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Engineering Electrical engineering and engineering physics

  1. Apr 6, 2010 #1
    I should have posted this here before. Oops. *gets a n00b hat*
    I really want to go into engineering. Badly. And I always come back to electrical engineering. But I don't have enough room in my schedule next year to take electronics in high school. So, how am I supposed to figure out if I want to go into it? Can someone explain to me what you *do* as an EE?
    I know for my first years I'm gonna go for engineering physics, then move on.
    I've heard that this is useful in the electrical engineering field, but I don't really know how. And would it be useful for a software engineer? (My other engineer choice)
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 6, 2010 #2
    Engineers do a wide range of things, but at it's heart, engineering is all about designing and building real systems with a purpose. Hence, an electrical engineer does research on, designs, simulates, experiments on, builds and tests electrical systems for real-world applications.

    The term "electrical system" is quite broad and often brings in other areas of physics. Motors and robots involve mechanical systems. Lasers and optical communications involve optical systems. Thermally controlled systems and heat dissipation issues involve thermodynamics. Even global positioning electronic systems require an understanding of general relativity.

    Both physics and mathematics, as well as calculation methods/machines (computers and numerical analysis in recent time) are primary tools that an electrical engineer uses. Physics is critical to learn for EE, but less important for software engineering. Although, one can argue that it is important if one is programing something that requires the understanding of physics, which can happen often. But, this arguement can only apply so far. If you program something related to music, or art, or biology ... etc. it would help to know those areas too, and you can't be an expert at everything.
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2010
  4. Apr 6, 2010 #3
    Not so much. EE is closer to the hardware side while something like computer engineering/comp sci are close to the software.
  5. Apr 6, 2010 #4
    Well, I guess I need to decide between EE and SE. Especially since I really want to do engineering physics.
  6. Apr 7, 2010 #5
    To the best of my knowledge, SE is not a major. It is a post, or more like a job :-)

    You can get into software with almost any degree these days. And sure enough, any degree in engineering, physics or math will help. There are many EEs, CSEs, physics majors, math majors, material science majors, etc. working in the software engineering business.

    And if you do find a school that offers an SE major, I would not advise taking it. (Conventional) Engineering school is a lot about acquiring many vastly different skills, so that you can get into almost anything. Even if you dislike hardware, it pays to know some of it. Same applies to software.
  7. Apr 7, 2010 #6
    Hmmm. Well, I guess I'll rethink software and computer engineering. :frown:
  8. Apr 8, 2010 #7
    Best of luck. Make a decision based on your academic interests.

    As elect_eng has pointed out, there is a lot to electrical engineering. Based on my own undergrad experience, I can tell you that I worked on lathes, welding and milling machines, drawing boards (rather badly though), huge motors which made a lot of noise and shook the ground, oscilloscopes, circuits, bicycle wheels, springs, blocks, and a lot of MATLAB simulation. My friends in Physics did quite a bit of that stuff too, minus the circuits, electronics and MATLAB. (Our school doesn't have an engineering physics major yet -- the faculty believe it packs neither good engineering education nor physics).

    Oh and I should add, almost every other person goes into finance, quantitative analysis, or software. So, all those months of cutting your fingers with saws and bruising them with wire strippers and deciphering a thousand wires on a poorly breadboarded circuit you made yourself, eventually translate into a career far away from engineering and science for most people. I think of it as a time spent in acquiring a skill-set.

    Sorry for the long post, but I noticed that in your first post you asked how you can figure out whether EE is for you. Well, if motors, electrical machines, electronics interest you, you will like EE. A considerable part of EE will teach you specialized kind of math, which will let you analyze signals (e.g. radio waves from outer space? Or speech signals) and "process" them (this is called signal processing) to extract valuable information (e.g. identify the speaker). Its a whole bunch of applied math and physics stuff, and it can be very cool if you look at it that way. Engineering Physics, depending on where you go to college, can be very cool too. I wish I could tell you more about it, but I can only tell you about EE.

    If you study EE, you can certainly come back to EE ;-). But it might be a touch harder to get into Physics grad school with an EE degree, as compared to an EP degree. The former is what I am doing, and it hasn't been a cakewalk. In the industry, I think it might be easier to get jobs with an EE degree and still do the stuff you'd want to do as an Engg Phy. (Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.)
  9. May 24, 2010 #8
    I am currently doing my 2nd year A levels in chemistry, phys and F.Math. Finshd normal math in yer 1. I am undecided as to whether I should study EE or Mathematical physics.

    The thing Is I have a great interest for math and applications of math but greatly dislike qualitative stuff. I hear that 1 would have to do chemistry in EE and I don't like chem because it is to qualitative, very little math i describing concepts and ideas.

    So my question is How much chem would 1 have to take in EE.
  10. Jun 4, 2010 #9
    Very very different choices! Have you thought of studying 'physics' first rather than theoretical/mathematical physics?

    All science minus math involves some applied math and some qualitative stuff. In that sense, math is the 'purest' of them all :-)

    That may be so at this point for you. However, college chemistry tends to be quite mathematical, at least as far as physical, quantum chemistry are concerned. Physical chemistry is essentially physics.

    This depends on where you study. My undergrad was in EE. I took one chemistry lab in my freshman year, and a full blown one semester theory course in my sophomore year.

    While the lab was indeed useful -- you get a feel for experiments, measurement and (if you're motivated) instrumentation techniques -- I did not find the theory course particularly useful. But then if you want to get into organic or molecular electronics (the cutting edge research in materials science and electronic devices) then some knowledge of chemistry wouldn't hurt.

    By the way, mathematics is just a language. The fact that many things evade an elegant description in that language doesn't make them less important. So, don't be carried away by the symbols and the formalism. There's as much of it in engineering, as in physics..but of course, math tops the list :-)
  11. Jun 15, 2010 #10

    Thanx for the reply. It seems the chem in EE isn't to hectic. The thing is mathematical description allow me to analyse the problem more thou-rally so I'm quickly turned of by having to give deep qualitative desciptions of an idea or thought.

    If I were to do Phys I'd ony do mathematical phys but I think I'll do EE since it has a good job market.
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