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Reed Goodwin

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Well, I haven't been on these boards a lot lately, thanks in part to heavy doses of school. I'm currently studying Aerospace Engineering at NC State University and am planning on graduating with a BS this coming spring. Needless to say, the question of life after college has popped up and grad school is one of my options. I'm hoping to get a Masters before I leave the school zone entirely and right now I am interested in rocket propulsion. After some digging, it seems most of the research these days is happening in the field of advanced propulsion, such as plasma engines. I'm not sure if such electric propulsion is where I want to spend the rest of my career, but it seems like an interesting thing to study for my degree.

I've been looking around for grad schools with such advanced propulsion masters programs and so far have found three schools that I like: MIT (a bit of a stretch for my lack of undergrad research/experience), Georgia Tech, and University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. I feel pretty confident I could get into U Michigan, especially if I can get letters of recommendation from two of my professors who got all their degrees from there. So, any recommendations of any other schools I'm missing? Academically, I feel I'm pretty well-set for grad school, A's and B's for everything, holding a 3.8 GPA.
Thanks in advance,
Reed
 

Shade

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My advice - get your Masters before a wife and kids!

Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL. Had a very good MAE program
and alot of Grad students back in the late 80's when I was going there. At
that time they were installing a high end wind tunnel, cannot remember if it
was sub sonic or super sonic. Alot of money at the time was rolling in from
the SDI programs I was a chemistry undergrad back them.
 

Peartree

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I don't have any schools in mind but I second the thought of doing it now as opposed to later. I returned to school 15 years after finishing my undergrad, working and keeping up with a wife and three kids. I did it, but it would be LOTS easier to do when you're much younger and still single.
 

sylvie369

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I've done three graduate school programs. I agree that it's better to do it when you're younger, though there are some advantages to being a little older.

In my first program, I was the "young hotshot", recruited fresh out of my undergraduate program, and I had no work experience and no money outside of what I earned in my assistantships in the program. I had plenty of time to study, and I'm certain that what I got from that program (and my hard work in it) is responsible for my having a job today. On the other hand, my financial dependence really restricted me - I pretty much had to do what I was told. I spent a lot of time and energy resenting that.

In my second program, I was slightly older than most of the other students, and I was working fulltime. It was REALLY nice not to have to worry about money. I was able to turn down work they offered me and let it go to the more needy students. The situation was more-or-less the same for my third program.

As for choosing your school, I guess the name on your diploma makes a difference, but the quality of your education will be determined by the amount of work you put into it, and the specific professors who you work with. Once you're in the tier of "decent schools", you can definitely get every bit as good an education at one as you would at another (yeah, I know, the MIT guys are going to throw a fit about that, but it's true). My two Masters programs were both #1 ranked nationally in their areas, while my Ph.D. program was overall pretty danged "iffy", if you ask me. But I got a lot out of it by picking the challenging courses and putting my nose to the grindstone, and by reading the relevant journals like mad.

If you're in a position to take your time a bit, that'll also greatly improve your education. Nothing ruins college more than racing through it, taking 20 credits a semester and doing a half-assed job on your projects. I know, it's SO much more expensive now than it was when I went, so it's pretty hard to take your time, but if you can slow down the pace, you'll get a lot more for your money.

Ever hear this one?

"Education is the only thing we're willing to pay for but not receive"

Finally, if you don't get in, don't give up. If you can take a class or two from professors in the department as a "special student", and do well in them, you'll get in on your second try, and not really lose much time. When we look at applications we see piles of papers that all look mostly the same. When you take a course from us and prove that you can read and write and understand the subject matter, we get interested in bringing you in. If you're good, a grad school rejection is only temporary. I've read your stuff here - you're good. Aim high.
 

bobkrech

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Reed

This is the right time to look at grad schools. When the economy is not great, the best thing to do is to stay in school. All three of the school you mentioned are good schools, and with a 3.8 GPA, you should do well in any of them. I would however recommend that you take a wide variety of courses to obtain a broad aerospace background so you don't get pigeon-holed into a narrow category of expertise at this stage in your professional career.

You should realize that the aerospace propulsion community is fairly small. There are probably less than a dozen companies that actually make rocket propulsion systems. These companies expand and contract as contracts come and go. Much of the work involve the nitty gritty design details for the actual hardware.

Most of the innovation is coming from smaller companies that conduct research studies and prototype systems that may eventually find a home in niche applications. Here you need to be a jack of all trades, and a multi-disciplined background is essential to succeed.

The physics and chemistry of propulsion is well known, and has been for decades. Where the challenge lies is in the application of the science to the engineering. IMO success in future propulsion systems will require the ability to see the big picture, and thinking outside the box to integrate ideas from many diverse areas to solve a problem in a non-traditional manner.

In my personal experience, I spent the last two years of undergraduate and my 3 years in graduate school studying the kinetics of interhalogen oxidizers for advanced liquid propulsion system. I had planned to work for a few years before I went to grad school, but in 1973, there were no jobs to be had in New England, but I was fortunate to be asked by the chairman of the department to stay on for graduate school and to continue the work I had done as an undergraduate.

My degrees are in chemistry, but in the last 33 years, I have conducted research in laser rocket propulsion, advanced liquids and solids, and efficient multi-mode electric propulsion systems for small satellites. I've never taken an engineering course, but since I understand the science and can do the math, I taught myself what I've had to know to be successful. It helps that I work in a company with a lot of highly motivated, multi-disciplined colleagues that is sometimes more like grad school than a business.

I think what I suggesting is to follow your dream but to be situationally aware of what's been done and what's going on in allied fields so that you can come up with truly innovative solutions to the next generation of propulsion problems.

Bob
 

daveyfire

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Also check out Purdue and Penn State. Both have very active propulsion research labs. (I'm biased, my first day in the Purdue MSAE program is today :cyclops:) Michigan is also an excellent choice for electric propulsion -- one of my friends is there now doing his PhD in EP.
 

sam_midkiff

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I'm also biased (I'm a professor at Purdue, although not in propulsion.) I recently took a tour of Purdue's Zucrow labs, where test stands can handle up to 10,000 pounds of thrust. A very impressive facility, and very hands-on with graduate students taking an active role in the running of the lab.

Purdue is also the alma mater of the first and last man on the moon, which ought to account for something. :)

Sam
 

bobkrech

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Also check out Purdue and Penn State. Both have very active propulsion research labs. (I'm biased, my first day in the Purdue MSAE program is today :cyclops:) Michigan is also an excellent choice for electric propulsion -- one of my friends is there now doing his PhD in EP.
Dr. Robert J. Santoro, George L. Guillet Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and the Director of the Propulsion Engineering Research Center, was grad student and postdoc with me in our Fast Kinetics Research Group in the late '60s-mid '70s when I was doing my undergraduate and graduate work at Boston College. He's a good guy.

http://www.mne.psu.edu/Directories/Faculty/Santoro-R.html

Bob
 

Zeus-cat

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One thing you need to keep in mind is that many people do not work in the field that their undergraduate (or graduate) degree is in. I have a B.S. in Math and another in Electrical Engineering plus a Masters degree in Operations Research (sort of applied math and statistics). I have held a number of positions in the company I work for with none of them directly related to what I studied.

For the past 14 years I have held positions all related to customer support with an aerospace company. I have been a reliability engineer, a warranty analyst, a PMA specialist (an FAA compliance kind of thing), a quality engineer, and a supervisor over technical support and technical publications people. I have been on customer visits to Ireland, Japan, Brazil and Canada as well as numerous locations within the United States.

In my opinion, one of the keys to success as an engineer is to write and speak well. You need to have the ability to explain problems to a wide array of people. You should be able to go into detail with an expert as well as explain the same problem to someone with no technical expertise. If you can write and speak well, you will do well.
 

GuyNoir

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As for choosing your school, I guess the name on your diploma makes a difference, but the quality of your education will be determined by the amount of work you put into it, and the specific professors who you work with. Once you're in the tier of "decent schools", you can definitely get every bit as good an education at one as you would at another (yeah, I know, the MIT guys are going to throw a fit about that, but it's true).
The name opens doors, but doesn't guarantee that you'll succeed. I've found that the people with degrees from "name" institutions seem to get more options and opportunities than those with degrees from "non-name" schools. Certainly not fair, and certainly not iron-clad, but worth considering.
 

Reed Goodwin

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Thanks to everyone for their suggestions! I'll definitely aim at a more generalized propulsion masters, instead of trying to specialize so much. That's a relief since I already know some about solid rocket propulsion and enjoy it, at least to the extent that I know about it.
Alright, off to my general propulsion class...
Reed
 

jackman

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Perhaps you can also consider schools in the west. Cal Tech, Stanford, USC all come to mind. And you'd be close to the hotbed of research at Mohave.
 

daveyfire

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Perhaps you can also consider schools in the west. Cal Tech, Stanford, USC all come to mind. And you'd be close to the hotbed of research at Mohave.
Having just graduated from the USC Astronautics division, I can say that it wouldn't be my top choice for doing a graduate degree focused in propulsion. The department is far more focused towards spacecraft and general mission design. (If that's your cup of tea, it'd be an excellent choice -- one of the professors literally wrote the book on space mission analysis and design...)

The undergraduate experience was terrific, however.
 
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