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Engineering Electrical vs Mechanical Engineering: Jobs, Demand, Roles

  1. Jan 4, 2017 #1
    I am a high school senior debating between these two majors. In high school, I enjoyed both Mechanics and E&M very much so its really tough for me to decide which of the two engineering fields I'll like more. Whichever field I pick, I am also planning to minor or double in Physics and Computer Science. In terms of career interests, I am very much interested in the renewable energy sector, particularly solar and nuclear fusion.

    What would be the roles of these two engineers in these renewable energy fields? Which engineer would be more in demand? Which engineering branch has greater scope for breakthroughs?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 4, 2017 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    It sounds like you are in the US university system, so hopefully you have 2 years of university to figure out what you want to declare as your engineering major. IMO, that's the best way to handle this -- go to uni and take 2 years of the common engineering classes and decide which you like best. What universities are you planning on applying to, and do they offer this option?
  4. Jan 5, 2017 #3
    I am applying to Unversity of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, Georgia Tech, and UT Austin. All of these schools require students to declare their major before entry and changing majors requires a long application process. Also, because I have a sizeable amount of AP credits I will likeley start with pure EE or ME level courses in my freshman year itself. Thats why it's important I make a decision soon.
  5. Jan 5, 2017 #4
    Tough call. Most schools have these rules in place to make it harder for students to change from an engineering major to business or to English lit or to women's studies when they perform poorly in the first few Calculus, Physics, or engineering courses.

    Get a 3.5 GPA your first couple semesters and there won't be much resistance to switching from EE to ME or fro ME to EE. Go with your heart or just flip a coin. But start getting bad grades and switching will be harder.
  6. Jan 5, 2017 #5
    Do you know about how their roles would differ in solar and nuclear fusion research/industries? And which engineer would be more in demand? Which engineering branch has greater scope for breakthroughs?
  7. Jan 5, 2017 #6
    Both EE's and ME's can contribute to solar and fusion research in different ways.

    All three of your schools perform solar research; while Champagne performs a more balanced experimental/theoretical/computational fusion research program, GTech and Austin have fusion theory research in their Nuclear Engineering and Physics departments.

    There's supposed more growth (5%) in the ME field vs the EE field within the next decade.


  8. Jan 10, 2017 #7


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    Staff: Mentor

    Agreed. Both are broad and in demand and therefore difficult to differentiate based on those criteria. Do the one you are more interested in.
  9. Jan 14, 2017 #8
    So I applied for Mechanical Engineering and was admitted to all three colleges (might switch to electrical later). Which college would be best for my research interests in fusion and solar energy overall?
  10. Jan 14, 2017 #9


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    Staff: Mentor

    Congratulations! :smile:
    What have you found looking through their websites? There must be some indication of current research being done in the ME and Physics departments -- do you see any applicable research being done?
  11. Jan 14, 2017 #10
    I think all of them are doing research in solar PV cells and Georgia Tech is working fusion theory with ITER. Illinois has their own fusion research lab so they also do some experimental research in fusion.

    It's kind of confusing for me to pick. Illinois seems to have stronger research in fusion, a field I am very much interested in, but Georgia Tech has a much higher ranking (#2 in the nation for MechE) and still offers decent research in fusion.
  12. Jan 14, 2017 #11
    All pretty good.

    Make them show you the money.

    Take the route to graduate debt free.
  13. Mar 18, 2017 #12
    I have decided on UT Austin. However, UT Austin is very restrictive when it comes to allowing students to take courses outside their major.

    I think it might help if someone could tell me which degree, Electrical or Mechanical, is more needed and more relevant to my interests:

    -Solar Energy
    -Rocket Propulsion
    -Nuclear Fusion/Plasma Physics
    -Electric Vehicles
    -Remanufacturing/Making the transition to circular economy
    -Artificial Intelligence
    -Biotechnology/Engineering Living Matter

    Then I could go with the one relevant to the majority of my interests.
  14. Mar 19, 2017 #13

    Both mechanical and electrical engineers do work in these research areas; that being said, you literally CANNOT do all of these in a single career.

    Even if you tried to make your education so general that you could have a hand in a little bit of each of these, you'd be doing nothing of value; not the least of reasons of which is that the research methods among alot of these are very different and require eventual specialization.

    Even among seemingly close(ish) research areas like Plasma Fusion, Astrophysics (from the astrophysical plasma point of view), and Rocket Propulsion (from the electric propulsion point of view), the goals are different and the energy regimes can also be different.

    In general ME would probably be more robust than EE in this regard, but I would start doing research with professors as soon as possible to see that you even like doing the work associated with some of these interests; real life work might surprise you. Good luck.
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