Degree Fields
State Portals
Industry Options
Precollege Ideas
Academic DegreesCareer Planning
University Choice
Diversity & WomenCornerstone News
Site Search / A -Z

Electrical Engineering Overview - Preparation - Industries - Day In The Life -Earnings - Employment - Career Path Forecast - Professional Organizations 

elecengIf your goal is to achieve a fulfilling career, building the groundwork will take some care. While in school, keep your options as wide as possible -- the further you go, the narrower your focus must become. While the decision to major and minor is an important step, your decision should not be limited to an engineering curriculum or even to the classroom.

Accredited Programs
hose interested in a career in electrical engineering should consider reviewing engineering programs that are accredited by ABET, Inc. These programs have been reviewed extensively and on an ongoing basis to maintain high quality. The are generally four year degrees, and some offer coop opportunities for undergraduates.

Concentrations in EE
Core courses taken by all EE students include such topics as circuits, electronics, digital design, and microprocessors. Laboratory courses play an important role in reinforcing the concepts learned in the lecture courses. The core curriculum builds on a foundation of basic courses in calculus, physics, chemistry, and the humanities. Additional courses draw heavily from other disciplines such as computer science, mechanical engineering, materials science, manufacturing, management, and finance. Concentration courses vary with the engineering school, but generally offer studies in such topics as communications systems, power systems, and control and instrumentation, all with associated laboratory work. Many engineering schools also offer concentrations in medical instrumentation and in microwave and optical systems, for example.

Courses in mathematics and basic sciences are of course the foundation of an electrical engineering curriculum. EE courses build on this base by developing creativity and such engineering skills as use of modern design theory and methodology, formulation of design problem statements and specifications, and consideration of alternative solutions. Related courses in computer science are essential. Additional courses draw heavily from other disciplines such as mechanical engineering, materials science, manufacturing, management, and finance. Advanced EE courses prepare students for specialties such as computers, electronics, controls and robotics, power and energy, and telecommunications.

Automatic Controls
The field of automatic control spans a wide range of technologies, from aerospace to health care. The main goal of automatic control technology is to automatically guide or regulate a system under both steady-state and transient conditions, using feedback to adapt to unknown or changing conditions. Electrical engineers design and develop automatic control systems to guide aircraft and spacecraft. They apply control technology to automatically adjust processes and machinery in manufacturing such diverse products as chemicals, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, and integrated circuits. For the healthcare industry, electrical engineers design controls for medical assistance devices such as medication-injection machines and respirators.

Digital Systems (Computer Engineering)
Digital systems permeate technology in all its forms; the world has gone digital, with digital control, digital communications, and digital computation. Electrical engineers / computer engineers design, develop, and manufacture all kinds of digital products, including both hardware and software: laptops, personal computers; mainframes; supercomputers; workstations; virtual-reality systems; computer and module games; modems; telephone switches; embedded microcontrollers for aircraft, cars, appliances, and machines of all types. Digital computer-aided design (CAD) systems are now commonplace in all branches of engineering design-machines, structures, circuits and computer graphics are indispensable in advertising and publishing; meanwhile engineers are continually developing improved hardware and software for such applications.

Electromagnetics deals with the transfer of energy by radiation, such as light waves, and radio waves, and the interaction of such radiation with matter. Engineers apply electromagnetics in optical-fiber communications, radio broadcasting, wireless communications, coaxial cable systems, radar, antennas, sensors, and microwave generators and detectors, for example. Engineering researchers are examining the potential of electromagnetics in advanced computation and switching systems. Electromagnetics is one of the most analytical fields of electrical engineering in that it relies heavily on mathematics to express physical effects such as the complex relationships among electric and magnetic intensities and flux densities and material properties in space and time.

Electronics is a cornerstone of technology, supporting virtually all areas of science, engineering, and medicine with products ranging from sensitive instruments to machine controls to diagnostic equipment. Electronics deals with the release, transport, control, collection, and energy conversion of subatomic particles (such as electrons) having mass and charge. The field is a fast-changing one, as new technology supplants old in rapid succession. Electronics engineering deals with devices, equipment, and systems whose functions depend on such particles. Electronic engineers design, develop, and manufacture, for example -- computers; integrated circuits; sensors and transducers; audio, video, broadcasting, and telecommunications equipment; process control systems; navigation, guidance, and detection systems; prosthetic devices; and pollution monitoring instruments.

Electrical Power
The electrical power field is concerned with the generation, transmission, and distribution of electrical energy. Electrical power engineers design and develop equipment and systems to provide electricity in homes, offices, stores, and factories. The equipment includes devices to regulate the frequency and voltage of the power delivered to consumers, to correct its power factor, and to protect the network and its customers from lightning strikes, surges, and outages. Many power engineers design power systems for aircraft and spacecraft; others provide computer-controlled energy management systems that conserve energy in manufacturing facilities; and still others design electrical motors for applications ranging from appliances to processing plants.

Communication and Signal Processing
The field of communications encompasses transmission of information by electromagnetic signals through wired and wireless links and networks. The information may be voice, images (still photographs and drawings), video, data, software, or text messages. The closely related field of signal processing involves manipulating electromagnetic signals so that they can be transmitted with greater accuracy, speed, reliability, and efficiency. Communications engineers design and develop equipment and systems for a great variety of applications, including digital telephony, cellular telephony, broadcast TV and radio, satellite communications, optical fiber communications, deep space communications, local-area networks, and Internet and World Wide Web communications. Signal processing engineers direct their attention to data compression, modulation systems, radar, sonar, computer-aided tomography (CAT), ultrasound imaging, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Concentrations in Computer Engineering, Computer Science, and Information Technology
A curriculum in CE / CS / IT should contain a core of fundamental material covering algorithms, data structures, software design, concepts of programming languages, and computer organization and architecture. Advanced courses should build on the core by covering artificial intelligence and robotics, computer networks, database and information retrieval, human-computer communication, numerical and symbolic computation, operating systems, software methodology and engineering, and theory of computation. Basic courses also should include mathematics, including calculus and probability and statistics, and laboratory science with strong emphasis on quantitative methods to enhance students' ability to apply the scientific method. Courses in humanities, social sciences, arts, and other disciplines that broaden the students' background are essential elements as well.

Computer Communications
Practitioners in this field deal with the transmission of data within and among computers in all its aspects. The wide range of applications includes data transmission within a single computer and in local-area networks, wide-area networks, metropolitan-area networks, and the Internet. They exercise a broad understanding of both the hardware and software involved in networks. They deal with protocols, physical network properties, queuing and network performance, and network security, among many other topics.

Advanced Computer Systems
Practitioners in this field deal with design and performance of advanced computer systems such as parallel processing systems and distributed systems. They analyze applications and determine optimal architectures for them. In designing systems, they determine which functions should be incorporated as software and which as hardware. They draw on a knowledge of parallel processing, system performance modeling, distributed processing, and advanced algorithms.

Information Systems
The field of information systems is concerned with integrated computer and database systems that serve the information needs of corporations, universities, laboratories, merchandisers, transportation companies, and countless other organizations. They design, develop, and maintain such systems on the basis of their knowledge of computer organization, programming languages, human-computer interaction, collaborative systems, data communications, and knowledge-based systems.

Artificial Intelligence
Engineers in the artificial intelligence field deal with systems that perform functions associated to some extent with human intelligence; examples include recognizing speech, voice, or patterns; learning to perform mechanical tasks such as sorting or assembling; and making predictions on the basis of experience. They employ knowledge and skills in logic and deduction, fuzzy logic, machine vision, natural language processing, knowledge-based systems and programming languages.

A technical curriculum is rigorous; however, electives play an important role. Engineers and computer professionals are called upon to make presentations and write reports that must be understood by other technical professionals as well as lay people. Taking classes that sharpen these skills can be a good decision. The humanities, languages, and social sciences instill a thought process that will broaden you as an individual and make you more attractive to employers. Technical courses in disciplines outside your focus could help you work more effectively with engineers of different backgrounds.

Extracurricular Activities
Employers look for well-rounded employees, especially those who have demonstrated leadership. Graduate schools also look for applicants who have done more than spend every moment in the books. Participating in extracurricular activities is an excellent way to round yourself out and demonstrate your ability to take an interest in the world around you. Most colleges offer a variety of activities for their students based on ethnic, social, cultural, educational, religious, or political interests. As a member, you have the opportunity to sharpen your interpersonal skills, take a leadership position (formally or informally), strengthen your writing and speaking competencies, and learn more about those in your group.

Many colleges and universities sponsor extracurricular activities to encourage students to become well-rounded. There are competitive and intramural sports. If you are looking for a sport that is likely to extend into your adult life, consider golf, tennis, skiing, or sailing. You certainly want to hone your organizational skills by joining and becoming a leader in an organization. One cannot underestimate the value of skills in public speaking and running meetings. You might also seek opportunities involving finances in developing and managing a budget for extracurricular activities, such as a social or cultural event. Use your time in school to see what makes people tick and how best to work with others to get the job done.

Don't overlook your professional society, which very likely has a student branch at your institution. If there is none, start one with the help of a faculty member. You can hone your leadership skills by becoming active in a professional society. Professional society activities are a great way to meet people with similar interests and to make contacts in the field. You can certainly broaden your technical horizons this way. Look for opportunities to present student research at professional conferences. Student branches encompass many of its technical societies with local chapters that sponsor professional events, including speakers and short courses.

Cooperative education and internships offer you a chance to learn in a different environment: the workplace. Employers are looking for people who have a proven track record -- besides the classroom, actual work experience is one of the best ways to train yourself to become a professional engineer. Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) have played a significant role in bringing students into the field. These have involved academic and industrial research. Find out more...

Cooperative Education
Cooperative education is offered through your school and usually requires you to take a semester off from full-time study to work in a major-related job assignment. They can be full-time or part-time, as long as ten weeks or even six months.

Depending upon your school's policy, you may be able to receive academic credit and maintain full-time student status. As a cooperative education student, you can earn a competitive salary while you learn the ins and outs of corporate life, develop professional, technical, and social skills, begin to make network contacts, help clarify your interests and goals, appreciate the relevance of classroom learning to the real world, and enhance your resume. Increasingly, co-op employers use a student's co-op experience as a way to measure whether or not you would make a good permanent employee upon graduation. Be aware that each cooperative education job or internship may delay your graduation. However, the experience you gain can shorten the amount of time you spend looking for the right first job or lead directly to a position with a former co-op employer.

Internships and Externships
An internship is not just a temporary or part-time job. It is a carefully monitored career-related work or service experience in which an individual has intentional learning goals and actively reflects on what is learned through the experience. Some internships are taken during the summer and others during the school year. They may, in some cases, delay your graduation. Unlike co-op jobs, internships do not necessarily pay a competitive salary. In many cases, there is no salary. However, the experience, if relevant to your interests and career goals, can be valuable. It can shorten the amount of time you spend looking for the right first job or lead directly to a position with a former internship employer. In some instances, academic credit is given for internships.

Externships are short-term work experiences, anywhere from one day to several weeks. They are usually non-paid work experiences that take place during winter, spring, or summer breaks. While these involve mostly shadowing, there might also be real work assignments. Check with your school for internship and externship programs and how you can make use of local referral services.

Research Experience
Research experiences enable you to hone your skills and knowledge within your field of study while also opening several doors to future career opportunities. Such experiences can lead to exposure in the field through journal publishing or the presentation of your findings among more experienced colleagues. You might form an early mentoring relationship through a grad student or professor who can offer advice on future career options. Overall, any type of independent study project will make you look more attractive to potential employers.

The NSF has an important program for undergraduate students, Research Experiences for Undergraduates. The purpose of this program is to help attract a diversified pool of talented students into research careers in these fields, and to help ensure that they receive the best education possible. The undergraduate years are critical in the education sequence, as career-choice points and as the first real opportunities for in-depth study.

Another important program for graduate students is the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) Program. The goal of this program is to enable the development of innovative, research-based, graduate education and training activities that will produce a diverse group of new scientists and engineers well-prepared for a broad spectrum of career opportunities. Supported projects must be based upon a multidisciplinary research theme and organized around a diverse group of investigators from U.S. Ph.D.-granting institutions with appropriate research and teaching interests and expertise.

Note: Many resources in this section are provided by IEEE and the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 Computer Science
 Engineering Technology
  -- Aerospace
  -- Agricultural
  -- Architectural
  -- Bioengineering
  -- Chemical
  -- Civil
  -- Computer
  -- Electrical
  -- Environmental
  -- Industrial
  -- Manufacturing
  -- Materials
  -- Mechanical
  -- Nuclear
  -- Mining
  -- Petroleum
  -- Software
  -- Others


      AboutContactsCopyrightMedia SupportSubscriptions