, I explained who I was, what I was attempting to do, what my goals were and the problems I was having.

The head of the department invited me to come over and meet some of the professors.  After a short meeting, one volunteered to mentor me in calculus.  We approached it in bits - one step at a time - until I grasped the concept, then moved onto the next step.  This was not a quick process but took once or twice a week visits to the college.

The results were staggering!  Not only did I excel at calculus but I became very familiar with the faculty at college which made the transition for high school to college much easier for someone 18.

My final piece of advice is to find a mentor to help you overcome these roadblocks in life.  Turn the roadblocks into speed bumps and proceed... never give up, if one method doesn't work, find another way.  Most rules are guidelines-find out what works for you and go forth and be the best of the best.

Success lies just ahead, find the best road to get there and take it!

I wish you great success and with good wishes.

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QUESTION:
I am not someone who enjoys taking things apart, figuring out how they work, and putting them back together.  I am not a math wizard, but I do ok in my math classes.  Is engineering still an option for me?

ANSWER from Michelle Mock on 5 June 2006:
From my point of view, it doesn't sound like this is something you would enjoy or be good at.  Why would you want to pursue a career that requires you to know and utilize a lot of math, have the patience to figure out how something works and to take things apart?  This is similar to saying, "I can't stand the sight of blood, I have bad hand eye coordination and I don't really deal well with people.  Would becoming a surgeon still be an option for me?"

However, this doesn't mean that you would not love engineering and do well.  It really depends on what you want to do and why you want to do it.  Please read the many engineering interviews we have at http://imagiverse.org/interviews/tech.htm .  These people all love what they do and they explain how they got to do these things.  If after reading some of the interviews, you have specific questions for any of our interviewees, please submit a new question (and tell us who you want us to send it to).

Good luck on your future career, no matter what you choose to pursue.  Remember to go for something you enjoy!

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QUESTION:
I'm planning to go to Australia this year and have just finished my class 12.  I wanted to know more about robotics and what courses as an undergraduate do I choose.  I'm really confused.  There is mecatronics and microelectronics through which I can go but I don't know which one will lead where.

ANSWER from Paulo Younse on 6 June 2006:
Great to hear you are interested in robotics!  People who work in the robotics field need to have a general background in mechanical design, electrical engineering, and computer science.  In most engineering curriculums, these courses are required.  I would suggest you take some courses in each (as well as in robotics, control systems, and computer vision if available- which are generally higher level courses).  Within robotics, we typically have people that specialize mainly in the mechanical, electrical, or software parts of the robot (though as I mentioned, they all have had experience in some fashion with all the fields), so you could major in mechanical, electrical, computer engineering, or computer science (and even aerospace engineering).  As for mechatronics or microelectronics, I would suggest taking the course in mechatronics.  In mechatronics, you learn to interface mechanical devices (such as motors and sensors) with electronics and computers (such as microchips)- this is pretty much the basis of robotics.

One final bit of advice is get involved in some engineering club (solar car club, robotics, human powered vehicle, etc.), project, or research if you get a chance.  There you'll have the chance to start getting experience in the field, get to learn and play with hardware, and gather advice from people who have had some experience in school and industry.  Thanks and good luck!

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QUESTION:
I've always wanted to become an astronaut but finance and not being a US citizen limited my desire.  If one studied astrophysics/aerospace engineering through a university, how hard and how time-consuming would it be to build really cheap, escape-type vehicles, for people in a 'global cataclysm' type scenario, where people need to leave Earth in e.g. 1 year?  Think along the lines of the rockets being really small; maybe even just a space-suit type rocket that people could build for themselves if they were given home-kit plans for a civilian 'rocket kit'.

ANSWER from Imagiverse on 27 June 2006:
Even though you are not a US citizen, that does not necessarily prevent you from becoming an astronaut or being involved in the space program.  Many nations have their own space programs and astronauts.  For example, if you happen to be in Europe, the European Space Agency's program is growing fast.  There are numerous of their spacecraft in space now, and they have a small contingent of astronauts who fly in the Russian or US space programs.

If you studied as an aerospace engineer, you would have the ability to look into these futuristic technologies that you mention.  But note that your ideas are not trivial pieces of technology.  They will take a lot of manpower (i.e. a dedicated aerospace company) to feasibly developed.  Take for example the recent competition (the X-Prize) to develop the first private spacecraft that could launch someone into space.  This took years, a dedicated engineering team and lots of money just for a few of the teams to be successful.  To go at your goals by yourself would be practically impossible to do.  Plus, it would take more than just an expert in aerospace engineering to do.  Aerospace engineering deals mainly with mechanics and aerodynamics.  It does not go into much detail about biology, electronics, materials, etc.  An astrophysics degree will not help you much developing these technologies.

So, I applaud you for thinking ahead and coming up with new ideas.  Once you are able, by all means go for it!  But realistically, if you need a job dealing with space technology, look at the aerospace companies in your region and the types of jobs that people do there.  Good luck.

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QUESTION:
I don’t seem to have the necessary math background for my mechanical engineering studies.  I know I shouldn't jump to conclusions, but I'm beginning to question whether or not I have the mind of an engineer.  Should I lower my goals and pursue a degree in engineering design, that requires a less rigorous math background, or should I continue in mechanical engineering?

ANSWER from Jenny Alvarez on 16 April 2006:
I think everyone who has gone into a college program has dealt with the same emotions you are experiencing.  When I was in college, studying musical theatre, I constantly questioned my choices and wondered if I had enough talent to pursue my goals.  The best thing I did was talk it out with my professors.  I recommend the same to you.  Make appointments with your professors.  Have lunch with them or visit during their office hours.  Tell them your dilemma and ask for their advice.  The people who teach your field are the best qualified to answer your questions and they probably already have an idea as to your level of potential.  I hope my answer helps you out.

ANSWER from Stephanie Wong on 20 April 2006:
You are not alone in these thoughts, and in fact, I myself was/am in a similar predicament as well.  I can't make judgments on your education or your future, but I can tell you a bit about mine.

I came out of high school essentially excelling in all areas of academics.  So, I didn't think I would have TOO many problems once I entered engineering.  When my first semester of university came, I soon fell behind in pretty much everything, nearly failing everything, including math (of which I had very high marks before).  So, after being used to getting near-100%'s in math and then totally being lost, I was not a very happy camper.  Despite the problems, I did enjoy some of the math lectures.  They presented math in a totally new way that I thought was cool.  Math wasn't plug and chug anymore, but took real thinking and I thought it was beautiful.  In the next semester, I took Honours Calculus, which was ALL theory and not for the faint of heart.  Needless to say, that probably messed up more of my year, although I seemed to be hooked.  My 1st year ended up being an entire mess, although I was successful enough to continue in engineering had I wanted to.

Unsure of the goals I had set before, I decided to transfer into a math degree program the next year, with the expectation that after I got my Science degree, I would go back to get my Engineering degree.  Since I had a very bad background by now (I hadn't understood a thing the previous year), the math courses became increasingly difficult.  I did well in some of them -- hit-and-miss -- but essentially I just went with the flow, not really understanding what I was learning (my infamous panicky guesswork).  However, I still had a strong desire to learn, and now, being in the program I was in, I was able to explore many different subject areas.  I began to take extra courses that were not necessary for my degree as well as courses that I would have needed for engineering (in addition to whatever I needed for my actual math degree).  To boot, I got hooked onto physics (never my strongest suit, and definitely not done well in 1st year).  So, instead of taking a regular course load that year, I jam-packed it with math and physics, and my physics marks REALLY suffered.

In the following years, I cut down on the course load, although I still had a rigourous self-imposed schedule.  But the damage had been done.  Progressing feverishly further into math and physical sciences, because I didn't understand anything before, the senior courses were undoubtedly troublesome.  I shouldn't talk all doom and gloom since I did well on some of my needed subjects.  By "needed", I mean the required math and the slew of non-trivial options that I took upon myself to "need" for my "grand vision" of becoming a theoretical physicist.  I was always behind in my studies and never was "in the groove", not really getting much help, working together with friends, nor participating at all in class.  To say that I was stressed out would be an understatement.  Despite that, there were a number of courses that I enjoyed immensely.  I managed to increase my confidence a bit when I started a research job in the chemistry department.

At the end of my 4 years of university, I graduated with a BSc in Math... still rather befuddled and questioning what I had actually absorbed.  Now, without the pressure to finish my program, I could relax a bit.  I realized I didn't want to be an engineer, but certainly I had the ability to do so.  My marks were not necessarily a reflection of my ability, but a reflection of the cumulative mess that started in 1st year.  This year, I started my after-degree in computational physics, determined to fix my wrongs, start at the basics again, get a GOOD understanding of whatever I was doing, and then proceed up the academic ladder.  I am glad that I have the basic background in math, physics and computing, and, by managing my schedule appropriately, and not freaking out, I can do well in my studies.  Now, at the end of my 1st year of physics, my marks have improved tremendously.  And I can proudly say that I DO understand what I studied this year.  I let myself control my program, not let the program control me.

So, my advice is:
1) If you did very well in high school, and you are concerned about your marks now, be aware that you can't necessarily expect to have the same marks as before.  Your competition circle has increased dramatically.  If it is much worse, then be concerned.
2) If you are struggling, DO NOT take extra courses.  If it seems fit to take remedial courses, go ahead, but do not start cramming in more than you need to take.  The course load recommendations are there for a reason.
3) Go talk to your instructors immediately.  Start from the beginning of your problems and have them give you advice and help you with your studies.  It may take you a long time to understand the concepts, but keep up, and never just get lost.  Reduce your load if necessary.
4) Examine what you want to do in the future.  Try to get a job shadowing/internship so you can see the difference between engineering and engineering design.  What do you like the best?  Don't "settle" for something unless you have no other option.
5) You said you think you understand the material.  What in the exams do you not understand?  Can you figure out why?  Unlike high school, university material is not just memory-work.  You can read a textbook, but unless you do all the questions assigned, and do them knowingly, you haven't actually learned the material.
6) It will have to be your decision whether graduating as soon as possible is your priority.  For me, personally, the expeditious route was not the way to go.  I want to slowly take in all that I can take in... provided that I have a goal and am not just wasting years for no reason.  Your education should not be determined by simply the "time" you spent in it, but on the "time well-spent" in it.  If you are spending your time well, then the extra time you spend in school is worth it.  Most students that I know (from the struggling to the excelling) are not finishing in 4 years.  Some had to work part-time, some took a more relaxed route and some changed majors (which is normal).  Do what is best for YOU.
7) Changing majors is not the end of the world.  For certain, I would have taken a different route than I have.  But, I think I really had to go through this process to get to where I am.  In a perfect world, you know for certain what you want to be and you go for it and it "works".  For most people, it is an exploratory process that can take a while.

Stephanie

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QUESTION:
I am interested in telecommunications, electronic communication and electronic engineering.  I was hoping that you could give me some information on how to go about it and what will I have to study in these courses.  I would be really happy if you could tell me about all the three courses.

ANSWER from Paulo Younse on 10 July 2006:
Good to hear from you!  I have not taken any telecommunications or electronic communcation classes, but have taken electrical engineering.  And electrical engineering is a very good base course that will let you go into many different fields (and will probably also be a good help if you also take any telecommunications or electronic communication courses as well).  For robotics (my field), electrical engineering is very important to help us develop robots.  Even though I am mainly a mechanical engineer, I still have to know electrical engineering.  In electrical engineering you study circuits, how to calcuate voltages, current, and power, select motors, design circuit boards, and even program microchips.

For more advice on the subjects, I would suggest contacting a local university and getting in touch with the electrical engineering department - they'd be able to give you heaps of good info, as well as lead you to some sites where you can actually see what courses they offer and what are required for the fields.  Hope that helps!

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Last Updated:
25 July 2006
 

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