Friday, June 6, 2008

Book Review: Advice to Rocket Scientists

Its been a little while since I read this book, but it is a damn good book, so I needed to say something about. Quite frankly the book is a must read for engineering students, especially those who want to get into academics. The book discusses how to get a job, how to deal with a boss, how to move up in industry, how to publish, how to manage students, how to negotiate a job offer and quite a bit more. To sum it up, it talks about all the stuff that no one ever talks about and it does it in a very simple straight forward way.

Just about everything is good about this book - except for one serious but forgivable flaw - THE TITLE. He states in the first chapter that a rocket scientist is anyone with an aerospace degree or someone that works at NASA, Boeing, etc. This is an absolute shame. This definition is fantastically wrong. A rocket scientist is simply someone who does scientific research on rockets. Simple. All those other aerospace engineers could be working on planes or God knows what, but not rockets, and they are certainly not rocket scientists. The advice in this book pertains to engineers and scientists as a whole - not just rocket scientists.

In my mind this error is a result of one of two possibilities. One, they picked a catchy title so that people would by the book. A very real possibility. Or two, the author (an astronautics - orbital sciences kinda guy) likes to think of himself as a rocket scientist. He is a mission designer. His work is intimately involved with rockets and depends on rockets. But alas, he is not a rocket scientist. He just works really near to them. His incorrect definition may be an attempt to include himself in the 'rocket scientist' crowd.

Before I get all crazy let me bring this article back down to earth and reveal the rocket scientists secret. What we do is hard, damn hard. Rockets are a difficult beast to handle. However, that is not to say that what we do is any harder than a lot of other noble fields. There are a lot of other really smart people out there who do amazing work. By bitching about this title I am not being a high horsed rocket scientist complaining that someone is trying to steal our thunder. Instead, it is simply that rocket science is a very small field with very few people and those of us who actually do rocket science should be acknowledged as rocket scientists, other aerospace engineers are clearly doing other work.

In summary, the book is fantastic, read it, but everywhere he writes 'rocket scientist' replace it with 'engineer' or 'scientist' or 'researcher.' That is who this book is for.

1 comment:

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