MEC Engineering and Astrophysics Career

I’m a sophomore in college with a deep interest in astronautical engineering and astrophysics. I am currently a mechanical engineering major attempting to do physics as a second major. I aspire to work on the Artemis program or eventual colonization of Mars, but at the same time, I would love to do research as a physicist/astrophysicist. I’m trying my best to fit physics into my course plan, but MEC engineering has so many requirements that it’s nearly impossible to add any more courses. The difficulty is not really a problem for me though, I’m in great academic standing. My issue is, that I really do not want to drop physics as it makes me who I am, and I’m wondering what careers would be right for someone with both of these interests. Thank you for your time, and please give me any advice.

Are you able to add an extra year to your undergraduate studies? My husband did MechE and Chemistry as a double major but had to add a fifth year to finish his Chemistry degree. For him it made sense. If it’s financially feasible, you can look into the two course schedules that interest you and see if it’s possible. Have you taken quantum physics yet? That was the point in my engineering undergraduate career that I was not sad to part way with Physics. But I love Astrophysics and Cosmology so I get your desire to keep going. Does your University have a strong Astrophysics concentration? I can’t offer career advice as I’m not in the field. Good luck and I hope things work out for you!

Can you pull off a minor with an extra summer class this year and next summer? You can then do a masters with a specific focus in physics somewhere maybe.

There are many projects in astrophysics that require engineers and there are physicists that build their own instruments. So these goals are not necessarily separate. However, to either work as an engineer on Artemis, or do astrophysical *research, you will almost certainly require a graduate degree. So you don’t have to do everything at once. I would suggest positioning yourself so that you can learn the skills that you will require in grad school.

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I have taken a 200 level modern physics course under my belt (Schrodinger equation, Wavefunctions, Special relativity, etc.) and I loved it. My school has an excellent physics program but they don’t offer “astrophysics” - just astronomy. Besides, I heard an undergraduate degree in physics is better than astronomy if you wish to do astrophysics.

At my school the minor is basically the entire major so I figure I go all in. As for a masters, you suggest I do engineering focused in physics? Or vice versa…

Yes but this is where I’m nervous. How would I go about this in my career? Like work on Artemis now and then transition to astrophysics research once I get older?

What do you mean by MEC engineering? Do you mean mechanical engineering? Artemis program would not only have lots of engineers working on it, but many physicists as well. You can be either an engineer with better understanding of the underlying physics, or a physicist/astrophysicist with an engineering background.

Even though some colleges may offer it, there’s really no such thing as an undergraduate degree in astrophysics. As another poster has said, you need a graduate degree. To get into a good graduate program, having taking the right courses and ideally with some research experiences in relevant areas are more important than the major and/or minor you’re in. Unlike undergraduate admissions, admissions to graduate programs are decided by professors in the field, who are able to and will look into the specifics and granularities in your preparations, not just a few names on a piece of paper.

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Have you spoken to your college career center? If not, start there. You can also look up professors’ research areas and if any align with your interests, set up a meeting to talk to them.

Try to get internship experiences as well. Plenty of aero companies hire mech es for the summer, including NASA.

Finish up your undergrad in engineering strong. Take as many physics classes as you can on top of the engineering courses.

Find colleges for grad doing work in areas of interest and see if you can get summer research work there as an undergrad next summer if you can’t find something with NASA or other subcontractors working on related tech. Look here for next summer:

https://www.nasa.gov/careers/students-and-recent-graduates-old

Dig into the research going on at campuses for grad school and make sure it is a fit for your interests. Reach out to professors in their grad programs and talk to them.

https://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2022/april/nasa-folding-space-structures.html

Regarding working on Artemis now and transitioning to astrophysics once you get older. Whether you want to be a highly skilled engineer working at NASA, or an astrophysicist, I believe you will have to go to grad school. There are very few people working on NASA missions without an advanced degree. But there are some working there way towards them.