Raise your hand if you dreamed about being an astronaut when you were younger—that's basically everyone, right? Well, there are so many ways to get yourself to space (or close to it), including pursuing a career as an aerospace engineer, which focuses on the tech-side behind aviation and space flight. Cool, right?
In 2016, the Bureau Of Labor Statistics reported that women made up only 8.1 percent of roles in aerospace engineering, a number we'd love to see grow. However, there are some seriously amazing ladies already doing amazing things. Just take a look at Women In Aerospace, which is dedicated to increasing the visibility of women in the aerospace community, whether that be human space flight, aviation, policy issues, and more!
We caught up with Susan Wright, Aerospace & Defense Advisory IT Managing Director with PwC, who works with clients to help them solve their technology problems. (She's even worked for the Navy and the Pentagon.) Here are her top four tips as you chase your dreams as an aerospace engineer into space. As the Les Brown saying goes, "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." (In this case, literally!)
Get Experience As Early On As You Can
When your advisor preaches about internships, it's likely he or she knows what they're talking about. Getting hands-on experience not only lets you have an up on the professional experience (and bump up your resume), but it also helps you better understand your field and what you do (and do not) want to do.
"I pretty much grew up understanding and knowing the industry. I knew I wanted to be an engineer probably when I was about 15. I loved math. I loved science. I loved structure," Wright explains. "I've been doing consulting now for about 20 years, but leading into that I was doing what I would call 'hands-on' engineering. I think that has made me a much better consultant because I have what I'd like to call scar tissue. I've seen some things that I advise my clients against, and I've seen some things that I say, 'This is a really good idea—here's why.'"
Know Your Career Path Will Not Be As Simple As Climbing Up A Ladder
As with any career, aerospace engineering is filled with a multitude of avenues and paths to follow. If you enter into the industry with an open mind, your path might just lead you to new opportunities you never even expected.
"Don't expect your career ladder to be a straight line," Wright tells MORE. "There are going to be a lot of opportunities where you move horizontally. It's more of a journey, a path that winds around and, in some cases, you're going to feel like you're going backwards a little bit. Don't get discouraged. It's not as simple as just climbing up a ladder. I think having horizontal opportunities broadens your perspective, and not only are you more successful, you're just more satisfied."
Be Open To New Ideas
Aerospace engineering relies on collaboration to ensure that everything goes smoothly, and when you're working with so many different little parts of a whole, there are bound to be opportunities to connect with people in new ways. Looking at those as opportunities rather than difficulties is the best way to maintain a positive outlook looking ahead.
"When you're presenting or just talking one-on-one, people are not always going to see exactly what you're seeing. They're going to see the idea differently and they receive the information that you communicated very differently, and just be prepared for that," Wright explains. "And it's not a negative thing. It's actually a very positive thing because you're getting all these different perspectives, and that makes your point of view and your discussion much more constructive, so I don't want people to be fearful of having a constructive debate."
Join A (Professional) Girl Gang
What's better than a bunch of ladies helping each other out? Not much, that's sure. Find a professional group of women who are excited to grow alongside each other, and you'll be feeling all kinds of inspired as you look ahead.
"I'm a member of a professional society called Women in Aerospace, and it's actually a lot of women, but there are actually a lot of men a part of this professional organization," Wright tells MORE. "More and more, when I go to these events, you look around the room and you do see a lot of diversity."
And we're all about that.
Have you ever considered a career in aerospace engineering?