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I'm not sure if this is entirely the correct stack exchange for my question, but the career stack exchange seemed to have a different focus from what I'm looking for. My question is: Can I work in engineering (Aerospace), specifically in modeling/simulation/analysis, without an engineering degree?

There is a fair bit of background for this question so be warned. I am sophomore Aerospace engineering student currently working through my 4th semester. I'm taking 16 credit hours. My classes are fairly challenging for me, as would be expected, but I can and do get A's in them so far. I work for an Aerospace engineering company for about 30 hours a week with school, I've been with this company for about a month. I've been hired on as year-round intern to do (obviously basic) modeling and data analysis. My problem is that I really like doing the modeling/data analysis, and in school I have a hard time caring about my non-math and non-numerical methods classes. If I switched to a math major, I would have a halved class load, and I would be able to take only courses on modeling and data analysis.

The obvious solution here would be for me to switch to CS, but every time I import 'system' into Python I die a little bit. Its not something I personally enjoy, so I would like to avoid that if possible. Basically, I want to focus on becoming more skilled at what I enjoy doing without doing unnecessary work. But I don't know if I can continue doing what I enjoy in my future career without a degree that says "Engineering" on it. I don't have enough information to make this decision so I'm hoping for advice from those that do. .

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    I don't know what you ultimately want to do academically before "work[ing] in engineering (Aerospace), specifically in modeling/simulation/analysis", but a former student of mine with a mathematics undergraduate degree (and a fair amount of physics, but no engineering) got a Ph.D. in Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University and has been an applied mathematician at The Boeing Company for over 10 years (see also this google search). Feb 9, 2020 at 19:37
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    Seems a little hard to believe you could have a successful career in modeling and data analysis without importing modules in Python (or something far more onerous). Many data analysts nowadays are expected to write code to interface with complex tooling and architecture. Feb 10, 2020 at 2:41
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    Ditto to @Chan-HoSuh's comment about your allergy to importing the "system" module into Python... Having an aversion to this is, in many regards, in modern times, comparable to having an aversion to using the equals sign... And, seriously, Python is one of the handiest (scripting?) languages... Friendlier than Perl, for sure... though I did greatly benefit from learning Perl 30 years ago. :) Jul 26, 2023 at 3:01

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Note that in many places, engineering is a licensed and regulated profession. One of the requirements may well be a degree from an accredited engineering program. That depends on local laws, of course.

The aerospace industry employs a lot of engineers, of course, but not everyone there needs to have an engineering degree. It may well be that, depending on laws and the policies of an organization, modeling of various phenomena may not require such a degree. In fact, as a guess, it may well be that engineers (licensed) may only be required in the actual design and development process.

And, it might all be that a degree in math or statistics or CS might be a better qualification for some of the tasks required in the industry.

However, you are in an excellent position to learn the specifics for your case just by asking someone at your current company. You can get some pretty good advice by going to the employment office and just asking for a bit of guidance. Professors in your current program are also well positioned (or should be) to answer this question in light of local laws and such.

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    Also discuss with your current company whether not getting an engineering degree is likely to limit future prospects. You may be fine for the first few years doing modeling under the supervision of engineers, but find in 10 years that you cannot advance further, and take more responsibility, without an engineering degree. Feb 9, 2020 at 18:47
  • +1 for "ask around where you are working now" Jul 26, 2023 at 1:25
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This pop up after 3 years. I've noted @Buffy answer which covers most part. @Trunk's Math angle is also in line

Noting the disjoint in the question's title and the content, I'll chip in the following.

... my future career without a degree that says "Engineering" on it

  1. Depending on countries/institution, a degree can have 'engineering' appended to it.
  2. Also, some organisations and countries can allow job title/nomenclature with 'engineering' affixed.
  3. In some countries, the word 'engineering' or 'engineer' are regulated not only to practise but also in job title (so can't even refer a job title as one)
  4. In some places, although 'engineering/engineer' is regulated, the word 'engineer' can still be affixed to a job title without the job itself regulated; hence one sees software engineer or systems engineer being use (without restriction).

So, depending on the organisation or country, your future career (in Aerospace engineering) is fail-safe. However, without being an engineer (licensed/registered), you won't be able to signoff a design/project/report.


On a sidenote, just as @Trunk has said, engineering students are grounded (or should I say drilled) in physical science. I recalled having to take a modern physics course (essentially quantum mechanics) during my undergraduate engineering program!

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    If OP's future is in modelling within an aerospace company, his "reports" will be within his own métier and valid within their own context. They will be in support of a larger engineering project led by a senior engineer(s) who will do the signing-off. I am not aware of a formal organization within USA dispensing recognized qualifications in math modelling (though perhaps it is high time one were formed) so that it's rather like software engineering: if your modelling work is based around accepted assumptions and mathematically & physically coherent then it is a valid design before test build.
    – Trunk
    Jul 26, 2023 at 11:52
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What I learned from the careers of my graduating classmates from my Aerospace undegrad course along with my colleagues is that the title of 'engineer' can mean a mulitude of different things depending on the context. It may mean someone directly involved in design/construction of systems or someone who focuses mainly or more abstract modelling on the investigation of smaller subsystems.

Having the Bachelors in Aerospace/Mechanical engineering in Australia for example allows one to apply as a professional engineer with the governing body (Engineers Australia). Many of my old classmates have gained this qualification when they are working on mechanical designs that need to be signed off on (Airbus/Boeing etc) or are involved in Maintanence.

On the other hand, only a very small number of academics within my department which focus on aerospace simulation/modelling have applied for this recognition as a professional engineer. Unless you need to sign off on designs, it's often unnecessary.

As such, many people with focuses on modelling both within and outside of academia don't need this accrediation, and don't neccesarily require the Bachelors undergrad at all, with some utilising only skills from a math/physics major.

I was in a similar position to you in my early years of study, where I only wanted to study the 'mathy' parts, and considered swapping majors, but I stayed in engineering and found that extracurricular study along with carefully selected majors gave me enough analysis ability to do the work I liked. (Although I must note I did have a minor in math as well). Perhaps you could consider a short graduate program in math after your undergrad to add some skills, in that case you'd have more options open to you in case your focus shifts over time.

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It doesn't matter whether you have an engineering degree or not if your future is to be in math modelling.

In fact your 2 years in engineering school is more grounding in physical sciences than most math BS graduates who move into modelling possess.

There are pros to switching majors:

  • You'll be better at modelling than engineering graduates applying for the same graduate jobs but less capable than math majors from the start of their college education - though the latter will lack engineering knowledge

  • Your internship employer will be delighted as you'll be more use to them and need less math mentoring

  • You say you prefer the math side more so you should in theory - if not in actual practice - be happier

The cons are:

  • The math workload will increase a lot

  • You may have to do (due to curriculum/staff limits) math courses that seem to have no relevance to engineering - discrete math topics like number theory, topology, groups, categories, etc - and your success with continuous math may not be replicated with these topics

  • Math students are not anywhere as outgoing or direct as eng students and it will be harder to connect with them - you might feel a bit shunned by some of them, a sort of air of inverted snobbery

  • Math study is much more individual and less group/cooperative than engineering. This leads to more individual competitiveness and a measure of isolation. Fellow students will not want to help as much as eng students and, where they do, their communicative skills will usually be less and their tendency to patronize more. In eng many projects are done in groups and solving problems is about forming a sort of hybrid mind. It's a beautiful thing to discover how much further a combination of minds can go compared to the sum of individual minds. Math doesn't offer much opportunities for this sort of thing.

It all comes down to what you like to do and the kind of people you like around you at work: do not underestimate this factor as it's the difference between happiness and unhappiness to many of us.

Good luck in your decision.

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