What's RF/Antenna engineering like?

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  • Thread starter axmls
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What kind of projects do RF/antenna engineers work on? As I've been starting to think about grad school, RF engineering is the thing that's been sticking out the most for me, as I like a nice dose of physics and math in my work.

Do RF engineers use a lot of physics and math daily? I understand it would be absolutely ridiculous to derive everything using Maxwell's equations from scratch on the job, but at the same time, I'd hate for the only math I do to be V = IR.

Is it more of a hands-on field? Or is it more of a strictly design field? Or some combination of both (perhaps depending on the industry?)?

Is there a lot of computational stuff? One of the things I've enjoyed most in college was solving computational problems using MATLAB.

Is there a good job outlook in the field over the coming years? What about job security?

I understand doing a Ph.D. in most engineering fields is overkill unless one wants to go into academia. Is this a field in which a Ph.D would be useful? Or is this something that would be no different with just a Master's degree?

And finally: what kind of research is being done in the field, anyway? Is it a field in which research is booming, or is it only a small blip on the research radar?

My apologies if this is too many questions. I don't expect one person to answer all of them.
 

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RF engineering and antenna engineering are slightly different disciplines. The former designs radio gear and the latter designs the antennas.

To answer your first question, YES there is lots of math, particularly when modeling antenna performance. If you enjoy math, this is a good place to be. Oscillator characterization, and design is also quite math intensive. I should warn you in advance: The math is not the math of theorems and the like. It is routine formulas and rules of thumb that are often used. Yes, you get to use a lot of it every day, but no, it doesn't really change all that much.

It can also be a very hands-on sort of endeavor. I recommend at least seeing how the professionals install antennas and secure a transmission line to it. A Ph.D can be useful here, especially for antenna engineering.

As for job security, this sort of endeavor is better than typical, but it really depends upon where you decide to work. For example, it might be more boring working for a cell phone company, but there will always be lots of work. On the other hand, working on spacecraft antenna systems could be really interesting, but job security is only about as good as the rest of the aerospace industry (which is not great).

Research is done in many areas. For example 5G cell standards are in the works right now. Vehicular radar systems are in the works right now. New generations of WiFi and Personal Area Networks are also a big deal. Radio Navigation is yet another field of interest. These involve a lot of input from engineers in both fields.
 
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