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Not sure which second major to choose?

  1. Jan 24, 2012 #1
    So I'm entering my 3rd year of an Electrical Engineering degree and we're required to choose a second major from the following:
    1. Control Systems
    2. Power and Energy Systems
    3. Signal Processing
    4. Telecommunications

    And I'm unsure which one to go for because I have interests in all fields! I'm fascinated by electric motors, generating electricity and developing methods to transmit that energy wirelessly, but I'm also interested in transmitting and receiving data. I'm also drawn to the hardware aspect that Control Systems would offer, since I would like to focus my future career in the hardware/electronics side of things and somehow combine it with telecom/signal processing.

    Whilst I'm not so much drawn to the power side of things, I know that going with 2. will definitely guarantee me a job in Australia and anywhere else in the (Western) world. But from what I know, this type of role seems to be more of an office work based job? Since the power plants are usually so far from the major cities. I'd rather have an even combination of practical and office type work. I think I'd prefer to work in a research type of company/institution with regards to this discipline then.

    I know that I can combine at most, two of the disciplines/majors in my future career, so I can narrow it down that way. I've looked through the course structure for each major and their electives, and I've seen that a lot of the electives cross over into all the other majors so I can still broaden my scope that way.

    Right now I'm leaning towards either Control Systems or Telecommunications (the electives for this one have me particularly interested!). Anyone care to offer some advice? What it's like in the industry and such? Also a part of me would like to move to America in the near future, so which discipline would suit me best over there?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 25, 2012 #2

    jim hardy

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    the utility i worked for placed a few engineers at each power plant.

    the work is demanding because the plant must run 24/7 and the machinery is indifferent as to when something breaks down.

    the huge machinery is also fascinating and one becomes immersed in it.
    if you identified with Steve McQueen's character in "Sand Pebbles", you may have the temperament for power plant maintenance.

    perhaps you could go to your local utility and arrange to speak with some of their engineers, both generation and system operation side.
    you'll be amazed at the communication gear they have .
    Their personnel office will be eager to interest a prospective hire.

    control theory was an eye opening course - take at least the basic one for it explains how Mother Nature runs the world.
  4. Jan 25, 2012 #3
    That's what draws me towards the field :)
    Never seen it! Will have to look into it.

    Good idea :) something worth looking into too. About control theory though, I'm doing a third year subject this coming semester that deals with it :)
  5. Jan 25, 2012 #4


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    Hey engineeringdude,

    I'm an old dude like "old Jim" (at least I've seen him sign post like that :devil:). Anyway, I'll tell you about a little a job that I was fortunate to get hired for by walking off the street into the head office of a major (well big for Kansas) Power Utility. At the time (1980s) they wanted to modernize their ability to Dispatchable their generation and Wheel the electric power over their Transmission lines to not only make more money from efficiency but to make the grid more reliable by adhering to the electric utility industry standards.

    I was hired as a member of a 5 engineer team. My particular part was the Automatic Generation Control. What we did was to install a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system and my part was to interface the generators from 7 power plants and 15 transmission substations that tied to other company's systems.

    To make a long story short, in this 5 year project I had hands on with engineering the installation of the Remote Terminal Units (RTUs) for the generators and substations. Data like Watts, Vars, Volts, Amps was telemetered by various means (microwave, telco, radio, etc) and used to do automatic control of the generators to meet the dispatchers buy/sell/wheel schedules and system load. One of the last parts of the project was the programming/tuning of the control parameters for each generator; as it was basically a PID controller on steroids. So needless to say the first test when I clicked on "automatic control" of one of the 720 MW generators, I was a bit nervous.

    All of this project required working one on one with many people in the know at the generator plants, substations, connecting companies, ... to get this project up and running.

    I'm not saying that this would be possible today but it gives you a little idea how you might be able to see how it's possible to do a little of each of your second majors. So which one to suggest is moot IMO.

  6. Jan 25, 2012 #5

    jim hardy

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    ""as it was basically a PID controller on steroids. So needless to say the first test when I clicked on "automatic control" of one of the 720 MW generators, I was a bit nervous.

    indeed i'm an old dude, Don :approve:
    you had the good fortune to work with the power system itself.
    I was only peripherally aware of that side of the company, just enough to understand how the plant interacted with it.
    Because the towers and transmission lines don't move and are pretty silent most folks are unaware that it's a dynamic breathing machine.

    that power moving around the grid is driven by rotating machines with huge inertia,
    and a lot of the load is electric motors with inertia,
    and the impedance of transmission lines allows angular displacement,
    so torsional harmonic motion is possible on a huge scale.
    More so in a long skinny state like Florida than a rectangle like Kansas which is tied in on all four sides.

    your PID controller did a lot more than just direct power around the state.

    There will be system stability challenges as more windmills come on line with their electronic converters(what's their dynamics?) and rapid changes in generation,
    and solar with no inertia at all.

    point being , if he pursues a utility career Mr Dude shouldn't be bored.

    old jim
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2012
  7. Jan 26, 2012 #6
    This is my first post but still i'll throw some advice...
    I am too in 3rd year EE student too and i have to say that i think in the same fashion as you do. I too am not interested in power related stuff and more inclined towards telecommunications.

    But I will have to say you never know until i have experienced.So i think you should take up projects in these fields to know more about the practical nature of the problems being addressed in these fields in current era. Theory looks all so beautiful but believe me when it comes to application it can get quite frustating at times.

    I also think you might wanna venture into computer architecture and organisation stuff if you enjoyed your course on digital electronics plus you also have mobile computing if you are more interested in communications.

    Wish you all the best in what you do
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 26, 2012
  8. Jan 26, 2012 #7


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    My senior design and major focus in college was digitial design. Did well in it....got an A in senior design and the whole nine yards. Haven't used it since, but cool stuff.

    That being said....I am now somewhat of an expert in power design.....powering factories...3 phase power, switchgear, MCC's, 480V motors....that sort of thing.

    That being said....I took the "electronics" version of the P.E. instead of the power.

    In otherwords....it really doesn't matter. Take the one you enjoy....your real world job is going to be a shocker and you will learn it no matter what. And again...being well rounded is always good!

    It is also my opinon that the majority of jobs are available in the "power stuff".

    Have fun!
  9. Jan 27, 2012 #8
    Thanks everyone for your input! Still unsure, but I've got a clear direction on some things now :)
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