Math major switching to EE? Would I like it?

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Hi, so I am a math major currently with 2 years left in school. I went to a math conference this weekend and discovered some really interesting subjects in EE. Control theory and Information Theory specifically. These were more math bent then engineering focus but I downloaded a feedback control theory textbook and I am just falling in love with it. DEQ's have always been my favorite subject.

So I need to decide by the end of this semester if I am going to switch or not. The school has some strict requirements and there is no way around this. I might be able to switch back to math but not math to EE after this semester. Because my school doesn't allow double majors I am leaning toward a EE degree (it is ABET) with a math minor. I have a wife and daughter to support so I am thinking EE will lead more easily to jobs after grad school.

So what would be some good indicators that I might like EE as a major? I haven't taken any circuits classes and I am not a big fan of programming but I do love math and physics. I think my goal would be to go to grad school in control theory and I am really interested in this applied to neuroscience. I have a full ride to my current university and changing now will only take an extra year.
 
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  • #2
scottdave
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Was grad school your plan all along? If you have the resources to do that and support your family, then I think that's great. Hopefully it doesn't involve racking up a bunch of debt along the way. Talk your advisor and the EE advisor to see what the options are.
Perhaps you could take some classes related to control systems or signal processing without switching majors. Just a thought.
 
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  • #3
berkeman
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Congrats on the full ride, that's impressive. :smile:

Have you taken any physics classes yet? Any E&M? When you look through an introductory circuits textbook, does it look pretty straightforward? Have you looked through a solid state physics textbook yet? As long as those subjects (at least at the introductory level) are not off-putting, I think switching to EE should be fine for you. Your extra math skills will make the change pretty easy, I would think. Certainly easier than going the other way, from EE to math!

Given some of your goals (grad school, neuroscience, etc.), I don't think you have to be great at advanced circuit design and programming. But you at least need to get through those introductory classes to get them checked off the list. As @scottdave says, your advisor should be able to help you with course choices. Although, if you have a math-centric academic advisor currently, you may want to also get the advice of an EE-centric advisor as part of your decision process. If you change majors, I'd imagine that you would want to switch advisors as well. Maybe ask your current advisor how that works...

Best of luck! :smile:
 
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  • #4
berkeman
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I went to a math conference this weekend and discovered some really interesting subjects in EE. Control theory and Information Theory specifically. These were more math bent then engineering focus but I downloaded a feedback control theory textbook and I am just falling in love with it. DEQ's have always been my favorite subject.
BTW, this is a really good sign, IMO. Each semester when I was at the university bookstore buying my textbooks for the upcoming semester, I used to skim through each text so see what I'd be learning. I used to get goosebumps seeing all the cool stuff that I'd be studying and learning over the next few months. Pretty cool.

So when you find things that you really enjoy, I think it's great to pursue them.
I am thinking EE will lead more easily to jobs after grad school.
And that also helps... :smile:
 
  • #5
Congrats on the full ride, that's impressive. :smile:

Have you taken any physics classes yet? Any E&M? When you look through an introductory circuits textbook, does it look pretty straightforward? Have you looked through a solid state physics textbook yet? As long as those subjects (at least at the introductory level) are not off-putting, I think switching to EE should be fine for you. Your extra math skills will make the change pretty easy, I would think. Certainly easier than going the other way, from EE to math!

Given some of your goals (grad school, neuroscience, etc.), I don't think you have to be great at advanced circuit design and programming. But you at least need to get through those introductory classes to get them checked off the list. As @scottdave says, your advisor should be able to help you with course choices. Although, if you have a math-centric academic advisor currently, you may want to also get the advice of an EE-centric advisor as part of your decision process. If you change majors, I'd imagine that you would want to switch advisors as well. Maybe ask your current advisor how that works...

Best of luck! :smile:
I really appreciate the reply! Circuits are pretty straightforward and we looked at them a bit (RLC) in my DEQ's class. Haven't taken physics in quite a few year back in high school but I loved it. I took an intro and a advanced class and back then wanted to be a mathematical physics guy but since then life has happened :P Solid state I haven't really taken a look at but my chem is weak so I am sure it would be difficult.

From what I can tell there are a decent amount of areas I would be pretty interested in and a few I will not like and just have to push through those classes.

I go to a undergrad only university and the research opportunities are limited and the faculty interested in certain areas is also limited but I will do the best I can with what I have, it is a full ride after all .
 
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  • #6
scottdave
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For what it's worth, a friend of mine changed to EE after his first year or 2 as a business major,and he did fine. Not to say that business is easier than engineering, it's just a lot different things that you learn.
 
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  • #7
Was grad school your plan all along? If you have the resources to do that and support your family, then I think that's great. Hopefully it doesn't involve racking up a bunch of debt along the way. Talk your advisor and the EE advisor to see what the options are.
Perhaps you could take some classes related to control systems or signal processing without switching majors. Just a thought.
Grad school is my plan but my wife, child and I are on our own. We don't have any family so being able to get a good job is very important to us. Math is pretty limited on jobs. As far as I know EE is significantly better. Id rather have an interesting and intellectually stimulating engineering job then going the math route and most likely having to settle for a software programming job after a PhD.
 
  • #8
Joshy
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I did my first two years as mathematics and switched to electrical engineering. I personally liked it... it was adding a story to the mathematics although sometimes overlooking fine details for practical purposes; problems didn't always stop at the mathematical solutions if they couldn't be realized in real life. Machine learning and data science has been trending, and it looks a lot like Linear Algebra to me if someone really wanted to lean on the mathematical side while studying engineering. I'm not sure what I have missed out on having not moved forward with mathematics, but I am happy with my choice.
 
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  • #9
jasonRF
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So what would be some good indicators that I might like EE as a major? I haven't taken any circuits classes and I am not a big fan of programming but I do love math and physics. I think my goal would be to go to grad school in control theory and I am really interested in this applied to neuroscience. I have a full ride to my current university and changing now will only take an extra year.
I am an EE that has been in industry for almost 20 years, and like you circuits and programming are not my passion. Of course EE is a pretty broad field, but my experience is that you will like it if you enjoy technical problem solving with tools from the EE toolbox (signal processing, circuits, controls, electromagnetics, communications etc) with a practical end-goal. Exactly what tools you need from the EE toolbox for a given project will depend a lot on what kinds of projects you work on and what your particular role is. If you earn a graduate degree then are more likely to be using your favorite tools. Also, technology is always advancing so there are constantly new things to learn, which I find keeps my job interesting (although it adds work!).

The challenges are that projects have deadlines and budgets, you don't always have much say in what your role is (especially as a junior member of a team), and you will most likely be needing programming skills very regularly. I program every day to prototype signal processing algorithms, model system performance, design filters, etc. Like all jobs, engineering jobs will have seasons when they are good and seasons where they are extra-challenging.

Jason
 
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  • #10
phinds
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@TheKracken5 I'd like to second what @berkeman said in post #3 "I don't think you have to be great at advanced circuit design and programming. But you at least need to get through those introductory classes to get them checked off the list." When I was a young engineer w/ NASA I designed digital circuits and absolutely loved it and would have paid NASA to let me work there but fortunately for me they insisted on paying me instead. My point, however is that one of my friends designed antennae for rockets and just HATED computers and digital circuits. Basically we each accused the other of practicing black magic. So, there's lots to EE beyond circuits.
 
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  • #11
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I would stick to the mathematics major and do the graduate school in signals or EE, as the math background is invaluable and broad (group theory, real analysis 1, 2, set theory, topology..very useful topics) , more so than EE. Many programs in signals, radar (PhD and masters) easily take on mathematics majors. I am an electrical engineering student but if I had to do it again would have studied mathematics and physics. I cannot speak for the job market but competent mathematics graduates should have no trouble, so take my advice with this disclaimer.
 
  • #12
I have officially changed my major to EE and I am pretty excited. I have been looking into careers and I honestly think I will enjoy a good amount of them. Unlike math where you are either a professor or software...(yes I am being a little too general).

I really appreciate everyone's help.
 
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  • #13
Scrumhalf
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LRC circuit analysis and study of signals and systems is the bedrock of EE. When you say you don't have any circuits classes, that's a red flag. Your control theory class will build on the transform techniques you learn in those introductory classes. IMO, that's a major gap in your knowledge that you need to close asap if you haven't done so already.

Also, not liking programming is a red flag. Control theory is going to require a lot of of it. Research what you are getting into and make sure you aren't going to be in over your head.
 
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  • #14
Joshy
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LRC circuits aren't too bad... KCL/KVL "what comes in must come out" is a good tool for solving a lot of problems, and my signals and systems module was mostly Fourier transforms, which is a subset of Laplace and will be done in differential equations module anyways. I'm not suggesting this is everything, but I don't think the OP is too far behind.

I have mixed feelings about programming myself. I personally feel like a lot of EE students take programming modules to stray away from the hardware concentrated material, and they end up looking more like Computer or Software Engineers instead with some circuits in the background. I dived into the analogue material as much as I could and... on paper... finished with a concentration in Controls. We used some MATLAB although it wasn't critical for understanding control theory. It was just a great tool to simulate something we already learned ie. a few seconds to do a root locus; applying a step function to some transfer function; a quick bode/nyquest/nichols chart, or state space problems. The "programming" looked a lot like this:

Matlab:
clear; clc;

sys1 = tf(0.3, [1 0.05 16]);
sys2 = tf([1 0.05], [1 70]);
sys3 = tf([1 0 1600], 1);
F = tf(0.5, 1);

sys = @(G) feedback(G .* sys1 .* sys2 .* sys3, F);

bode(sys(2));
margin(sys(2));
legend('G = 2');

%pause;

G = @(K_P) K_P .* tf([1 0.5], [1 0]);

nyquist(sys(G(1e10))); grid;
legend('K_P = 1e10');
One concerning thing about Controls I worked hard to combat was the feeling of being too high level. My peers didn't seem (my opinion/perspective) to really understand the hardware aspect of each block and some of the limitations or practicalities of these models. I think it's a great depth to learn how to mathematically achieve or model specifications, and then to work your way towards those models by tuning each block with its hardware counterpart ie. needing some type of damping factor; steady state error; rise, fall, settling time; failure modes; frequency response; etc.

I welcome any criticism... all I can say is that it works for me... received plenty of competitive offers for interesting positions and feel very confident with the work I've been doing in a relevant field. I did almost the same as the OP in switching for maths to EE and so I can really relate and hope that I am not just a special case- I hope it works for you too and I'm rooting for you.
 
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  • #15
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LRC
Perhaps the fact that you had taken and mastered advanced mathematics before helped tremendously. I feel most students dont actually know control and analogue too well, the only crutches here are your mastery of math. I am an EE major but I would love to get a chance to take some pure math courses like set theory, group theory, abstract algebra, real analysis.

I have noticed extra knowledge and effort on the math side is pretty much the only way to survive and thrive in EE. I would not recommend OP for an EE major because its pretty much constant programming, whether its the endless lab reports in TEX or C in hardware. We have had to learn C JAVA, and soon I will have to learn VHDL and matlab heavily. Also tex because good luck writing a transfer function in microsoft word.

The digital side and digital design is pretty much requiring you to be in love with some systems programming language. If your school allows it it may be worth to just switch to controls and avoid the high level digital design courses, but not liking programming is a massive red flag imo! I am not sure whether math majors arent employable as EE majors.
LRC circuit analysis and study of signals and systems is the bedrock of EE. When you say you don't have any circuits classes, that's a red flag. Your control theory class will build on the transform techniques you learn in those introductory classes. IMO, that's a major gap in your knowledge that you need to close asap if you haven't done so already.

Also, not liking programming is a red flag. Control theory is going to require a lot of of it. Research what you are getting into and make sure you aren't going to be in over your head.
And as finally pointed out by others, not having taken a circuits class and doing control theory and signals and systems is a bad idea because a lot of the techniques and transforms, come from there. I dont really think you know what you are doing if you take signals and systems without having a good knowledge of circuits and circuit theorems.
 
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  • #16
donpacino
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Good choice switching to EE. Welcome to the light side :)

Why do you like control theory? something like operations research is almost a combination of control theory and mathematics. You can move on to get a masters degree in that if you find you don't like the practical side as much.
 
  • #17
donpacino
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I dont really think you know what you are doing if you take signals and systems without having a good knowledge of circuits and circuit theorems.
signals and systems classes is a general class that one can take and study with zero knowledge of circuits whatsoever. circuits is just an application. When you go to school for say electrical engineering, often signals and systems is taught with circuits in mind, but it doesn't have to be.
 
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signals and systems classes is a general class that one can take and study with zero knowledge of circuits whatsoever. circuits is just an application. When you go to school for say electrical engineering, often signals and systems is taught with circuits in mind, but it doesn't have to be.
It cannot be learned without circuit knowledge in any good university. Circuit theory is not so straightforward that one just skip it and go to signals and systems. Its a bad idea all around. One deepens his circuit theory with signals and systems, and not the other way around.
 
  • #19
donpacino
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It cannot be learned without circuit knowledge in any good university. Circuit theory is not so straightforward that one just skip it and go to signals and systems. Its a bad idea all around. One deepens his circuit theory with signals and systems, and not the other way around.
that's not true at all.

signals and systems is a mathematical construct class. you don't need circuit theory, the circuit theory is an application. Do you not think that topics like fourier transforms and laplace come up in non electrical fields?

What you are saying is analogous to saying "one cannot learn calculus without physics."
 
  • #20
jasonRF
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It cannot be learned without circuit knowledge in any good university.
signals and systems is a mathematical construct class. you don't need circuit theory, the circuit theory is an application.
Different universities teach signals and systems differently with different pre-requisites. For example, MIT (course 6.003) does require circuits first, while Cornell (ece 2200) does not.

This is a pointless argument. The OP has stated that they are now an EE major, so will certainly take circuits, signals and systems, and a host of other courses that you both will agree should be included in such a degree. So how about we move on?
 

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