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Engineering Electrician vs EE

  1. May 21, 2017 #1
    Hey guys I'm trying to figure out my path forward.

    I'm currently in an electrician apprenticeship which I enjoy a lot however I sense I have a stronger talent for engineering work. I've interviewed several EEs and it seems that my motivations for entering the fields are sound; however I don't quite feel sure on leaving trades.

    A number of things compelled me to accept apprenticeship instead of continuing forward with my education and these are that I'm really not that ambitious, that I live in a rural area and enjoy it, and I'm beyond burned out with school and just want to work.

    However I do seem to have a much stronger math than mechanical ability and a preference for thinking in systems. Although it's been ages since I've touched a math book I remember the more theoretical disciplines were quite intuitive for me.

    I know I want to get out of installation by the time I'm 40: that's a few years down the road yet. Whether that means starting my own business or moving on to automation controls or management it's hard to know.

    I do enjoy moving around at work and engaging in short, discrete tasks; I don't know how I'd deal with longer-term projects.
    Last edited: May 21, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. May 21, 2017 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Electrical engineering will get you into electronics and other related areas whereas as an electrician you will be focused on proper wiring and power distribution. An EE degree will open up a lot more options but you may have,to move to where the jobs are.

    If you have the urge you should definitely pursue it otherwise you might regret your decision later in life.

    Is there a community college nearby where you can go for night school? Other options might be to get an online degree but the best option is to get into a good 4 year degree program.

    Here's some info to read

  4. May 22, 2017 #3
    thanks. i'm planning on enrolling in night school soon enough. i haven't figured out if it makes more sense to go to two year college where they are more likely to accomodate my work schedule, or the 4 year school; i can't seem to get any straight answers on transfer policy.

    i can't say i'm excited about it: i don't miss school a bit. but i probably need to make sure i'm in a career which is right for me.
  5. May 22, 2017 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    Talk to the academic advisors of the two year school. They should be able to tell the transfer of credits story.

    Also get a name from them of a contact in the four year school so you can verify it and find out what courses are and are not accepted.

    I know in our city the community college has a relationship with the local university for transferring all courses. The trick of course is having the grades to get accepted which can be a high bar to meet.

    Having said that once you commit to studying, be very proactive and measure your time carefully as short changing classes means lower grades and greater difficulty of getting into the four year school.

    One other thing to do once you get started, try to line up study resources so that when you have a question you can get help right away, find out the answers earlier not later to minimize it potentially affecting,your grade.
  6. May 23, 2017 #5
    yes it's the same here.

    do you have any advice for maintaining motivation to keep in school fulltime? intellectual burnout is a real and powerful thing.
  7. May 23, 2017 #6


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    Electrical Engineering is one of the harder subjects out there. It is confusing, intellectually challenging, and just a lot of work on top of that. If you're not fired up to attack it head on it is hard to imagine that you'd be successful. I certainly wouldn't start down that road if you're *already* burned out.

    Do you know any EEs you could talk to? Is there an aspect of EE that really excites you (for example, do you like messing around with Arduinos, or robotics or something?) Have a clear goal and then pursue it... I know of no other way to maintain motivation. I was really into analog circuits (I was in synthesizer pop bands in high school and beyond and that introduced me to the technology) and the burning desire to learn all I could to be the best analog designer I could be drove me on.

    I used to spend 50 to 60 hours a week on my studies (including classes, labs, homework, and studying). I did that for *years*. If I had burned out I would have had to stop.
  8. May 23, 2017 #7
    Actually I have. I'm worked at a hydro plant last year and I was fascinated by the large, mysterious black boxes. I've spent the last few months inteviewing professionals and professors.

    Years ago, I was really talented with math. This may be less true now but I think there is something there and that I should exploit it. I'm choosing EE specifically (versus Civ E or MechE) because I think it plays to my strengths.

    The burnout is hard but I think doing something I like -- and I hope my intuition is correct on this -- will make the difference. My attitude and outlook has improved tremendously since becoming an electrician.

    this p neatly explains my motivations for joining up with the IBEW instead of enrolling in engineering school. i mean i hear good stuff about motor controls but i feel like it's going to be a struggle for me to stay in this career.
  9. May 23, 2017 #8


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    Math is like riding a bicycle. You'll be really rusty for a while but then it will click again and you'll be back on the horse.

    Absolutely doing something you like (or hopefully you love) will make all the difference. My job isn't all ice cream and roses, there is a lot of hard, tedious work and stressful deadlines, but at the end of the day I love what I'm doing and I love continually learning. I jump out of bed every morning to get to work. If you can find that, you got it made.

    If you set yourself a concrete goal: "I want to do X" then that will help you get through school because you'll be able to tell yourself things like "I really need to learn all this EM stuff because I'll need it if I want to design high-speed boards to do X"... and so on. Always keep your eyes on the prize, because the privilege to have a career as an EE is quite a prize.

    Motor controls are very interesting. I don't work in that area but we do a lot of that here and my colleagues who do it really enjoy it.
  10. May 23, 2017 #9


    Staff: Mentor

    If math is a sticking point then you should check out this site:


    It has math covered from Algebra to first year college. You'll have to work through the 10 minute videos in each course and that alone would get you prepped for school even if you don't totally understand some of it.

    The developer of the videos is a prof at a community college and he offers them for free.

    Alternatively, there's Khan Academy with a similar set of videos and with methods to track progress.


    Mathis power4u is affiliated with


    Which also provides self study methods but it seems they have only a limited number of courses setup that way.
  11. May 24, 2017 #10


    Staff: Mentor

    Emphasis added...
    The bolded phrases are pretty strong red flags, IMO. With regard to being burned out with school, I gather that you're talking about high school, although you didn't say. If so, there's a world of difference between high school and college, any trepidation about college might be misplaced. However, succeeding in college, and most especially in electrical engineering requires a lot of ambition and tenacity.

    In your current career as an electrician? Or are you referring to a possible EE career?
  12. May 24, 2017 #11
    are they electricians or EEs? the books i've found on this are really terrible and it's hard to to figure out if this is something that would be a good fit.

    I know there can be a lot of overlap between the guy with the ticket and the guy with the BS.

    no i slept thru high school; college on the other hand ticked me off because the last time i was enrolled i was dealing with recurrent ebv and faculty were not at all helpful or understanding. it got to the point where i decided i was just wasting my time (and ruining my GPA) and it was time to **** off and do something else for a while.

    i guess despite this i am reconsidering simply because i feel intrinsically motivated to sit in a room and work on math problems for hours on end.

    yeah the IBEW is the electrician's union; their contractors do some pretty interesting work sometimes, the trouble is working your way up there. i'll mess around with conduit if someone wants to pay me to make that happen but that stuff is just a job for me. i'm much more interested in how everything is put together.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 24, 2017
  13. May 24, 2017 #12


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    I suggest you consider a couple months of self study. And set realistic goals of study. ie set aside 6-8 weeks of evening time to cover a book on a subject you believe to be interesting, such as motor controls. Finish it! If you can do this (or at least complete 70% or better), you have a good chance of being successful in pursuing higher education.
    What do you do if you find the book is too difficult or it sucks? YOU STILL finish it! Why? Because you will have a class or two that will mimic this ie there will be a class you need to graduate and it will taught be a poor instructor and be a bad subject.
    "Oh, but I would have a teacher or fellow student that could help me." Maybe, but usually not. As an adult student myself (I didn't graduate until I was over 40), I speak from experience.
    I suggest you also look at a BSEET (Electrical Engineering Technology) type degree as well. It is a degree that is somewhat between an engineering degree and a vocational education. The program is much lighter on math and concentrates on the technology vs theory. It is something to consider. However, while it is an easier program, it is generally not as rewarding either. But if you find that you struggle with math or experience burnout, this program concentrates on the electrical only ie you do not have to take other technical classes.
  14. May 24, 2017 #13
    either i communicated poorly or several people are having a simultaneous reading comprehension problem: i'm extemely good at math and I'm choosing EE specifically because I want to take coursework which focuses heavily on math. i do not think i would do as well in an EET degree because i am more of a big picture person and i need to know "why" in order to understand although i'm welcome to being wrong on this point: it just seems that, experientially, i do less well when i don't get bogged down in details.

    i'm burned out on academia because i attended university with severe chronic illness and it was like banging my head against a wall. without going into too much detail at one point i was so ill that i couldn't fill out the paperwork to request a medical withdrawal. i tried to ask for one after the fact, explaining my situation, and was given some nonsensical answer about the importance of deadlines. why do they have these things if they don't want sick people to use them? this was never explained to me.

    anyhow within this context it was hard to not feel that it was all some silly, made-up game. it's fair to say i don't have a ton of respect for higher education; this is highly demotivating.

    i hope i've clarified myself sufficiently; thanks everyone for the kind and helpful advice.
  15. May 24, 2017 #14
    right, i don't think i'm a particularly talented electrician and the only reason i continue to be employed is because there's a strong need for this kind of work and not the people to do it.
  16. May 25, 2017 #15


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    Gold Member

    Have you looked at a BSEE or a BSEET program (preferably both)? As you yourself has stated, academic burnout may be a problem. And as an adult student and wanting to remain in a rural area, your best bet for education is an online program or bite the bullet and attend a real bricks and sticks school.
    I have done both and any class is what you make of it.
    The advantages of a classroom is that you get better interaction with the professor and fellow students (which often leads to having a much better idea of what is important to the professor and allow you to concentrate on what will be tested).
    Online often requires you to study more material as you really do not have any support structure or enough professor interaction to know what he will test on (however, you will often get 24 hours to test on the material, but with your normal workday and a professor that releases the test at noon, you will have only a single evening, and probably after a hard day). Or, you may have to find a testing place or a proctor, depending upon the school's policy for offsite exams.
    If you really KNOW what you want, go for it. But before you start on that journey, you should do a bit more career self analysis. There are some questionnaires that help you determine which type of traits you have and what type of job you might actually enjoy.
  17. May 25, 2017 #16


    Staff: Mentor

    My son's friend did something similar to what you're considering. In highschool and college he blew off studying and wasn't really interested. However, he had a strong interest in music and formed a band with my son. He really enjoyed and learned how to play the bass guitar (after starting the band a common practice among teens) Now ten years later while working at a music store, fixing instrument electronics and amplifiers, he got the urge to go back for an EE degree. We didn't think he had the skills or wherewithal to do it.

    He started at a community college and got great grades while still working and then got into a four year school and is still going strong.

    So it may be that your burnout was actually more lack of interest and that now you might have the drive to do it.

    I agree with others that online is great for self-driven students but that classroom teaching will give you a community of folks with similar interests that you can talk to and study with and spur each other onto better grades. You will be entering school with some understanding of things electrical which may give you a boost initially.

    Lastly, don't neglect the math aspect of EE. You'll need to understand highschool math, calculus, linear algebra and differential equations to do well. You could prep yourself online using the resources mentioned earlier. You'll also be required to take courses in these topics and since they rely on highschool math you'll definitely need to review it as needed (again see the resources mentioned earlier).
  18. May 25, 2017 #17
    thanks again guys for your interest in my problems.

    do you know what those are? I've taken the myers-briggs test and my result is always INTP, likewise my holland codes are typically "investigative" and "realistic".

    likewise I hired a neuropsycholgy intern to test my brain (i had neurological illness so there's stuff i'm worried about) and although I'm apparently really bright I appear to have some learning disabilities. notably my memory is lousy and I have some issues with executive function: she recommended i find a job where i can work at my own pace. she seemed to think programming might be a good fit; engineers seem to have a similar work environment.

    yeah either is fine really, i just wanna do what i'm best at. my state has both an EE and EET program and I would be happy attending either.

    god i wish. sadly an electrician's job is largely mechanical. my math background is much better and more comprehensive than my electrical one, although i like to think i've picked SOMETHING up from all this.

    I did a cost comparison for the online EE programs and it does seem like I'd be better off just biting the bullet so to speak and moving somewhere with a better economy and in-state tuiton night classes. I mean, as far as I'm aware there are only like three online schools who offer EE and they have pretty stringent entry requirements and i get the sense that the caliber of education is better at the brick and mortar institutions i toured.
  19. May 25, 2017 #18


    Staff: Mentor

    Employers in general don't trust online degrees and will always choose a brick and mortar candidate over an online one with comparable grades.
  20. May 25, 2017 #19
    that was my intuition as well.
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