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(Stressed Electrical Engineer) How Do You Learn to Design Circuits?

  1. Feb 27, 2012 #1
    This is probably an extremely awful question to pose at this point, but I feel lost. I'm in my Junior year at 4 year uni after transferring from 2yr college and the jump seems so huge. One of things that is giving me headaches a lot this semester is learning how to design with extremely little to no formal teaching or experience.

    I mean, for the first 2 years of my degree,the ONLY thing I learned about Electronics was what I got from my 2nd semester physics class as well as a general electrical science class. When I took these 2 classes, I learned a lot of theory and laws about magnetism, point charges, and the like, but I was never really taught how various electrical components in existence could be utilized and then directed as to how they would be implemented into a design.

    I can even analyze the circuits. I could tell you how much voltage/current is across a certain component, but I haven't the slightest idea how I could build a circuit from the ground up to accomplish a goal knowing just these things.

    Ugh, I just feel so overwhelmed. When I look at some of the EET students at my campus, they seem to know so much and how to reach their design goals. I want so bad to learn to design, but I feel as though my professors expect me to know so much when I've had experience with so little. Is it like this for most 3rd year EE students or is it just me? Can anyone give me advice?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 28, 2012 #2
    Don't feel too badly. I felt the same way as a junior EE student. The problem is, it can be hard to teach circuit design as often the best way to learn how to design circuits is through experience. I suggest reading this "The Circuit Designer's Companion", by Tim Williams. It helped me a lot. Or if you have some other textbooks you like, go through all the circuit design examples and really try to understand them. That's what I did and it worked.
  4. Feb 28, 2012 #3


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    Have a look at application examples in various datasheets and application notes. It is also worth having a look in various "cookbooks" such as "The Art of Electronics".
    You can design surprising number of very useful circuits just by combining tried-and-proven circuits from datasheets in different way.
  5. Feb 29, 2012 #4
    All of the physics majors at my school take a course on electronics; the texts we use are "The Art of Electronics" and the corresponding lab book. This book and perhaps even more so the labs are great for developing intuition. The roles for physics and engineering students are almost reversed for this material. The engineering students seem to cover much more theoretical information while we pretty much just learn to build useful circuits.
  6. Feb 29, 2012 #5


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    I felt exactly the same my jr year - the required analog electronics course just didn't work for me. So don't lose hope just because you are facing a challenge.

    My main advice is to talk with the professor to find out what they would suggest. Take advantage of the prof/TA office hours. You will need to spend a lot of time on your own working through the material as well.

    Beyond that, design has to be preceded by analysis. Since you already know how to analyze the types of circuits you are asked to design, one important thing is to remember the behavior of different building blocks. For example, you have likely analyzed basic low pass filters. You need to remember what these circuits look like, so when you need them in a design you can just plop it in and use your analysis skills to select component values that satisfy the design requirement. Also, some basic concepts about impedances are important, and how the source and load impedances effect the behavior of a circuit. Buffers with high input impedance and low output impedance (think op amp) can be placed between two building blocks to isolate them. etc.

    good luck,

  7. Mar 1, 2012 #6
    Thanks for the tips guys. It makes me feel a lot better knowing other EE students had to go through the same thing I am. Also, I quickly got ahold of those two books. If anyone knows of ANY other really good resources, please don't hesitate to tell me.

    Could you explain a little deeper what you mean by this?
  8. Mar 1, 2012 #7


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    Well, if you need to design a circuit with a low noise amplifier at the input, a good first step would probably be to go to say the website to TI and look at their low-noise op-amps (I assume you are already familiar with basic op-amp circuits). If you find an op-amp that looks like it might work you can than have a look at the datasheet, and in the datasheet you'll find a few examples of applications of that op-amp. You'll probably also find references to various relevant application notes.

    There is a difference between idealized and real circuits, and in order to understand how to design practical circuits you need to learn how to choose components (what type of capacitor do you use where?), add decoupling capacitor, proper grounding etc.
    Datasheets and application notes is a good place to learn about these things.
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