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Does Elec Engineering need calc (multi variable, diff equations, etc)

  1. Nov 26, 2012 #1
    Hi guys,

    I'm a transfer student, and I've wanted to do electrical engineering. My only problem is i love the idea of circuit boards and hardware, but math really isnt my enjoyment, and i just kinda passed the classes without much understandment. Do electrical engineers actually need math like differential equations, multivariable calc, linear algebra or do we just do that to get our minds thinking and the juices flowing in our brains. I really want to work with hardware, and im wondering where i stand. I know what i've done, and i do regret just bsing through the math courses without learning much, but i did get accepted to a university for elec engineering, and im wondering does electrical engineering really need this math stuff or are we going to learn what these hardware items do? Like am i ever going to do infinite series, polar coordinates, or something from a differential eqn class or do i get a clean start, and learn electrical engineering from the ground up?

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 26, 2012 #2
    If you pursue BSEE, it will be very hard for you to skip multi-var, ODE. I don't know you need linear algebra. You are not going to get by electromagnetics, and you short change yourself the chance of getting deep into RF and microwave.

    Most of the advanced subject involves calculus, it is the language of the science. Go pick up some books for the upper division like EM, signal processing, RF etc. They are mostly written in language of calculus..........Yes, multi variable calculus ( more advance one called vector calculus) IS the back bone of electromagnetics study. You are not going to find straight explanation of this in English. If someone tries to explain to you in English, you better watch out. Vector calculus was partly developed to explain Maxwell's equation. It's the Maxwell's equations that explain RF and microwave. In fact, it is even useful to study PDE where you learn Fourier and Laplace transform.

    I am writing this because I was in your shoe for the longest time. I managed to go very far as a design engineer, manager of EE in the last almost 30 years. I did what ever it take to avoid calculus. I only had one and half semester of calculus. I kept hitting the wall, I found ways to bypass and did a lot of designs. But I know how much I use instinct to design rather than sound theory.

    6 years ago after I retired, I determined to fill the hole that I fell short. I stopped, I studied from page 1 of the calculus book, through multi variables, to ODE. Then I studied the EM. I still felt that's not good enough, I even stopped and spent months studying PDE. This is how strongly I feel about calculus.

    It it that important. This is from my real life experience. You get so much more insight through the math. You have to think math. All the advanced Physics and electronics are math. Go pick up books and look at it. Unless you stay clear away from analog electronics and stay in digital hardware and programming, you can't get away. I suggest you to re-evaluate what you want if you really don't like calculus. You might be able to get away the first two years, but if you just "pass" the calculus class, you are going to really have problem later on. To me, it is even more important to get very good grades in calculus than the electronic classes. Particular if you enroll in some middle of the road state college, you better get very good grades like A!!!

    I got away because I started my career 30 years ago where people don't look for a degree to hire. I was very good in design, pretty soon, people over look that I didn't have a degree in EE and just look at my experience. I don't think the situation is the same anymore and BSEE is dime a dozen( 10 dozen). Look at the job add, they are looking for MSEE or PHD!!!

    I know this is exactly not what you want to hear, but this is life and I lived it. If I were to advice any college student, study calculus even though you don't know what major you want to get into. Calculus is the foundation of all science, it is so easy for you to switch from one science major to another one if you are good it calculus. If you are weak in calculus, you study EE and later you decide that it's not for you, you wasted all the time.........just like you go to trade school like Heald College and decide not to get into that career.
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2012
  4. Nov 27, 2012 #3
    In any engineering, you can do 98% by multiply or divide. Then 1% would have needed maths but you find some turnaround, like a dirty Excel sheet, or a coarse model of which you decide to ignore the accuracy. And then you have the last 1% which you must abandon if you lack the necessary maths.

    To be fair, I should add the 900% that are unfeasible to anyone by math because our world is too complicated for us. End of parenthesis.

    For that last 1% it is worth learning maths. More so in electrical engineering, where theories tend to work better than elsewhere. Just think of fluid mechanics: they would be very happy to have the stability theory of electrical engineering.
  5. Nov 27, 2012 #4
    It's not about actual calculation. You can't understand EM without vector calculus. It is explained in calculus because it started as calculus. You cant' start to understand signal processing, transfer functions and communications without strong background of Fourier and Laplace transforms. People TRYING to explain in a simple way, but as you dig deeper into it, things get really confusing. Try reading some books that are supposed to be simple on RF and EM, you'll find really fast you get stuck. A lot of engineer just know how to do things, but can't explain it. There will be an invisible ceiling that most of them cannot go beyond and cook book approach that mostly solves common problem and designs.

    Yes, you can find cook book and use method to solve problems, but you really don't understand. It's the feel that you don't get if you don't have the math background.

    Case in point, in all EM books like Griffith or Cheng, there is a chapter after statistic electric field that start talking about boundary condition and image. I found I have new appreciation after studying PDE. It's all about boundary condition!!! People talk about E and H field propagation. But a lot of magic is from the boundary condition. The transformation of EM wave to current and voltage is all from the boundary condition. Also transmission and reflection of EM wave.

    Yes, after you learn it, you don't use it much as there are simulation program. But it's the understanding that bring you to a different level of appreciation and that ultimately help you when you design circuit.

    Also, and this is even more important. All the advanced books, articles on EM, communication and RF are written in calculus. You won't understand the stuff if you don't know calculus. I know, I did it the other way around for 30 years. I can tell you how much I feel I had missed after studying back all the math. Believe me, I don't like Math, I was in the same boat of the OP for 30 years. I just hit too many ceiling when I try to study more advanced books. I couldn't get away. I didn't spent almost 2 years studying math for my health!!!
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2012
  6. Nov 27, 2012 #5


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    short answer from me is "yes, definitely".
  7. Nov 28, 2012 #6
    Enthalpy is correct about you really don't use calculus in real life job that often.....hardly. You have all the simulation programs to do that for you. Calculus should be treated as a language of science, much like English for business, law and everything else. You learn calculus, it's like learning a language of science where without it, you can't really understand the materials, it's like as if it's a foreign language!!!

    People have kind of a miss conception that math is math, engineering is engineering, that math is something totally different, that it meant for punishing you!!!! Math is something that is "invented" or "developed" when there is a need in scientific application. Don't quote me on this, I read somewhere the subject of vector calculus was developed partly because of the Maxwell's equation. It was for clearing up and give better explanation for the Maxwell's eq. It is not the other way around that people stick the vector calculus in to make life harder.

    A lot of scientific discovery is straightly from math, any simple explanation in English is mostly an interpretation of the calculus. You have to be careful because from my experience, this only work in relative simple stuff. I remember just few days ago when I watch the History channel about Einstein while he was working on the relativity thingy, they were saying that he could spent days thinking calculus in his head and they show some of the formulas of differential equations etc.

    It is from math, calculus to real world result, not getting the result and then put in the calculus to make life difficult for people!!! I can really sympathize with the OP, I was like him. I spent over two years of my life studying calculus for the love of electronics, not that I like math at all!!!
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2012
  8. Nov 29, 2012 #7

    If you just want to just be a technician/solderer/assembly line worker, then you can get by with minimum math. To achieve the understanding that an engineer/designer needs, then you will be lost without those basic math disciplines, especially differential equations. Differential equations need calculus. Calculus needs algebra. Algebra needs arithmetic achievement. Get it?

  9. Nov 29, 2012 #8
    Electrical Engineering, with all its varied disciplines, need concentrated amount of math especially calculus. In my university, we have 5 math courses that are required by the electrical engineering department. 4 of these courses are dedicated to calculus, from basic integration and differentiation all the way up to vector calculus, passing by double and triple integrals, series and sequences, and the rest of the stuff. The remaining math course is dedicated to differential equations.

    Also, different disciplines in EE have different ratios of calculus use. For example, in digital design, you don't use anything related to calculus, you only use boolean algebra. However, in electromagnetics, you find youself trapped in calculus, especially in vector calculus. You go to communication systems, you find yourself needing fourier transforms, and that's how it goes. This gives an idea that if you want to make it to research level, you will use different ratios of calculus depending on your research topic, so things will get narrower as you go up, but also will get more complicated.

    On another topcic, let's not forget complex analysis, We were given a course that's almost dedicated to complex analysis. However, I still don't know where it will be useful, things like residue integration.
    [/PLAIN] [Broken]
    Take a look at this calclus for electric circuits page

    In a nutshell, there's nothing scary or difficult in all these math courses. They only need dedication and regular studying.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  10. Nov 29, 2012 #9
    There is a lot of use of complex numbers in EE, but to my knowledge, unless you go for really advanced Electrodynamics and study the Classical Electrodynamics by JD Jackson, I don't see the need of Complex Analysis.

    For post grad, numeric analysis can get important as a lot of the problem cannot even be solved by conventional calculus. Bessel and Lagendre function are amount those. San Jose State U barely touch it in their PDE class. Also The Green's function is important for more advanced EM.

    I do have Complex Analysis in mind as my ultimate goal is to study the JD Jackson book. that's is the Mt. Everest of EM.
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