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Engineering What area of electrical engineering suits me?

  1. Aug 26, 2009 #1
    I just finished my first year of in an accredited electrical engineering program. Right now i am trying to decide what area of EE suits me best. I am very interested in mathematical analysis and mathematics in general , probably more than EE; i plan to take courses in analysis later on in my program ( i`m trying to get some mathematical maturity before i touch analysis, since i don`t have much of a formal mathematical education).

    I like EE just as much as the next guy but i also have a passion for math. What areas of EE are very mathematical ? I do not just want to take tons of math courses and spend money on something that would probably not be useful to me ( apart from providing a measure of content).

    From what I understand, most EE jobs are just programming and running mathlab simulations ( this is very ignorant of me ofcourse, but i group things like VSL circuit design as programming ). I wouldn`t really enjoy just jobs very much.

    I would have taken a math degree, but i was persuaded otherwise seeing as getting a job with a math degree is not as easy as with an engineering degree.

    So i just wanted to find out if anyone has some suggestions for me.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 27, 2009 #2
    Information and Coding Theory (Math: Probability, Measure Theory, so obviously some Analysis), Communication Theory (Math: depends, could be Stochastic Processes), Detection and Estimation Theory (same as above), Signal Processing (Image Processing, Speech Processing, or signals and systems theory in general -- could get you into group theory, algebra, etc.), Network Theory (graph theory, maybe even knots and topology?). Electromagnetic Theory and Solid State device theory involve a lot of math too, but more on the applied side.

    Inverse Problems are another exciting area of EE/math/phy which you could look into: the math in this field generally revolves around PDEs, Functional Analysis and numerical methods, but gets very very "pure" in its true form. Its also a good example of an area where an EE cannot afford to ignore the gory mathematical details. (I read a thread on this forum sometime back about whether people who can't do pure math or hate it are more suited to EE...a dumb thought obviously given the ever narrowing boundaries separating seemingly disparate fields and problems.)

    This is unfortunately becoming true :frown:. There will always be the "design from the ground-up" jobs but those won't be for (relatively) white-collared individuals whose talents can be better exploited by seating them in front of a computer.

    VLSI Circuit Design is not programming/coding. A good instructor, course or textbook will emphasize the need for cultivating hand-calculation skills even for the most complex of circuits. There is a LOT of physics going on in VLSI Circuit design, and simulation is just one small part of the story.

    But it starts from the university..."labs" are exposing students far less to engineering than to coding or software programming to give them a taste of the "issues in the real world". No doubt these tools are extremely useful, but it takes an immature undergrad a few semesters (and sometimes years) to figure out that simulation is just that...simulation. (Too bad simulation theory is not taught in most EE schools.) But I do not intend to demean simulation in any way. MANY things are impossible to do in the lab (especially a UG lab) so you have to also get a taste of how to approach a problem differently.

    The last time I checked, Math majors in the US (at least) were quite in demand. At the school I go to, Math degrees have been augmented with a scientific computing component so as to make them more suitable to the industry or to non-academic profit making organizations. But hey, if its math you want to do, go ahead and do it. If you're unsure, you can always do a lot of math through EE (you can't do all of math through math itself, so its not that bad :-p) and can switch to a Math dept after your undergrad for grad school.
  4. Aug 27, 2009 #3
    About this comment... there are plenty of jobs that engineers are in demand for that do not require sitting in front of CAD or circuit design packages all day. An engineering degree will help open up opportunities in operations management, consulting, finance, etc. The management/finance world loves engineers with leadership/social skills.

    If you are looking to stay technically oriented you can become involved in the analysis side of things instead of the design side (think investigating system failures). You could work optimizing power systems or managing electrical supply. There are plenty of options for engineers.
  5. Aug 27, 2009 #4
    Thanks a lot for this. I thoroughly appreciate this! The professor who I was really interested in working with does information theory, and she is from MIT. I'm leaning heavily towards the fields you mentioned.
    I know power engineering pays the most but i'm not in engineering for the pay.(Some classmates of mine get $20/hr for their power internship positions).

    I'm not particularly sure what you mean by Inverse problems, I will like you to elaborate, if possible.( I only just finished first year EE so i'm not too literate in EE terminologies.)

    I was reading a book on it and i found out that the book was all about minimizing circuits for cost with VDHL. It was mostly logic math and truth tables, that`s not really my thing.

    Well i`m in Canada, it is quite different from what i hear. Even math professors from prestigious universities find it difficult to get tenured, but i assume it`s the same everywhere.
  6. Aug 27, 2009 #5
    For some reason i loath power engineering, simply because I believe it lacks rigor. That is probably a stupid and inaccurate statement to make but, most power engineers I have meet just sit on their desk signing papers and doing power consumption calculations in Excel.
  7. Aug 27, 2009 #6
    It depends at what level you are working at. Much VLSI design work *is* just coding in Verilog/VHDL, compiling the results, and checking that the resulting layout meets the timing constraints.

    If you are working for a company that actually *makes* the chips, there is a lot of physics there.
  8. Aug 27, 2009 #7
    Thats true, but at the UG level, one should try and acquire as many skills as is possible. Whether or net you get to work on chip design is another story.
  9. Aug 27, 2009 #8
    Yes, you should pick your field based on your interests and inclinations, not the pay or long term financial gains. Power Engineering can be quite mathematical too, if you get into network distribution, load flow studies, neural networks sort of stuff. I merely listed areas where a more immediate application of "pure" math is obvious.

    The wikipedia page on Inverse Problems (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inverse_problem) will give you a brief overview. Traditionally, this has been pursued in Math departments but of late, EEs have also taken interest.

    One book does not define a subject. In most cases, it does not even introduce it well. While its good you found out it is not "your thing", such an approach to write off a subject so early in your academic career is a bit immature.

    At this point, you should be open to learning about different things in EE. It is TOO early for you to "specialize". Since you are unfamiliar with the fields of EE, a good idea would be to read about history of EE (communication, circuit theory, defining stuff like that) and get familiar with the problems that kept people in the early 50s and 60s involved. You can also get started with some small projects under your campus faculty. Working in a subfield of EE (or for that matter anything) is a whole lot different than just taking courses and getting interested by reading books.
  10. Aug 28, 2009 #9
    I guess you are right ! So, what books do you recommend I use in other to become familiar with those old problems ?
  11. Sep 3, 2009 #10
    You should read about the remarkable work carried out at Bell Labs. There are some illuminating historical accounts in the IEEE Transactions on Education and another IEEE Journal (can't recall the name, will add later). You can get a lot of information on the internet too.

    Since you're interested in math, this might be a good time to teach yourself some advanced math: PDEs, analysis, linear algebra, complex analysis, probability and statistics (v. impt. for EE majors).

    Anyway, read about Kilby, Bardeen, Shannon, Weiner, to name a few..
  12. Sep 4, 2009 #11
    I'm trying to read as many books as I can but Analysis books are tough to read. Can you suggest some good books in the topics you mentioned ?

    And can you please provide full names so I could perform a better Google search?
  13. Sep 5, 2009 #12
    What exactly is your mathematical background right now? Are you familiar with multivariable calculus, linear algebra and complex analysis (basic stuff like analytic functions, contour integration etc)?

    Assuming that you are, these books might be useful: Analysis - Apostol; Rudin; Carruthers; Royders (last two are a bit more advanced), Complex Analysis - Churchill; Conway, Linear Algebra - Hoffman and Kunze. For Probability Theory, you could refer to the two great texts by Feller and Sheldon Ross. For Mathematical Statistics, you should take a look at Hogg and Craig.

    Of? The scientists? Just use google or wikipedia...there aren't many Weiners and Bardeens in EE/physics :-).

    As for journals, look for Review Articles first -- use IEEE eXplore.
  14. Sep 5, 2009 #13
    I doubt they teach multivariable, complex analysis in the first year.

    I would suggest to work in different areas if you are in the co-op program. You should consider undergrad research program too.

    I am also in EE (2 yrs) and have very similar interests. The only reason I chose EE because it looked harder and is more mathematical and I was right. As for me, I am taking lots of economics courses, which also have good amount of math, along with EE and considering concentrating in Data networks/communications.
  15. Sep 6, 2009 #14
    To be honest I don't have much of a formal training in Mathematics except for Calculus (1 &2)( Derievative, sequences & series, integrals some partial deriavatives . I'm currently going through my first analysis book it's by William Trench ( Introduction to Real Analysis). It seems easy to follow so i picked it up but I'm open to suggestions.

    To be honest my highschool was a joke, it killed my interest in mathematics. I'm trying to rekindle my love for the subject so I don't want to read disheartening books that go over my head.

    I was very interested in mathematics as a kid but after i got into grade 9 it seemed that my teachers were trying to kill my interest in the subject but emphasing mundane things. I didn't get a good training in discrete math because my school cancelled the class the year i was supposed to take it ( grade 12) year. So important things like writing proofs and logic was omitted.

    Well first year calc is the prereq to most of those courses so, yeahh.

    Well the economics classes I took was not very mathematical; from what I saw they do the basic stuff like taking simple derivatives and integrals so that money doesn't get stuck (lol).But I'm aware that some of the greatest mathematician where also involved in Economics.
  16. Sep 6, 2009 #15


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    Control Theory, Communication Systems (including statistical communication theory), and Digital Signal Processing (or analog sig. proc.) are interesting and mathematically oriented areas of specialization in electrical engineering. i like DSP (with audio and music signals). can't say that you would or not.
  17. Sep 6, 2009 #16

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    More than you might think. John Bardeen's sons Bill and Jim are both physicists. (And his daughter married one, Tom Greytak)
  18. Sep 7, 2009 #17


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    If you are really against doing a math degree, take as much math as you can and as much variety within EE as you can. Why? Because I am guessing you will have to go to grad school to get the kind of work you seem to want. I hope that doesn't disappoint you, but I am an EE and where I work virtually all of the mathematical work goes to folks with PhDs (or at least masters degrees) in engineering, physics or math. I am not familiar with the Canadian system, but for someone in your situation in the states I would recommend taking a second linear algebra course and an intro real analysis course to start. Complex analysis, modern algebra and/or number theory would probably come next depending upon your interests. Taking a variety of EE courses (as opposed to specializing) will help you figure out what you want to do in grad school. Many EE courses are almost like applied math courses (although you will likely have to do very few proofs for EE), so classes on stochastic processes, digital signal processing, control theory and communications will probably be fun for you. Take what sounds fun, and you will likely be successful.

    Good luck,

  19. Sep 8, 2009 #18
    Thanks a lot for the advise; I'm actually applying it right now. The only problems I am facing is the amount of work I have to do. I just started second year, today was actual the first day of class and things are more intense. The profs didn't waste time on introduction, they went straight to the material. I really,very much so, appreciate your advice. I think your advice is in line with that of others; I guess it's a bad idea to specilize. I'm planning on taking general EE classes till i graduate instead of specializing ( power,controls, multimedia etc.)I think that what a Master Degree is for.

    Again thanks for the advice.

  20. Sep 16, 2009 #19
    looking for Maths, go for DSP and digital communications, or control theory.
  21. Oct 8, 2011 #20
    Thank you thank you thank you!!!

    I have been looking at what direction to take after a common first year and after reading the wikipedia link found this is almost exactly the type of field I have been looking for.
  22. Oct 8, 2011 #21


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    nonlinear control systems
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