Why study Electrical Engineering?
Are you a whiz at maths and physics? Do you just love taking apart an electronic device- radio, tv, watch etc just to see how it works and to put them back together? In today’s modern world, electronic gadgets permeate every aspect of our lives (from our homes, offices, schools etc) and have made doing our daily tasks simple and extremely convenient. From ingenious inventions such as the microwave, calculator, watch to super computers and spaceships; electronic gadgets have been intricately intertwined with the way that we live our lives. Just imagine, most of us won’t be able to work if our computers decided to stop functioning (this applies to both students and working adults). Can you even picture life without your mobile phone? If you want to know more about how things works, then electrical engineering would be the perfect field for you.
A lot of you will probably be wondering why the terms electrical engineering and electronics engineering are used almost interchangeably. The difference between these two is often not made very clear. Generally, electrical engineers are interested in the large-scale production and distribution of electrical power while electronics engineers are focussed on much smaller electronics circuits.
Electrical engineering seeks to understand the application of electricity, electronics and electromagnetism in the multitude of devices that we use. This means from the everyday appliance such as the kitchen blender, to circuit boards and space equipment. Students will look at the design and production of electrical and electronic systems, microelectronics, silicon devices and nanotechnology.
The exciting field of electrical engineering requires you to understand complex designs and build them from scratch. To do excel in this discipline, you will need to be adept at problem solving and have strong analytical skills. The ability to look at the bigger picture, an interest in design, the ability to spot errors in even the most minute details are equally vital.
To qualify for an electrical engineering undergraduate programme, you will need to have good grades in maths, physics or chemistry at the college or secondary school (high school) level. However, most courses have some foundation modules available to ensure that all students are at the same starting level.
You will develop and gain various skills that are transferable within the engineering world and practical skills that are equally useful in plenty of other sectors. Problem-solving skills are honed and your interpersonal and communication skills will also improve with the amount of team work that you will be required to do. Students will also learn how to better manage their time and resources and assess the risks involved in a certain project. Other useful skills that you will learn include design, leadership and organisational skills.
An undergraduate degree programme in electronic engineering aims to provide students with a solid foundation in the underlying principles of electronic engineering before students move forward and decide on a specialisation in an area of interest later in the course. The course will comprise of a range of learning modes- laboratory work tutorials, lectures, project work and individual research. On average, a bachelor’s will take between four to five years.
Some of the common fields that students can specialise in include: energy generation and transmission, electrical installations (e.g heating and lighting systems), magnetostatics and electrostatics (types of electric charge), computer hardware or software, cyber security, communications, signal processing, controls (means of ensuring power systems and electronic design.
Most universities today offer their students the opportunity to study overseas for a semester or more. They also have programmes in place for internships abroad. You’ll not only be experiencing the unique culture of the university that you’ve chosen, but you can expand your knowledge even further by exploring cultures from another country on top of that! For instance, Columbia University has a comprehensive internship programme that allows their students to pursue robust, well-rounded internships with partner institutions around the globe. Students can participate in research projects in the 16 different NNCI (National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure) centres- from Japan, France, Germany and even Belgium.
The electrical engineering industry is massive and given the ubiquitous nature of electronics, there are many areas of expertise for you to choose from. You can opt to work either in the government or private sector. You could be tasked with researching the feasibility of a new project, designing new systems, maintaining complex systems, be involved in fault diagnosis, simulating and modelling, data analysis and even assessment of equipment behaviour and plenty more.
Depending on what exactly you’re looking for in a career; do you want to be in a fast-paced environment or would you prefer to focus more on research and development? In medical and defense electronics, safety is the most important factor where they have long product development cycles and require a lot of research. Conversely, the consumer electronics industry is rapidly changing and highly competitive, companies need to release new products every six months. Thus, you will be working in large teams to increase the production process. You can even find yourself working in mobile-tech giants such as Samsung or Apple.
Countless opportunities for progress abound. You can be promoted into a management role or be headhunted as a technical consultant with a rival company. The market will always need independent electronics contractors and consultants, if working a 9-5 job doesn’t appeal to you.
Some of these sectors include:
· Consumer goods
· Medical imaging and monitoring
· Educational and research institutes
· Materials and metals
· Power systems
· Power generation
· Rail engineering
· Oil and gas
The options open to you with an electrical engineering degree are endless. You don’t even have to become an engineer, you could pursue a career in finance, logistics or management within the engineering sector or move to a related field like IT. You can even venture into other areas such as science journalism, teaching, technical publishing or areas of law that require strong technical knowledge or decide to do something else entirely. Graduates are in demand anywhere in the world given the rapid expansion of technology sector, you can easily work in any country that you want.
Some of the jobs that you can choose:
· Broadcast engineer
· Control and instrumentation engineer
· Project engineer
· Quality manager
· Sales executive
· Management consultant
· Field engineer
· Systems developer
The median salary of electrical engineering is $93,010 and the highest salary is $146,820, according to the U.S Bureau of Labour Statistics. Your starting salary is also higher than your peers in other disciplines.
Once you’ve finished your undergraduate programme, you can choose to continue learning this subject and take either a master’s or doctoral degree such as the MRes, MPhil, EngD, and Ph.D. These postgraduate programmes will deepen your technical, analytical and management skills. A stand-alone master’s programme will usually take about two years to complete. However, some universities such as the California Polytechnic State University and the University of Delaware offer a “four plus one” master’s degree where electrical engineering undergraduates apply for the programme during their senior or junior year. Students can then take half of the master’s coursework while still enrolled in the bachelor’s programme, which will allow you to complete your Masters a year ahead of your peers.
A Ph.D. will typically last for five years, on top of coursework, you will also need to work with an advisor to develop independent research that will form your dissertation.
You can source for funding through bodies such as the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Alternatively, you could approach other industry bodies or even companies themselves directly for research funding. Check out the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) for more information.
Electrical engineering is highly popular among international students, thus there are a plethora of courses for you to choose from. It all depends on what you’re looking for in the course as well as what the university itself has to offer. there is no shortage of institutions that provide different programmes. Be sure to do ample research, talk to their student office and check with them if you’re unclear about anything. Facilities, professors, experience and location are all essential factors when making a decision. If you are interested in the universities below, don't hesitate to click the contact institution button or download our free prospectuses to learn more about the course and university.
Other countries with equally strong programmes in electrical engineering include New Zealand, China, Singapore and Germany.
A fan of anime and all things Japanese, Khai has been writing professionally since 2010 and “unofficially” for much longer. In her free time, you will often find her baking, reading, travelling and doing everything else in between.