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Engineering Antenna/RF Engineering

  1. Aug 5, 2011 #1
    Hi folks,

    I'm in my senior year of undergrad as an EE major, and have a few questions about RF / Antenna engineering.

    1. What is a decent guess at a entry level salary for an antenna engineer in defense working in California? Is it comparable to other RF fields? (I know RFIC pulls in a good amount) I looked online but there seems to be little antenna specific salary info.

    2. Is it hard to transition from a defense antenna job to a commercial one? I could see the focus shift from gain and directivity to efficiency and size.

    3. Are entry level antenna jobs hard to land without a grad degree? I have a ton of experience in HFSS and coursework in RF/Antennas, but I don't know if that would be enough.

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 5, 2011 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    I could be wrong, but your RF focus would seem to me to be more important than an antenna focus. I would think that having an RF specialty would imply that you understand the different antennas that could be used in different RF applications.

    There are some antenna specialties that are unique, like fractal antennas for very specialized applications. But for general RF applications, I would think that traditional antennas work okay, no?
  4. Aug 5, 2011 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    BTW, RF is a pretty good focus to have as a new graduate, IMO. There are a lot of things going on in the RF area right now. I think you've chosen a good specialty.
  5. Aug 5, 2011 #4
    Like anything, it largely depends upon how much job security you're looking for. Some jobs, such as defense engineering contractors, can be very lucrative --for the length of the contract.

    RF engineering can be many things. You can design microwave radios, you can do path engineering for various propagation methods, you can design trunking systems for municipal services such as police and fire.

    Try not to limit yourself strictly to antennas.
  6. Aug 5, 2011 #5
    I probably didn't convey myself very well :D

    I have a R&D gig at General Atomics in the antenna division as a summer intern. I did well, and they want to keep me on part time - which has good tidings for a full time job after I'm done for the year.

    The reason I ask about antenna work is because I think it's likely I'll get a job offer in the field - I have clearance, a year of experience, and I'm really good with HFSS. Yet I also have a strong interest in the front end of an RF system, and I really like software defined radio. (I also have a year of experience in an RF switch company in the product dev team, so not just ***** work, excuse my french)

    The question I should of asked was, is antenna work in defense lucrative as other RF fields, and are the jobs as in demand.

    Sorry bout that gents, but thanks for the replies. Especially Berkerman, guy seems to be everywhere on this forum.
  7. Aug 5, 2011 #6


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    1a) Probably not. You can't beat the salaries paid by Silicon Valley telecom/networking companies.
    b) The defense world's future isn't necessarily rosy. In addition to taking big downsizing hits over the last few years, the expectation is that defense cuts will account for the bulk of the $2 trillion reduction in the debt over the coming 5 to 10 years that was just passed by Congress.
    2. There are a lot of jobs, probably more than the number of antenna engineers around to fill them. Furthermore there are few really outstanding antenna engineers, so if you are outstanding you'll be in demand regardless of future defense spending budgets. You'll have to honestly assess yourself over the next few years in that regard.
    3. (Actually you only asked 2 questions, so this one is unsolicited advice). You will definitely be more useful and versatile if you can also design front ends or, better yet, perform full receiver systems analysis. Another big discriminator that would distinguish you from most antenna engineers is developing good analytical skills and intuition rather than just relying on computer codes to do your designs. Don't feel bad if you can't do it, though--few can.
  8. Aug 10, 2011 #7
    I see.

    Does anyone know a good staring salary for a antenna engineer in working in defense in California? Glassdoor and other websites don't really have anything on this specifically.

  9. Aug 11, 2011 #8
    First, no matter who you are and what you may think you know, I have doubts that anyone just out of school can waltz in to a job like that. This is a very specialized field of engineering that includes the intersection of many studies. There is the mechanical part of it, the strength of materials part of it, breakdown characteristics of various insulators, the study of transmission lines, the connectors...

    And then you need to know the application as well.

    Figure on getting the high end of the starting salary range for an electrical engineer.

    And, above all, don't brag unless you REALLY know what you're doing. There are several fields of study, and antenna engineering is one of them, that look like a black art to most of the public. Many people claim to know what they're doing. Few actually do. There is more to this field of study than knowing how to use NEC.
  10. Aug 11, 2011 #9

    I'm sorry if I offended you somehow, but thanks for the answer. I didn't mean to brag, I just think I have more experience in this particular field than most other undergraduates - also, I seem to be doing well according to my managers. I wouldn't be on here if it wasn't for their input. I don't think I can fill the shoes of a senior engineer, they seemed to imply that they wanted to possibly keep me on as a junior engineer.

    Once again, I'm not trying to brag, I know RF in general is a very interdisciplinary and tough field. I also know I don't have a guaranteed job no matter what they say.

    I also know that right now, compared to a really good antenna engineer, I don't come close - but I don't think anyone out of undergrad is really going to. I ask questions, I make mistakes, I fix them, I learn.

    As I've learned, the engineer is there to understand what is going on - to be the reality check so to speak. I don't think this field is just about knowing how to simulate.
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