JoSAA Counselling 2022: From ISRO to drone sector to military, IIT Bombay professor talks about career options after aerospace engineering

JoSAA Counselling 2022: Earlier this month, IIT Bombay conducted an Aerospace Engineering session as part of its tech fest called ‘ED Conclave’. Professor Raj Kumar Pant of the institute’s aerospace department spoke of the changes within the industry, the drone sector, how one can get into ISRO, the components of the programme at his department, among others.

“It is said that flying is the second greatest thrill known to mankind. The first, of course, is to land because we take off not with the intention of keeping (the aircraft) up in the air but with the desire to land safely at some point. Which is why the ethos of aerospace engineering is driven by the requirement for safety,” Pant said.

Pant went on to speak about the “rapid pace” at which “Aerospace Engineering changes”, adding: “The spectrum of aerospace engineering varies from aircraft to spacecraft to everything else in between.”

He pointed out that the contribution of Aerospace engineers has strongly affected Aerospace spinoffs. “The list is endless. Whenever Aerospace Engineers face a problem, they always apply their knowledge and try to solve it. The spinoff of that is available for the general public,” he said.

As per him, the drone sector is going to be the main employment generation source for the aerospace engineers of tomorrow. “The Indian perspective of drones is actually very encouraging and they are considered the future of aviation in the country. There is going to be a huge demand and opportunity under the Atma Nirbhar scheme.”

He concluded the session by talking about the future of aerial vehicles: “We are working in various areas on how to design them, how to separate them safely, how to ensure that they don’t hit each other. Because it will be physically impossible for human beings to control them as we do air traffic control with humans, now. That will be impossible.”

 Pant’s presentation was followed by a question and answer round. Here are some of the questions:

Q. Do aerospace engineers get admitted into the military?

Yes definitely. The Army, Navy, and Airforce admit aerospace engineers in their officers cadre. At the end of the third year, you can appear for the Service Selection Board (SSB) interviews and get selected.

Q. How can we get into the ISRO?

If you want to enter the ISRO, aim for the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST) in Thiruvananthapuram. It directly supplies engineers to the ISRO. There is no guarantee, but the top 80-90 of them who maintain a particular academic score are directly given a job. I was told that this year they have stopped, but if you want to work at the ISRO, the best place to do your undergraduate education is the IIST.

The ISRO will not recruit people directly from campuses. It either takes people from the IIST or brings out an advertisement  in the newspaper and people apply for it. Because it is a government establishment, it has its constraints in employing people. Hence, it follows a standard procedure. Anybody with qualifications can apply.

Q. What does the aerospace engineering curriculum involve?

It has four basic sub-topics: aerodynamics, structures, propulsion, guidance, control and design. It is a culmination of all these subjects.

Q. Do we need to go abroad for better prospects?

First explore the best resources in the country before stepping out. Especially for undergraduate courses, and even for masters, I do not see any reason or need for anyone to think of going abroad with only one exception: if you get a fully funded scholarship, then you should go.

Q. What about research and internship in the first year?

I would not suggest students approach professors for internships or research in the first year due to their minimal knowledge about the field. However, you could do the same by the third year.

Q. Where can I apply for a postgraduate degree?

Four IITs – Bombay, Madras, Kanpur, and Kharagpur – and the Indian Insitute of Science in Bengaluru offer postgraduate programmes (MTech and PhD). There are other institutes that offer MTechs, but the most established are these.

Q. Should we pursue aerospace in BTech or MTech?

It entirely depends on the student. If one is focused, they could do a BTech, but if they happen to be uncertain about their choice and consider it a specialised course, they could simply opt for a master’s in aerospace or do a minor.

Q. Is there a dual degree program in Aerospace?

IIT Bombay is the first amongst the IITs to introduce a dual degree in aerospace engineering.

Q. Is a master’s a degree a necessity for core jobs in the field?

It is considered a must. It is desirable.

Q. Is maths important?

If you are not good at math, you will face a tough time in aerospace engineering. We do a lot of modeling and simulation. For that, you have to understand the system and its mathematical counterpart. You have to be good at math.

Q. Should you prefer a four-year or five-year engineering course?

I would recommend a dual degree compared to B Tech because you will spend the fifth year in a very good environment after studying a four-year course.

Q. Can we go to NASA from IIT Bombay?

Yes. Many students of mine are working there. But the road is not straightforward. You cannot jump into IIT-Bombay and then into NASA from there. You will have to undergo a master’s and a Ph D.

Q. Corporate opportunities?

There are very few corporate jobs in the aerospace engineering sector in the country. Corporate jobs are mostly in the areas of IT, consulting, and product development. We currently do not have that kind of infrastructure. Our aerospace engineering industry is controlled by the government. However, there are many private companies coming up but they are few and they will not want fresh graduates.

Q. Is there an airstrip at IIT Bombay like the one at IIT Kanpur?

We are going to build a center of excellence for drones in IIT Bombay. The government of India has approved it already, so we are going to build a small drone port with a small drone strip.

Q. What about ISRO versus NASA?

The way ISRO is growing and developing technology, very soon we will overtake NASA. NASA gets huge budgetary cuts from the government in America due to the high cost of technology. On the other hand, the ISRO can do things at very affordable costs. I have tremendous hope that ISRO is going to be a cutting-edge company.”

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