Many students decided to take up the course in Aerospace Engineering because of the following reason:
- It is one of the prestigious courses in Singapore (like medicine, law). Being in one would show that I’m a smart student.
- I can earn a lot of $ in the future as this course has a lot of smart students.
- I’m really interested in Aerospace and would want to work on an aircraft in the future.
In this article, I will address some of the misconceptions formed about NTU Aerospace Engineering, as well as share my advices and opinions as a graduate from that course.
For Fame and Prestige
Let me address the first reason of NTU Aerospace Engineering being one of the prestigious courses in NTU. The tables below show the indicative grade profiles for some of the courses from NTU. Before renaissance engineering was offered, Aerospace Engineering was the most prestigious engineering course in Singapore, with a minimum grade of AAA/B for JC students and a GPA of 3.81 for polytechnic students. The high cutoff marks are due to the limited vacancies offered for the module, not only to maintain the quality of graduates but also to prevent flooding the industry with aerospace engineers.
As an NTU Aerospace student, most of your relatives and friends will hold you in awe when they know that you’re from this course (not so applicable to relatives of the older generation who would not have heard of this module). However, like medicine and law, you have to go through a more rigorous curriculum, as well as grade deflation from the competition. The key to success in university is to have the passion and interest in what you study, and the key to success in life is to always do your best. Consistent grade deflation will affect your motivation and passion, especially when you have been doing well in your academics. I recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s book on David and Goliath, and read on the chapter of being a small fish in a big pool or big fish in a small pool, and to decide which ‘pool’ you want to be in.
Many prospective students for the course would think that the returns from studying NTU Aerospace Engineering will be good, just like medicine and law. This is true to a certain extent, as most employers recognize the quality of the graduates from this course.
However, the reality is that engineers in Singapore are not as well paid as engineers in the Western countries, simply because of the nature of work given to us. The motivation to start this course is to provide a source of quality labour in building up the Aerospace MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) industry in Singapore. Most MRO jobs require engineers to advise on the required MRO works on the aircraft, based on the recommendations specified in the technical manual. In fact, any graduate with an engineering degree can fit the requirement of this job. In addition, an engineer in this industry is not adding much value to the company, unlike an equivalent engineer working on new designs to improve the efficiency of the component or system. Hence, most students who have joined MRO companies for their Industrial Attachment (IA) internship, will realize that engineers working there are not well remunerated.
Graduate employment surveys for the past few years have shown that graduates of NTU Aerospace Engineering are one of the top earners in terms of starting salary (top 15 for the year 2013). The reason for the high average starting salary is due to a large number of these graduates joining government/government sector jobs (DSTA, DSO and Air Force), not only for the better remuneration but also that the nature of the job is more aligned with the curriculum. Most MRO companies would find that the specialized knowledge from the course is not really needed for the job nature, and they will be more inclined to hire a mechanical engineer. Hence, the Aerospace MRO industry does not find the need to remunerate more for the specialized skills of aerospace engineer graduates.
The specialized knowledge learnt during university will be relevant if you’re working in defence-related organisations such as DSTA and DSO, where some of the systems are designed from scratch. However, you will only use 5% of the knowledge due to your job role (such as flight control, propulsion, aerodynamics or mechanical design), and will often require you to further your competency in that field to perform well in that job. In addition, government sectors often based their remuneration based on the class of honour rather than the type of degree. Some will feel undignified to know that they are paid less than a mechanical degree for having a lower class of honour, even though the curriculum is much rigorous (and hence have a rough time in university to meet the standard).
Starting a banking career has been the trend in recent years due to the bullish economy, as well as Singapore, transforming itself into a financial hub. Many NTU Aerospace graduates believe that banks will accept us for being one of the best students in the university. This is not exactly true, as banks will often hire graduates with a good foundation in business knowledge (graduates of business degree), or those who can aid in IT transformation (graduates of computer science or computer engineering). If you are more interested in earning big bucks, it is more advisable to join courses in the top 10 of the graduate employment survey, such as in the areas of business and economics. If you’re already midway in your university, it will be best to look for internships with banks and make a good impression among your supervisors.
Love for Aircrafts
Among us, there are those who really love aircraft, and have been intrigued by how such large machines manage to fly in the sky. Many dreamed to become a pilot one day and fly these amazing machines in the sky. For pilot wannabes, this course will be a good education to have a good appreciation of how aircraft work. Having an aerospace engineering qualification might give you a slight edge in your pilot application. To be a good pilot, you have to understand how the aircraft works, and how it responds to your input. This knowledge can be gained during your flight school, or even by reading up online. Learning about the science and mathematics of flight might be too advanced in the process of building up your skills and knowledge as a pilot.
Some of us hope to be among the teams that design the next-generation aircraft, such as Boeing, Airbus or Lockheed Martin Skunkworks. Taking a degree in aerospace engineering will be ideal, as it allows you to gain an in-depth insight into every aspect of an aircraft. However, you might have to venture overseas to work in such a career. This is because most aerospace companies in Singapore do not deal with aircraft design, but more on slight modifications such as converting a passenger aircraft to a freighter. It’ll be difficult to join these aircraft design companies, as many still practice protectionist policies. It will be useful to get the necessary connections to enter these companies, such as taking up an overseas graduate degree (Masters or PhD) and excelling in it to gain an industrial reputation. Another possible avenue will be to start a research career, either in the universities or in the defence research industry, where staffs work on building a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) from scratch.
For those who are keen on working on aircraft, the MRO industry is booming in Singapore and will be a great place for you to work. To excel in your job, it will be good if you gained the appropriate engineering skills, preferably from the Electrical or Mechanical engineering aspect. My advice is to take up these courses in universities, and then take a specialization in Aerospace during your final year.
For those of you who are thinking of coming into NTU Aerospace, think twice and think hard before submitting your application. For those who have decided what is best for you, all the best for your studies and hope you enjoy it to the fullest.
Disclaimer: This article is mainly targeted at JC students/polytechnic students who are contemplating doing a course in Aerospace Engineering at NTU. They are mainly my opinion and may or may not be reflective of the views held by other NTU Aerospace students.