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Why does EE feel like the same problem over and over?

  1. Oct 8, 2012 #1
    Being a junior now in EE now has made me realize that actual EE classes are pretty terrible. My EE classes feel like one big algebra problem again and again. Frankly, I'm getting sick of it. I mean you learn node-voltage once and can apply it to every circuit thrown at you. Setting up the problem takes seconds while solving the stupid thing takes much longer considering that eventually algebra errors appear. We never talk about the theory of what we're doing and never get into very complicated real world problems.

    I can't believe how discouraging my classes are.. I thought they would get better and now I'm stuck in this major. My perception of EE was it was going to be applied physics in the realm of electricity. Instead it's circuits + algebra without any physics at all. The most "physics" I get is L*di/dt or C*dv/dt, but we never talk about the magnetic fields of an inductor only the circuit aspect of it. Big whoop.

    I guess my question is are all EE classes just applications of circuits? It seems like the case thus far and it seems lame.
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 9, 2012 #2
    I'm also a junior EE, and I see circuit analysis as kind of like programming. It's one of those things that you have to know how to do, and it'll show up a lot in your courses, but you don't necessarily have to focus on it.

    At my school, we do do our fair share of circuit-based courses, but there are also a lot of courses that focus on things like electromagnetics and signal analysis. The electromagnetics course I'm currently taking does have a major component oriented towards circuits, but it's exactly what you were worried about missing. It answers questions like "what is resistance, capacitance, or inductance in terms of EM fields?" and explains where our circuit equations come from.

    Also, semiconductor physics is a pretty important topic in EE, and while you inevitably have to learn to use semiconductor devices in circuits, the physics governing them is certainly non-trivial.

    I don't know if that helped any. I'm not much a fan of circuit analysis myself, but I've definitely found lots of non-circuit stuff to do so far. I find it a little odd that your experience has been so drastically different.

    Edit: I thought I'd mention that there's a research team in my university's EE department which focuses on applied electromagnetics. Some of it uses circuits, and some of it uses computer simulations, but all of it uses quite a bit of physics. A lot of EE majors seem to avoid applied physics like the plague, so you might get the sense that you have to as well, but you definitely can go the applied physics route.
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  4. Oct 9, 2012 #3
    A lot of it is like that, but not everything. Signal processing is different, electromagnetism is different, computer engineering is different, control is different, although there are some circuits there, too. That's more than half EE, though. The rest of it is mostly a lot of circuit analysis. It is kind of irritating. Part of it is that EE undergrads will scream if you give them much theory, so the classes are dumbed down, according to those demands.

    I didn't mind circuits that much, though. That wasn't what made me flee EE. What made me take to the hills was second semester electromag and a fiber optics class, where the theory was lacking, and if there was "theory", it was all just juggling symbols around, nothing insightful. I come in thinking I am going to understand why electromagnetic waves would be created by accelerating charges, and the answer was, you just do some totally unmotivated computations and it pops out. That's not an answer. I spent too much time trying to come up with my own answers, failed an exam, then came to the conclusion that I didn't need to suffer. I was taking real analysis that semester, too, and was getting close to finishing a math major, so, I think maybe the same day or they day after I got my failed exam back, I dropped all my EE classes, and the rest is history...

    Ending in disaster, now, struggling to finish a math PhD, but quitting math and maybe even heading back to EE. Too much BS out there. There aren't very many places to run or hide from it.

    Looking back on it, if I were king of the world, I guess what I would like to see in EE is more of an appeal to the fascination of how things work. That's one of the things that drew me to engineering. I thought I wanted to be an engineer because I liked physics, but I also liked knowing how things work, and by things, I mean all kinds of technology, machines, and so on. That's what is interesting to me about electrical devices, and mechanical devices, too, for that matter. The whole, "let's take it apart and see how it works thing." Or incorporating some more historical-type motivation, like why would someone have invented this or that gadget.

    So many boring people in academia, it's really kind of sickening. Boring engineers, boring physicists, boring mathematicians...boring, boring, boring. And lots of boring, unimaginative, whiny students, ready to squeal like tortured pigs at the slightest hint of theory. And the sad part is that the subjects are actually pretty interesting.
  5. Oct 9, 2012 #4
    Because it is the same damn problem over and over again.
    I was also discouraged because many were saying said EE was the engineering equivalent of physics and it was NOT, at least not in the intro classes.

    My classes didn't start to get interesting until Advanced Electronics, Integrated Circuits, Filter Design, and Nano-fabrication; where you will see the applications of all the circuits you designed in the intro classes. Stuff started to get cool again at this stage and I saw alot of modern physics going on, you might try doing research with semiconductor professors in your uni.
  6. Oct 9, 2012 #5


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    I am sorry to hear that EE has been a disapointment. Various EE departments have different requirements as to what courses you must take. Where I went, we only had five required classes in the major: intro circuits, intro digital electronics, intro analog electronics, signals and systems I, electromagnetic fields and waves I. The remaining classes could allow you to do more applied physics types of stuff (more electromagnetic theory; quantum and solid state physics; lasers; optics; semiconductor physics; etc), applied math stuff (dsp, stochastic processes, controls, communications, etc), circuits, computer engineering, etc. Hopefully your remaining semesters allow you some choices to branch away from circuits.

    No - most of the EE classes I have taken had little to do with circuits.

    best of luck,

  7. Oct 9, 2012 #6
    Because the point of engineering is to apply known physical properties in order to solve problems in an efficient manner. You could solve a circuit equation starting at Maxwell's equations if you would like and arrive at the same answer you got using "L*di/dt or C*dv/dt", it might just take you 4 hours instead of 4 minutes.

    That being said, you should have been required to take at least one EM class where they do talk about the magnetic fields in an inductor, but in almost any application you will not need to nor want to go to that level of detail.

    Most EE courses are going to start with Maxwell's equations and work forward. To understand why an accelerating charge creates an electromagnetic wave according to classical E&M you need to understand relativity which is beyond the scope of what most EEs will learn. To further understand the problem you then have to delve into quantum mechanics which is even further past the scope of what most EEs will learn.

    So it is a question of necessity coupled with time. Is it important for an EE to understand at the most fundamental level why an accelerated charge created electromagnetic wave? No. So is it worth adding perhaps 2 or 3 more physics classes to learn something that is of no benefit to them in their given field? Not really.
  8. Oct 9, 2012 #7

    I don't know what EE classes you've been taking.
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  9. Oct 9, 2012 #8
    Nonsense. It's not hard to get a little intuition for it. Look at Feynman's lectures on physics, for example, with his sheet of charge example. Basically, if you accelerate a charge, it creates a kink in the field lines that propagates at the speed of light. Faraday conjectured the existence of EM waves before anyone knew about relativity. No, it really is that people are too unimaginative to explain things properly.
  10. Oct 9, 2012 #9


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    I couldn't agree more. My EE electromagnetics professors were really good (both trained as physicists!), so I was spared. However, in grad school I was a TA for the one required electromagnetics class and the prof. was horrible. He explained nothing and simply trained the students to do a handful of kinds of problems. Would do an example in class, force us TAs to do an almost identical example in recitation, have essentially the same question on the homework, and finally of course on the exam. No learning of any kind happened in that course.

    Yes - lots of my classes seemed to cover topics without motivating why the topics were interesting or where they could be applied. In some instances it almost seemed like the answer was, "because if you go to grad school you should know this...". The best professors, of course, did incorporate these things and those courses were MUCH more interesting. But it was rare ... this requires professors who care, too! In grad school I found courses to be much more interesting - partially because I had my own research and I tried to connect courses with it, and partially because in general the professors seemed more interested in what they were teaching.

    Yes - many EE students don't seem to be interested in really learning. Some seem to see their schooling as simply a means to getting a job, and are not intellectually invested in the subject.
  11. Oct 9, 2012 #10
    I would've loved to be in that course. Why?

    1. It has a recitation!
    2. There's a TA that cares!
    3. There's actually example problems!

    If the professor is actually forcing you to go over example problems, then that's great. At least they don't have the attitude of "tsch, you wanna ask ME for HELP?"
  12. Oct 9, 2012 #11
    I would suppose any undergraduate EM class, which I would hope is required in any undergraduate EE program.

    For example, Georgia Tech's junior level EM class syllabus:

    "identify Maxwell's equations and apply them in both their integral and differential forms to time-varying field problems"

    or Stanford's EE141 and EE142 which include:

    "Maxwell’s Equations. Plane waves in lossless and lossy media. Skin effect. Flow of electromagnetic power. Poynting’s Theorem. Reflection and refraction of waves at planar boundaries."
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  13. Oct 9, 2012 #12
    A couple of points here:

    1.) If one's goal is to have a brief synopsis of complex ideas then they are misplaced in either physics or engineering. I wouldn't waste my time in hours of lecture if you are satisfied with a paragraph answer.

    2.) How does that benefit an electrical engineer? If one did happen to want to have a deep understanding of the subject, electrical engineering probably isn't the place to find it.

    That is the funny thing about science. Usually you observe a phenomenon before you develop an understanding of the origin of the phenomenon. Imagine that...
  14. Oct 9, 2012 #13
    Okay, this makes sense now, you said any EE classes not any EM classes.

    E&M classes don't start with the maxwell equations though, they derive them as the class progresses.
  15. Oct 9, 2012 #14
    It sounds like you are a fall-term junior. US high schools are pretty terrible so most colleges/universities spend the whole first year teaching math/physics. This gives you a year and a half of decent EE education.

    As other people have suggested, there are other areas in the field. Here is what I use at work on a daily basis (followed by the most related coursework):

    Thevenin/Norton - Ckt. Analysis 1st semester
    Laplace transform - Ckt. Analysis 2nd semester
    Control Systems - compensators, feedback, linearization
    DFT, Filters - Systems & Signals, Digital Signal Processing
    Data Structures & Algorithms (Programming)
    Communication protocols (Dig. Comms)
    Opamps (Analog Electronics)
    FPGA programming (Digi. Electronics)
    Board Layout - Ckt. Analysis semester 1,2,3
    Power Electronics Design
    Inductor Design - E&M Semester 1 (not fields & waves)
    Tolerance Calcs - Probability & Statistics

    As you can see, it's much more than just circuits. And looking back at my coursework, I am utilizing just about a half at the moment.

    As a conclusion, do not worry too much. You need to learn the basics well. The really interesting and challenging classes will come in your senior year and graduate school.


  16. Oct 10, 2012 #15
    I have no idea what you are trying to say. I just want intuition about why things are true. I might have given a brief synopsis, but Feynman's example isn't a brief synopsis. It's a detailed example. All that would have had to have happened is spending at most one lecture, probably only half a lecture, saying what Feynman said.

    It benefits an engineer to have an interesting and enlightening explanation than a boring and unenlightening one, in this case, just switch Feyman's explanation with the stupid symbol-manipulation--problem solved. They don't have to study quantum electrodynamics to get a little intuition about EM waves. Understanding is an aid to memory and provides protection against making mistakes. Of course, there is a benefit. In the case where there is no benefit, it is only because the students lack the intelligence or imagination to take advantage of it. That's the real reason why these kinds of things tend to be omitted.

    No, he didn't quite observe it. He observed that light interacted with electricity or some such thing and based his conjecture on that. In fact, it's a bit circular to say that you need relativity here. Actually, it was Maxwell's theory that inspired Einstein to develop relativity in the first place.
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