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Advice on a Master's Degree

Advice on a Master's Degree

Advice on a Master's Degree

Hi All,

I'm not sure if this is exactly the right place for this post, but I'd really like to get the opinion of people working specifically in aviation if possible.

I'm just coming to the end of a degree apprenticeship with a large airframer in the UK. I've spent the last year as a stress / F&DT engineer, and this is the sort of work I will be continuing onto next year. I find the work really interesting and this is what I want to continue to do in the future.

It's likely that I'll (hopefully) get the chance to do a funded part-time master's degree in the next year or two, and I have a few options that I can't decide between.

1. MSc in Advanced Mechanical Engineering
Good overall understanding of mechanics, modules in stress analysis, FEA, fatigue etc. with some less relevant modules like CFD and aerodynamics. However not directly aerospace related.

2. MSc in Aircraft Engineering
Lots of modules around overall aircraft design rather than structures-specific, however optional modules available in stressing, F&DT, and FEA.

3. MSc in Aerospace Materials or Advanced Materials
More theoretical aspects of fatigue, fracture and stress, but not directly related to structural analysis.

I'd ideally like to progress into some sort of technical expert role within stress or F&DT in the future, whether that's in aviation or somewhere else. I would be interested in doing a PhD or EngD, but I definitely see myself working in industry rather than in academia. It seems like most future research opportunities are more materials-related rather than structural (i.e. understanding new aspects of fatigue and fracture).

I feel like an aerospace-specific MSc may limit me to the aerospace industry, while mechanical is a bit broader. I also think that the materials MSc courses may be a bit too distant from what I'm actually doing day-to-day and not really improve my skills in stressing, but will give me theoretical knowledge.

Does anyone have any advice on this? Or am I over-thinking it and it won't matter too much in the long run?

RE: Advice on a Master's Degree

As a stress engineer, I would have thought the materials course you described would have been the most relevant of the 3 - most of the research folk that I can think of have specialised either in composites or fracture mechanics.

RE: Advice on a Master's Degree

Aero degrees do not limit you to aero only, just as mech degrees do not exclude you from aero.

3 would be a good option. Be careful of biting off too much. I suspect your Bachelor degree is "a mile wide and an inch deep". You want your Masters to be more specialised, eg composite material analysis which would bring FEA with it and maybe touch on the DT aspects; or a DTA focused degree, which would also bring FEA.

As a stress engineer, there's no substitute for experience. If you ever get the chance, buck some rivets.


another day in paradise, or is paradise one day closer ?

RE: Advice on a Master's Degree

What I see most lacking in stress analysts in the aerospace industry:
- ability to understand load paths and draw a balanced free body diagram
- understanding of structural mechanics, particularly buckling and post-buckling response
- material stress-strain response (particularly nonlinear), along with material failure modes and behavior
- understanding of fabrication processes for parts and assemblies
- practical nuances of FE modelling (mostly not taught in universities) such as proper shell element idealization, boundary conditions, material coordinate systems, when or not to use rigid elements (sb never unless you really know what you are doing), and how to evaluate stress concentrations/peaks vs material response.

Without the above, the FEM jockey types that can pump out lots of colorful pictures are less than useful.

RE: Advice on a Master's Degree

How many engineers with a MSc do work 5 years later that is intimately related to the subject of their Master's? 10 years later? Thinking long-term, the MSc may open a few doors at first, but later on your prospects will still rely on your work experience and skill you can demonstrate in practice.

If any of these potential choices give you a higher degree of specialization that you can use in the Aero industry, then surely your personality, interests, and personal contacts will have a major role to play in where you go and what you do after your Master's.

You've mentioned that your MSc can be funded by your employer (lucky you!) which implies that you will return to working for the same company, perhaps with a promotion to suit. If so, and you know what the criteria are for the potential upward moves you can make, that may give you the answer you want.

Also consider the possibility that you won't work for this employer forever (who does?). If there are some employers that make the minimum qualification for some jobs a MSc, others will see the same credential and lump you in with the rest of the undergrads. But at least you crossed the threshold. I can't see your MSc hurting your chances.

+1 to SWComposites' and RB1957's comments, by the way. I know too many engineers that won't get their hands dirty. Leads to all kinds of impractical designs. If you ever get the chance to validate some FE models with real world tests, prepare to have your pride challenged. Nature does not have much respect for the stuff you can prove inside a computer.

RE: Advice on a Master's Degree

I ran an experimental modal analysis lab for several years, as a young graduate. That is, we measured frequencies and mode shapes of real things, which the FEA guys had modelled (back when FEA was cutting edge for us, 1982). Very senior FEA engineers got rather cross with the mouthy noob pointing out the lack of correlation, to the extent that one one project at one point we were running doppler laser surface scans so the unbelievers could see the mode shapes in real time. One classic question was whether the frequency calibration of the A/D boards was correct (yes it was, they were calibrated annually). I think I got carpeted about 4 times before they realised that unfortunately our methods may not have been perfect, but almost every time we were righter than they were.

In retrospect the main problem was shear lack of elements, by an order of magnitude or more. I think we were trying to do a whole car's BIW in 50000 elements.

rb1957's list of the usual problems is correct, for dynamics (as opposed to stress) these days it's not details of meshing that really screw you up, it is the bcs and the use of rbes.


Greg Locock

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