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Does a MATH Bachelor's prepare you for an Electrical Engineering Master's?

  1. Dec 12, 2009 #1
    and also, how practical is an applied math degree?
    I love math and learning concepts, but I think it's also important to know you will always have a job.

    I'm guessing that engineering trumps math in this aspect?



    (I'll be attending the University of Texas at Austin next year)
     
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  3. Dec 12, 2009 #2

    Pyrrhus

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    I guess it depends on what you want to do?.

    If it was me I would have rather had a Math Bachelor's instead of my Civil engineering bachelor's, or at least double major. For more advanced degrees like PhD, the math is more advanced, so the more math you have the better.

    If you just want to do a master, so you can go to industry then a math bachelor might not be the way to go. Now, Graduate programs in engineering (depending on the field) will look favorably at applicants with math (or physics) bachelors. However, they will expect you to do a lot of self study and/or take remedial classes.
     
  4. Dec 12, 2009 #3
    See http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos043.htm (math) vs http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos027.htm (engineering). There are very few, if any, math specific jobs for undergrads. A math degree can get you into related technical or nontechnical fields, but, since you asked, it's not the preferred degree for anything in particular that I can think of. It's also not the preferred degree for an EE master's. There aren't a lot of unemployed math majors walking around either though.

    Higher level math will be especially useful in graduate school, but it will augment the engineering. Why not just do EE if that's what you want to do? You should be able to spend your electives on math courses or even double major or minor in math.

    Or, if you just want to study math, why not do that and go for graduate school? If you keep your grades up you shouldn't have a problem there either. At the PhD level, applied mathematicians have no problems finding work that I'm aware of. I think the job prospects are actually very good.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  5. Dec 12, 2009 #4

    jasonRF

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    Unless I am mistaken, it sounds like you will be a Freshman next year. So it is likely difficult for you to know what either major is really like. I am an electrical engineer who works in a group that does a lot of signal processing and communications, and have interviewed a reasonable number of candidates that are right out of school. We usually hire electrical engineers for my work, but do sometimes give offers to folks with physics or math degrees. There are a few holes that many math majors have:

    1) fourier analysis - the applied fourier analysis taught in a "signals and systems" course in an EE department is crucial to thinking like an engineer. Knowledge of both continuous and discrete fourier analysis is useful. Taking a fourier analysis course from the math department is a reasonable substitute, but believe it or not the less rigorous class taught by the EE department is preferred, as you will be more useful on day one of your job.

    2) probability theory - believe it or not many math majors I have seen never take probability. I do not understand why!

    3) physics of waves - most of the signals I do processing on come from waves. Taking an intermediate level electromagnetic wave course from the EE or physics department is useful.

    4) understanding of hardware - even just how to use oscilloscopes, spectrum analyzers, etc. means that you can jump into the lab and help out with basic measurements and debugging that we need to do.

    1 & 2 above are the most important. The last math major I recommended we hire had 1-3 wrapped up solid. So if you decide on math but want an engineering job, I would keep this in mind. All EE majors get all of this. If you decide on math but want to go to graduate school in math, then you should concentrate on math.

    Note that most EE departments give you a reasonable number of elective courses you can take, and many EE majors take one or two (or sometimes more) extra math courses beyond the required sequence. If you go this route and you still like math, I would look to take a selection of: an extra upper division linear algebra class, complex variables, intro real analysis, and partial differential equations. Here I am assuming that you have to take a few semesters of calculus, elementary linear algebra, and differential equations. EE majors often learn probability from the EE department.

    You will have a year or two to figure out what you want to do once you reach college. If I were you I would keep an open mind and figure out what you really want to do. Pursuing what you are really interested in is likely to be more satisfying, and you are more likely to excell in that field. Either EE or math (or CS or physics or mechanical enr. or ...) will give you a good education that can be used in many ways.

    good luck,

    jason
     
  6. Dec 12, 2009 #5

    D H

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    That's one of the mysteries of what math departments think is important. It's as it was below them, even though mathematicians invented it (Cardano, Fermat, Pascal) and made it rigorous (Kolmogorov).

    The wave equation is just a second-order linear partial differential equation. A solution exists. Next!

    Lab equipment mysteriously breaks whenever theoretical physicists step into to the lab. (World-class theoreticians can break equipment merely by coming into town.) Mathematicians? You actually let them in the building?
     
  7. Dec 14, 2009 #6

    jasonRF

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    avant-garde


    My appologies on my previous post - my brain froze and I was answering whether a math BS prepares for an EE job! Ooops!

    Anyway, going back to your post, yes - a math BS can be a good background for EE masters, at least in the US (I don't know how departments in other countries deal with this). I know many folks who have gone to EE from both physics and math. Going from math to EE can make sense if you are interested in the "applied math" portions of EE: signal processing, communications, information theory, and control systems. If you major in math, then I still recommend taking probability and the Signals and Systems class that I mentioned in my previous post.

    good luck,

    jason
     
  8. Dec 14, 2009 #7

    jasonRF

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    I agree. Probability is fun, beautiful, and practical.


    Ha Ha! (I presume you are making a joke here)

    This reminds me of my grad advisor - he actually did not want me to take classes from the math department, because in his experience they just taught him how to prove existence and uniqueness but never how to actually solve the equations! I think he was wrong, and I know that not all math classes work that way, but the sentiment lingers on. It also meant that I didn't take any math while in grad school, which is a shame.

    Yep, I have seen it done. it wouldn't be without some oversight or on-the-job-training, of course. But that was my point of course - having some experience with hardware makes someone more useful in an engineering job, for obvious reasons.
     
  9. Dec 14, 2009 #8

    D H

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    Correct.

    One of the best-taught math courses I took was a grad-level ODE class. The instructor was a pure mathematician, so not quite a match for what is mostly an applied math topic, but he did an excellent job nonetheless.

    I noticed in the math department course catalog that he was teaching a course in optimal control the next semester. As I liked his presentation of ODEs, I signed up for that optimal control course. I thought control theory from the perspective of a mathematician would be a good counterpoint to the loosey-goosey engineering presentation of the same topic.

    The book was a bit too theoretical and too rigorous for my tastes; it wasted 60+ pages on the trivial topic of existence and uniqueness before even starting to delve into optimal control. Worst course ever! The book lacked rigor from his perspective. He expounded on those first 60+ pages for the first 3/4 of the semester. We barely touched on real control theory (observability, controllability, cost, all that).
     
  10. Dec 14, 2009 #9
    Reminds me of my probability theory course. We spent literally half the semester establishing the groundwork for having a random variable. Seven weeks in we finally had problems involving rolling dice. And by problems, I mean proofs - there were no numerical problems in the course. The last couple of classes sped through all of the distributions we had to memorize for the final.

    I actually liked the content and would have taken the stats semester when the applied part actually came in (sorta), but I was a little turned off to it after no one mentioned I was expected to know set theory and how to write proofs etc going into the first course :smile:.
     
  11. Dec 14, 2009 #10

    mrb

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    (referring to probability)

    I think to some extent the undergraduate math curriculum is intended (maybe not completely consciously) to prepare students for graduate study in pure math. So, students need to come out knowing some classical analysis, some basic things about abstract algebra and topology, and have some experience in general writing proofs and solving problems. But probability? Eh.

    I definitely agree though that this may not make a whole lot of sense, since the majority of students will not go on to graduate study at all, let alone in pure math. In particular for anyone not intending to continue with pure math study, I don't think undergrad algebra (at least, the way my classes were) is productive.
     
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