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Can you Actually do Anything with your engineering Degree

  1. Sep 13, 2013 #1
    I only have a couple semesters left to earn my degree and I still feel as if I have leaned nothing. I know that seems sad but that's honestly how I feel. I'm finishing up my undergraduate degree in electrical engineering. I just get the general sense that what my professors are teaching me is knowledge that they learned decades ago. I'm looked down upon as being stupid and foolish by them for not knowing something that they have already mastered decades ago.

    I want to be able to actually do something with my knowledge but can't. I feel as if there is just so much to learn and know that one person can't learn it all. If I want to learn how to say I don't know build my own electronic device like a computer I couldn't. It would be near to buy all the parts for a electronic device, solder them together, and know a vast amount of knowledge of all the components. But I don't think one person can do this. This is why there's teams and teams of people designing the latest phones and not just one person. I feel as if once I earn my degree I'll need to an extensive amount of self research one individual topic in order to do something as my degree has taught me not much useful stuff it would seem and just a general over view.

    I may want to focus one topic, like displays. Buy a whole bunch of books on history of displays, then learn how they work etc. But that within itself would take several years if not forever. Even if I could mass that knowledge I can't do anything with it alone.

    I seem to be lost. A college degree isn't meant to gear you towards to actually doing something, but rather teach you common knowledge so that way you you can do labor for someone else. I wish I could learn knowledge to do labor for myself. Sit down and actually do something. That's what I want to do.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 13, 2013 #2


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    You are on the right track -- you need to build things to get more practical knowledge, and to learn to "ask the right questions". When you build things, you end up at times asking yourself, "Hey, this makes no sense, and is not working. Why?" And then you bring those questions back into your schoolwork, and start questioning some of the points that you are learning -- you start to see what stuff is less useful, and what stuff is very useful and practical in real-world circuits and systems.

    So I would encourage you to build a couple small electronics kits that interest you, and then get a uC development board and start building projects based on that uC. That will give you a much better feel for real-world electronics, and also give you some projects that you can show prospective employers in your job interviews.
  4. Sep 14, 2013 #3


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    No one comes out of college with a degree knowing everything there is to know about a subject. There is simply too much knowledge and skill to cram into four years or six or whatever. Even if the body of knowledge about a subject were fixed and static, I doubt anyone could learn everything there is to know about something, and the body of knowledge is increasing all the time.

    The best a degree is able to do for you is to show that you have mastered the basics of a certain body of knowledge. After leaving school, your education does not and should not cease, and you will learn further valuable lessons as your experience accumulates over the years. Most professions encourage some sort of continuous learning to keep their practitioners up to date in the latest knowledge and techniques. If you seek professional engineering certification, this continuing education will be required.

    It's nearly impossible to build anything these days by yourself from scratch. The technology is too complex. You say you want to build a computer by yourself. What does that mean? Do you want to design all the chips, gather the sand, build your own IC fab, grow the wafers, and etch the design onto the silicon? Do you want to create your own custom build from available parts? (which a lot of hobbyists do.) The point is, these days, no one has to start at square one.
  5. Sep 14, 2013 #4


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    Yes you will constantly need to keep learning to do well as an Electrical Engineer.

    Think of your undergrad degree as the foundation of your future knowledge. Very few new engineers with a BS know enough about anything to really do anything terribly useful, but after some time on the job doing tasks you'll start to learn what is going on and eventually you will become competent in some area. Then keep learning and pushing yourself and you'll get better and better and broader and deeper and you'll feel, finally, like you actually know how something works!

    If you go to graduate school and get a Ph.D. this process will go a bit faster but if you're good you can learn it all on your own in industry. The key point is you have to take responsibility for your own career and always have a learning plan... and stick to it!

    Once you have some real experience, you'll be amazed at what you'll have the capability to do by yourself.
  6. Sep 14, 2013 #5


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    Think of a BEng degree as similar to passing your driving test.

    You haven't "learned everything there is to know about driving a car" when you pass your driving test, but you have proved you know enough to be let out on your own without too much danger to everybody else.

    With your BEng, you should know enough of the basics to start teaching yourself while you work. Expect to spend the rest of your working life doing that, if you don't want to get stuck in a dead-end job!

    As a new graduate, a sensible employer won't expect you to contribute much in the first year or two, until you have learned a lot about the specifics of the particular projects you are working on. Just don't get too despondent when the experienced engineers can instantly see (and explain) why your "bright ideas" won't work - it's all part of the learning experience!
  7. Sep 14, 2013 #6


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    Exactly! I don't think any one person could design and build a cell phone. A lifetime is simply not long enough to learn everything you would need to know. Why is this a problem? You can be part of a team designing and building the latest products. If you get a job in engineering, your first project will probably be a very small piece of the product you are working on. Over time you will learn more and can take on a bigger piece. However, I don't see why this bothers you. It is a fact that by working together we can do much, much more than by working alone. Isn't this a good thing?
  8. Sep 16, 2013 #7
    Well a team in most cases outperforms a individual. There's nothing wrong with that at all. It's just that I feel as if it's even more difficult to do something significant for society with your knowledge as the amount of knowledge required to do so is essentially impossible to obtain. The average human being has to support themselves with food to eat, a place to live in, etc.. In order to do these things one has to perform labor for other people to earn currency to buy such things. I feel as if my undergraduate degree has done nothing for me but this. Make me some what more qualified, by learning basic things, to make more money had I not gone to college. However, that's not the reason why I wanted to go to college. I don't need to go to college. I have learned that money doesn't thrive me to do well in school and doesn't seem to be my aim. I have worked two full time jobs in between semesters over the summer and good easily make 30k a year that way for the rest of my life. I don't plan on getting married, or having kids. As a result I don't need to buy a house or much. I know many people who raise a family off minimum wage, so support myself on over 30k a year wouldn't be a problem.

    I just wanted to... accomplish something. Change the way people live their lives, give back to society. Not work the rest of my life just to pay off a house, or support a family, (which I won't have to do) performing labor for a company. That's all it is to. A company needs labor to get done, that if it didn't get done the company wouldn't function. That's why they hire people, and people get paid for it.

    I just feel as if... you know how, well at least I, look back on elementary school and just be like "those teachers most have thought we were very stupid struggling to add 4+7". There were times when I caught teachers belittling students. I feel as if the same is with college. Professors look down on people for not being able to solve complex differential equations, or struggling to learn vector calculus as if it was as simple as adding 4+7.

    I wish I could just lock myself up in a room for a couple of years with nothing but books and not have to work. If I could do this and just study, I may actually be able to accomplish something, discover something someone else hasn't. Actually do something with my knowledge and not just do things for a company so that way it can function. Not many people can do this, but this may be the key to truly succeeding. One would have to sacrifice a lot of their life to truly accomplish something.

    I feel as if your right. The learning process needs to continue at the very least. Graduate school isn't an option for me, can't afford it. My undergraduate degree has scammed me of a lot of money only to lead me to believe that the only thing left to do for my life is perform labor for a company for the next 4 decades just to keep it functioning, make lots of money I'll have no need for, and not actually accomplish something with my life and do something someone else hasn't and truly do something. People tell me that this is what I should want and what I need. However I know that's not the case, it's not what i want, and not what I need.

    I've looked at building certain circuits from scratch, but it seems impossible with a couple hundred parts with data sheets nearly 1000 pages...
  9. Sep 16, 2013 #8
    You know, you may change your mind as you get older. Not getting married or having kids is something that I think you can't definitely choose at such a young age. It works for a very small minority of people to be single all their life, but to me it would be lonely.

    You are unlikely to discover something no one else has discovered if you are reading a textbook that is full of already discovered knowledge.

    Did you expect to leave college fully equipped to build everything yourself? Your professors had to do extra schooling to learn what they know
  10. Sep 16, 2013 #9


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    " My undergraduate degree has scammed me of a lot of money only to lead me to believe that the only thing left to do for my life is perform labor for a company for the next 4 decades just to keep it functioning, make lots of money I'll have no need for, and not actually accomplish something with my life and do something someone else hasn't and truly do something."

    You're breaking up at the end there and not making a lot of sense.

    If you find yourself with some surplus money, I would be glad to take it off your hands.
  11. Sep 17, 2013 #10


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    You do know that usually your grad school tuition is waived by you being a TA or RA, right? The only cost for engineering graduate school is an opportunity cost.

    An engineering career doesn't have to be 4 decades of "labor", you know? I'm 10 years post-Ph.D. and I still jump out of bed every morning to get to my job designing circuits. I think about all the fascinating problems I have to solve and I get so excited that I actually get paid to do something I would want to do anyway. The feeling of accomplishment I get when a chip starts working for the first time (in simulation or on the bench) more than makes up for some of the drudgery required to get it out the door. I'm excited on Sunday evenings to try out all the ideas my subconscious came up with while I was enjoying my weekend. It is amazing how it helps your self-esteem to do something well and to understand something in a deep and fundamental.

    Working for a company is great because you get access to equipment, software, and knowledgable co-workers that help you achieve sooooo much more than if you were locked in a room with books.

    Electrical Engineering is the most amazing career I can imagine, and you should be thrilled that you've had the privilege to study it.

    And I've written more than a few datasheets. You should try reading some... datasheets are typically very informative because the whole point of a datasheet is to teach a customer how to use a part so he or she will want to be many of them!

    PS 30k a year sounds great until you get sick....
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