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Electrical Engineering Subdisciplines

  1. Jul 6, 2014 #1
    Hi, I noticed that there are many subdivisions under EE. I was wondering whether I could get some information on each discipline like what there are applications are and there need in industry.
    Thank you
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 6, 2014 #2
    Six main areas: control, communications, power, electronics, computer engineering, and electromagnetics.

    Those are sort of self-explanatory, except control and electromagnetics. I took a class in control, but I am still not quite sure what it's about, beyond saying it's kind of like what it sounds like. I guess maybe an example might be the way fighter jets do "fly by wire". They would handle like a bear if you didn't have the computers and everything to keep things smooth. It's sort of interdisciplinary. Can be any kind of engineering.

    I think most of the electromagnetics jobs have to do with stuff like antenna design.

    There's supposed to be a looming shortage of power engineers ahead, so there should be a lot of demand for that in the time it would take to get a degree.
  4. Jul 6, 2014 #3
    Which of these sub disciplines in the most math heavy and which is the most physics heavy?
  5. Jul 6, 2014 #4
    Most math heavy: control, communications.

    Most physics heavy, maybe electromagnetics, but it's specifically electromagnetism. Also, some aspects of electronics, but not every electronics engineer is going to know that side of it.

    There are probably some interdisciplinary type jobs/areas where you can bring in more physics or math, too.
  6. Jul 6, 2014 #5


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    Some other physics-heavy subdisciplines include solid state physics/devices (I know folks that design new high-speed transistors, etc.) and photonics (was called opto-electronics in my day). I would add plasma physics (what I did my EE grad work in) but it is uncommon and not so easy to find jobs in (at least is wasn't for me). Other mathematical subdisciplines of EE include signal processing (good to pair with communications) and image processing, which often goes along with computer vision and robotics. I just realized I have a gazillion parenthetical remarks in this post - sorry!


    EDIT: All of these sub-disciplines are mostly available in graduate work, with perhaps an "intro" course or two as an upper division undergrad. I'm guessing you are an undergrad, given your question.
  7. Jul 6, 2014 #6
    Thanks for all your replies! Are the job prospects for each subdisciplines the same?
  8. Jul 7, 2014 #7


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    I think electronics is more specifically based on physics than things like control and power, though I'd say Electromagnetism has the most physics of them all. When you consider things like radio physics and RF circuitry there is a fair bit of physics coming inside electronics. Of course, digital electronics is quite far away from physics, though occasionally it still pops up.

    I tend to observe EEs view these topics differently from physicists (I studied solid-state physics, including semiconductor devices, solid-state chemistry as well as solid-state electronics and though there was good overlap I also noticed significant difference in treatment between all three).
  9. Jul 7, 2014 #8


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    In my company (which is part of the defense aerospace industry) there is a large demand for computer engineering and RF engineering. Many of the RF engineers are getting old.

    Keep in mind that the need for computer engineers may drop within the next few years, as my industry goes through boom/bust cycles
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2014
  10. Jul 8, 2014 #9


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    No. In general, different industries tend to go through cycles, which determines the job prospects. Fortunately an undergrad EE degree typically is broad enough that the specialization may not be as restrictive as it can be with a grad degree (which can be very narrow).

    When I finished grad school with a plasma physics specialization the main options I was able to find were doing a post-doc in academia, or getting a job outside of plasma physics. It turns out that most plasma physics work is either in academia or at national labs... Fortunately the job market was great (late 1990s, before dot-com bubble burst) so finding a job outside of my specialty wasn't nearly as hard as it would have been today.

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