Moyra J. McDill

Moyra J. McDill

Professor Emeritus
Carleton University
Molnlycke, (International), Sweden
Moyra J. McDill
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I am a Professor Emeritus from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and a Commissioner with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. My research interests are in numerical simulation of manufacturing processes such as welding and more recently in biomedical materials. I have also written a few papers related to women in engineering and have published a book for families coping with cancer.

B.Eng., M.Eng., PhD
  • I am willing to be contacted by educators for possible speaking engagements in schools or in after school programs or summer camps.
Answers by Moyra J. McDill

Dear Brita from Moshi,

Aerospace Engineering is a broad field and there are different ways to train for and work within the field.  You may already know what part of aerospace engineering intrigues you; you may not yet know that.  Think about a modern aircraft and all the structures,  materials, propulsion systems,   avionics and computer systems involved! 

One approach is look first to a degree such as mechanical engineering.  Once you have started there you will have several years to learn where your interests lie and to explore distance learning or scholarship opportunities for a master's degree in a branch of aerospace engineering, continued studies in mechanical engineering or a related field such as materials engineering.  One possibility could be through a Commonwealth Scholarship (you can Google it)  but I'm sure there are others. 

Big dreams can be achieved one step at a time.  Good luck!

Moyra McDill PEng, PhD, FCAE

 Hi Nicole,

Your question is a good one because math and science are key prerequisites for the study of engineering but they are not the only prerequisites.  I suggest you look at the requirements of the universities you would like to attend and see what else is needed. Communication, for example, is also required for many schools and programs.

It's fair to say that mathematics and science are core subjects for engineering but equally important skills include problem solving, creativity, innovation and persistence.  Interestingly, these skills are often developed in math and science courses. Other names for persistence are stubbornness and stick- at-it-ness.  In my experience, the latter is a key skill for engineering.  You are demonstrating this now by saying you know how to work hard to understand math, and be successful. While excellence is a great goal, a strong, solid performance will carry you through. 

Do not overlook  the other areas in your life such as sports, music and student government etc. These also provide good complementary skills for engineering such as working in teams, time management and leadership.

Good luck


Moyra McDill PhD, PEng., FCAE

Prof. Emeritus, Carleton University

Hej Alexis! (as we say Sweden)

Engineering careers have an interesting way of changing unexpectedly. I am now in Sweden - what an adventure! If you had told me in high school that I would have the kind of career I have had, in industry, academia and government as well as in volunteer work, I wouldn't have believed you.

As you approach university, one thing to remember is that often you do not have to decide on your exact field right away. Many universities have a kind of common first year or common period. This allows you to select your program at the end of that time. Other universities, space and grades permitting, allow you to transfer between programs if you realize you are in the wrong program for you.

It might be a good idea for you to explore the schools that you are interested in attending and see just how flexible their programs are when it comes to the final selection. That way, you can reassure yourself that your decision at the end of high school is not set in stone for your university years. As an Associate Chair at my university I helped quite a few students change programs. Some were leaving my department for another and some were coming into my department. Some transfers were straight forward. In other cases, students needed to first take certain prerequisite courses. Some students, who initially wanted to transfer, opted instead to take courses in the other discipline at the engineering elective level. Each school will have policies that will affect your decision making process.

Another option to consider is a graduate degree. Some students take an undergraduate degree in one program, say mechanical, and then a master's degree in another such as aerospace or biomedical engineering. Of course the two programs and their subjects have to be aligned in order to do that, but it is often an option.

I have three university-aged children. My oldest is finishing a master's in chemical engineering. She applied to a number of universities for a number of different programs and made her decision when the offers from the universities began to come in. My second is in mechanical engineering. He applied to only a few universities but for the same program. My third tells me she heading for master's in biomedical engineering after doing an undergraduate degree in Europe in math/computer science. I imagine you can see that I have enjoyed my career enough that my three children, with their own personal talents, have decided to start their careers from engineering too and who knows where they will be in twenty years.

I think it is fair to say that there were a few bumps along the way in my education and life and now in my children's. Indeed these bumps included some pretty significant life challenges. At school, your guidance office and then your undergraduate advisor are the places to go when you need advice on course selection and program changes.

Good luck and feel free to email back,


Hello, or as we say in Sweden where I now live, Hej

There are several ways to become an aerospace engineer. Some students take an undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering. There is a program like that at my university, Carleton, in Ottawa, Canada. Other students choose to take an undergraduate degree in something like electrical or mechanical engineering followed by a master's degree in aerospace.
Some do an undergraduate degree in aerospace and then a graduate degree in aerospace or a graduate degree in some other appropriate engineering field. Don't forget about the possibility of doing a PhD as well.

A good place to start is to ask yourself what kind of aerospace topics are you interested in studying. Perhaps you are interested in how wings are shaped or how the fluids move in a gas turbine engine or what materials are used. Perhaps you are curious about how the electrical and computer components work with the software that together control the wings and the engines. Perhaps you want to understand how rockets work or microgravity or how people live in space. It is a huge field with lots of interesting and exciting developments.

Engineering is a global business and, in many instances, your educational qualifications can take you and your career, around the world. Of course there will be challenges and issues related to whether or not your degree (or degrees) are recognized. Check to see if the school you are interested in, is accredited. There may also be challenges with other things. Education and career experiences are one thing, getting a driver's licence in a new country, for example, can be entirely different!

Best wishes or Hälsningar

Hi Dew

It is normal to have feelings of uncertainty as you approach university.
It is a big step to take. You will be wondering about all your options
going forward.

I suggest you look at the first-year program at the university that
interests you. You will likely see that you need to take some math and
some physics and probably some chemistry as well, maybe some programming
or problem solving and even a course in the humanities. Life in
engineering is more than math and physics although we do use a lot of math
and physics in engineering.

I suspect you are doing just fine if your classmates are in the same boat.
AP Calculus and Physics are "crunchy" courses. Perhaps you will find that
it all comes together as you go forward. Perhaps talk to your teacher to
see how you are doing in comparison to other students who may have gone on
to science, math or engineering. You may be pleasantly surprised by your
teacher's answers.

Some universities offer a kind of math brush-up camp towards the end of
the summer. This could be useful to you if you still feel, at that time,
that you are not quite ready.

Finally, there are some schools that offer a first degree that is in your
area; e.g., Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering. You may find that is a
better option for you than Mechanical and then Aeronautical.

I'd be happy to email some more if you think it would be helpful. Good

M McDill

Dear Julie from Texas Nursing is a wonderful profession and shares many of the characteristics of engineering through the background in science and the desire and need to work with people and technology to improve our world. You might think about one of the types of engineering that sits close to your existing training - something like biomedical engineering or clinical engineering. There are many ways to find one's way through a career especially when the children are young and in that time, there are ways to keep the hours sane by careful choice of employer and looking for things like flex time and actually seeing that other parents working there use that flex time. A good partner or a good support system and family, friends and loving grandparents etc. can be a huge help when a little person needs a little extra TLC. With that said, the short answer is yes, I work 40 hours plus per week but I will share with you my situation, which is perhaps an important part of this answer. I'm a widow and mother of three and without my career we would have been in serious trouble when my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The medical and leave benefits provided by my employer made all the difference. I love what I do at work but I also love being a mum and as expensive as it is, I do things like take my children along with me to things like conferences because I want the time with them and it gives them a bit of a view of the world. Schoolwork comes with us. Other times, I have to ask family to stay with the children if I need to travel. I kept travel to a minimum when they were small and now that they are teens, I do the same. My three children are older now (14 to 20) and that makes a big difference but I have used over the years: a live out nanny; infant daycare at work (unsubsidized but it meant I could go over to breastfeed at lunch, and for years all my children knew I would visit for lunch several days a week); extended day Montessori school; and before and after school care at the neighborhood school (after school until age 12). Even though my children are older now, I still try, not always successfully, to limit office time to the standard kind of a day. I do work at home, nights and weekends as required, but I also try to make sure I drive them to their activities and things like that. All of this would be much easier with a partner, but you can see that I can do it and have been doing it on my own. Even better, I love my work and I think that must show as my older daughter is also now studying engineering. I wish you all the best, Moyra from Canada