Sibylle Walter

Sibylle Walter

PhD Candidate
University of Colorado, Boulder
Sibylle Walter
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I graduated from River Hill high school in 2003 where I was enrolled in a Tech Magnet program. Initially, I was in Tourism & Hospitality, but quickly changed to engineering after spending a summer in a bakery. I did not enjoy waking up at 3 am, be at work by 4 am, and spend the day icing cakes. While I still enjoy baking and cooking, I couldn't picture myself happy being anything other than an engineer. Of course, I have doubted myself throughout my 4 years at the University of Maryland. Engineering is hard. We all struggle. The workload, at times, feels insane. When your economics roommate is pledging a sorority, taking a day off to go shopping, or enjoying the weekend off, you're off in a computer lab working on difficult homework assignments and projects. Trust me when I say, it's worth it. After graduation, I worked at GE Aviation for three years. Never a dull moment in my life! With a starting salary more than twice what my econ roommate had and an apartment all to myself, I found myself in an exciting, challenging position. I chose to return to university for a MSc and then a PhD because I realized I wanted to teach the next generation of engineers. Now, I work in the Busemann Advanced Concepts Laboratory at the University of Colorado and am a NASA Aeronautics Scholarship recipient. It's been a whirlwind of a ride but I wouldn't trade my life for anyone else's!

BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park (2003) MSc in Aerospace Engineering Sciences from the University of Colorado, Boulder (2012) PhD in Aerospace Engineering Sciences from the University of Colorado, Boulder (exp 2015)
  • I am willing to be contacted by educators for possible speaking engagements in schools or in after school programs or summer camps.
  • I am willing to serve as science fair judge or other temporary volunteer at a local school.
  • I am willing to be interviewed by interested students via email.
Answers by Ms. Sibylle Walter

Hi there.

Great question! In general, astrophysicists would work more on the questions like "how does the universe work?" and "how did we get here?" and "are we alone out here?". They are scientists who look at data gathered by satellites, mathematical models, and work in observatories. They may veer into more applied areas, like creating sensors that will help measure a parameter, or they may stay in very theoretical realms, looking at models.

Aerospace engineers are usually much more on the applied side of how to actually get that satellite into space. They work to make bigger, more efficient rockets or smaller, tailored rockets. An aerospace engineer might be responsible for coming up with the trajectory (or the path) the satellite will take and make sure there is enough fuel on board to carry out the mission. They help design and build thermal systems and materials that can handle the extreme heat and cold. Basically, anything relating to the design, build, launch, and operation of a satellite would be mostly aerospace engineers.

I also feel I should point out that aerospace engineers can also work on things not related to space. We work on aircrafts, jet engines, helicopters, submarines, atmospheric research... we do a broad range of things that are not even related to space; something to keep in mind.

Aerospace engineering is usually its own degree; some schools combine aerospace and mechanical engineering in one department or offer a mechanical engineering degree with an aerospace focus. Astrophysics might be its own degree or be a area of specialization within physics departments, but it will depend on the school. Most big state schools that offer aerospace engineering would also offer a degree in astrophysics and/or physics. Smaller, liberal arts schools will often offer a physics degree but might not have an aerospace engineering degree.  So it really is up to where you want to go.

The University of Colorado in Boulder offers both an astrophysics and an aerospace engineering degree, and both are highly ranked. The University of Maryland, College Park also offers both degrees and I can attest their aerospace engineering program is great (my alma mater). MIT, Cal Tech, Stanford etc all have great programs for both. I would recommend a larger school so you have the option of switching majors if you so choose.

Best of luck to you!