Through an understanding of the ways electricity is generated and controlled, electrical engineers specifically design, develop, and test electrical equipment. Like any other kind of scientist, they must also know how to communicate their ideas to others in their field.
A successful electrical engineer possesses not only an understanding of his or her area of concentration, but also a broad grasp of engineering in general. This is why most degree programs offering electrical engineering begin with the fundamentals of engineering itself. Once the student has mastered these fundamentals, they can start to focus on a specialty.
Electrical engineering students learn through a combination of design and lab work. This mix of theoretical and practical application allows students to think things through and then apply their ideas in a variety of real life situations. Students also learn to diagnose problems and develop a variety of solutions for specific engineering problems.
Since electrical engineering relies so heavily upon the use of computers, many colleges now offer electrical engineering degree programs online. This allows students to learn while actually implementing the kinds of technology that they will soon be designing or improving upon. E-learning and distance education also allow professionals already in the field to further their education without having to sacrifice their careers.
The curriculum of the electrical engineering degree program spans the math and science worlds. Many programs usually include the following courses:
Integrated circuits and solid state devices - A major part of the entertainment and consumer appliance industries, focusing on new products like electronic controls for electronic games, home appliances, and navigation systems.
Robotics - From artificial intelligence, to designing robotic arms, to manipulating dangerous substances.
Power systems - How power grids are set up and how generators work, as well as how to make energy more efficient.
Communications systems - Basic television, radio, and telephone technology, as well as the more complex forms of wireless and laser transmission.
Computers - A necessity in the engineering world, all engineers must learn the ins and outs of digital systems, microprocessors, and all manner of computer hardware design and manufacturing.
If you enjoy taking things apart, seeing how they work, and then putting them back together again, electrical engineering might be a good career choice for you. If you've often wondered what makes your computer compute and you have a vested interest in math and science, pursuing an engineering degree should be a serious consideration.
Electrical engineers aren't just "techies." While engineers often work in the technology services arena, their tasks range from designing and building medical equipment to working for the military or department of defense. Contrary to popular belief, electrical engineers don't just sit in their labs alone, tinkering with their latest invention. Electrical engineers often work in groups, so a great deal of teamwork is required from them.
When preparing to enter the field of electrical engineering, it is important to take as many math and science courses as possible before applying to a college degree program. Most students usually start with a Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering program. Many traditional or accredited online colleges and universities offer this entry-level degree.
Knowledge of programming languages is also a good skill to take with you into an electrical engineering program, though it is by no means a prerequisite. Taking as many advanced math, physics, and computer science classes as possible before applying can greatly increase your chances of success.
Most engineering major students don't stop their schooling after obtaining a BS. Proceeding on to an MS in a specialized engineering field is very common, and some students opt to continue on for their PhD in order to be eligible to teach at the college level.
Most electrical engineers exit school with specialties in one or two areas of study. However, for students still exploring their options, many programs offer general courses of study. These programs do not require students to choose a concentration until they reach the late undergraduate or graduate level. Engineering students who want to try different specializations on for size can enroll in targeted certificate programs.
As more people decide to embark on new careers later in life and as the demand for electrical engineers increases, online degree programs in electrical engineering have increased in popularity. These e-learning programs and online degree courses offer essential flexibility to students who already have careers and families, but want to continue their education.
These programs target people with an interest and some experience in the field of general engineering, who want to learn a specific new skill within that field. Many companies enroll their employees in certificate programs to avoid hiring new people. Certificate programs are available in a multitude of areas, including:
These courses represent a sample of the huge number of specialized areas involved in electrical engineering. Each specialty requires a different degree of experience, so be sure to carefully research the requirements before beginning a class.
This program attracts people who want to complete their education quickly so they can enter the work force. The average Associate degree in electrical engineering can take as little as two years, providing enough training to begin an entry-level job in many industries, including:
Associate degrees are often popular with employees who want to advance within their own company, since most companies prefer to promote from within.
Instead of focusing on a specialty, these programs provide a basic understanding of electrical engineering mechanics, circuitry, and industrial systems. The tuition and fees for online Associate degree programs often include equipment, books, and learning aids. Students receive around the clock assistance via telephone and Internet. Students complete exams online, as well. Classes can be conducted through video conferencing, chat rooms, and e-mail.
Bachelor of Science
Bachelor of Science degree programs in electrical engineering equip students with a comprehensive understanding of the math and physics at the heart of their profession. In laboratories and at drawing boards, engineering majors concentrate on:
Later in the program, usually during senior year, students may choose an area of concentration within the field, such as power systems or microwave engineering. These degree programs typically last four years, or eight semesters.
Many BS degree programs in electrical engineering offer job placement programs, with students working in the field as soon as their junior year. This hands-on training provides a valuable head start in a field where experience can matter more than formal education. The BS in electrical engineering can lead to a career in almost any industry from entertainment to robotics.
Most colleges require students planning on majoring in electrical engineering to have taken an adequate number of math, science, and English courses in high school. In fact, program administrators often require students to take placement exams in these subjects. Students that score low on these exams must attend basic math and science courses during their first year, sometimes extending the degree program beyond four years.
Most engineering majors may transfer course credits from one college to another as long as they earned sufficient grades at their previous institutions. In order to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering, students usually must maintain a grade point average of 3.0, especially in their upper division classes.
Master of Science
The Master of Science degree in electrical engineering is more specialized than the Bachelor degree, usually focusing on one area of the field in particular, such as digital systems or electronics. Students must still meet a set of program-specific guidelines in order to graduate. Master degree candidates often work under a faculty mentor or advisor while participating in any available assistant-ships or fellowships.
In order to prepare them for a possible career in engineering research, graduate engineering students assist faculty members with their own research. Funding from large corporations and from government agencies provides additional grant money to deserving students.
Many electrical engineering distance learning programs appeal to industry professionals who wish to further their careers by gaining graduate degrees. Schools facilitate these programs through the Internet, as well as multi-channel interactive television networks.
Applicants must meet specific requirements before they can enroll in a typical graduate program in electrical engineering. Most programs will require a Bachelor degree in the same discipline or a combination of a related degree and significant life experience. Students with degrees outside of the engineering field must also pass proficiency exams, usually with a score of "B" or better.
In most cases, only applicants with cumulative grade point averages higher than 3.0 may be considered for admission into the program. Some programs require minimum GRE scores of 1100 to 1500. Students who learned English as a second language must also pass a TOEFL examination.
As a terminal degree, the doctorate of electrical engineering is reserved for those professionals who have made significant contributions, usually through research, to furthering the field of electrical engineering. Candidates pursuing this degree usually teach at the university level or become high-level industrial researchers. Engineers who receive this degree are expected to continue to make contributions toward the advancement of engineering knowledge.
Electrical engineers work in businesses such as:
Scientific research and development firms
Electrical component manufacturing companies.
Power generation, distribution, and transmission.
Manufacturers of navigation controls, medical equipment, and measurement devices
Although these industries employ the most engineers, they may not be right for everyone. Electrical engineering majors many options, more than enough for any student to find a job in a field they love. The following job titles represent only a handful of the choices available:
Research Engineer. These engineers work in the lab, testing and inventing. This job requires a high level of creativity on the part of the engineer, as well as a great deal of patience. Whether inventing a new optoelectronic device or simply designing a better electric can opener, research engineers are responsible for the discovery stage technology behind any new electronic product.
Design Engineer. Once a new technology is invented, it must be applied. The design engineer uses computer simulations and models in order to turn innovations like wireless technology into plans for the tiny parts that make up an actual cell phone. Design engineers must visualize how the insides of a future product could look, while inventing several possible scenarios for the applications of new technologies.
Project Engineer. The project engineer oversees many specialist engineers through the construction of a working prototype of a new product or technology. The project engineer must have natural leadership ability, as well as a high proficiency in a variety of electrical engineering disciplines.
Test Engineer. These engineers design programs to test the functions of electronic device and to troubleshoot those devices when things go wrong These engineers keep technology working properly, and understand which elements to test and in what order. Successful test engineers remain sharp, even after long hours on the job.
System Engineer. Power grids, phone lines, and wireless networks all require the skills of a system engineer for proper installation and maintenance. High attention to detail is important for students who enter this profession. Experienced system engineers rely on their ability to think holistically about the systems they create.
Application Engineer. Application engineers work with whatever resources are available, adapting existing equipment and technologies to fill the needs of their employers. They need to be resourceful, while counting on their keen understanding of the capabilities and the potential modifications of existing equipment.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, starting offers for students graduating with a Bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 2003 averaged around $50,000 a year. Those graduating with a Master's were offered about $65,000 a year to start, and PhD graduates began at around $74,000 a year.
Electrical engineering is the largest segment of the engineering population, with 292,000 professionals employed in the U.S. in 2002 alone. The number of jobs available for electrical engineers in the U.S. has been predicted to increase by nearly 30% in the ten years between 1996 and 2006. During the same period of time, California expects a 46% increase in electrical engineering jobs.
Some historians say that Ben Franklin, Luigi Galvani, and Alessandro Volta were the first electrical engineers back in the 1700s. They experimented with kites, zinc, and salt water in order to understand a force that they could not see. They paved the way for further discoveries in the 1800s by Ohm, Faraday, and Ampere, who discovered the basic electrical properties of current, potential, resistance, and charge.
Once these properties were established, people began manipulating them in order to communicate. Morse and Wheatstone were the primary pioneers of electrical communication. Soon, communication was possible from coast to coast and even across oceans. Before long, Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone changed the way people communicated forever, while Edison's light bulb was lighting up cities.
This is just a sampling of the everyday items people take for granted that were made responsible by electrical engineers. Though electrical engineering has come very far in the last 300 years, it still has a great deal of potential for further growth.
Though the law does not require engineers to maintain a license, professional certification does make looking for a job much easier. Because governments and federal contractors require a license, most engineers follow the licensing procedures in their home states. Students can learn about each state's varying requirements while enrolled in their degree programs.
In general, engineers must pass a thorough examination to receive their licenses. In order to apply for a license, an engineer must already have completed a minimum number of years on the job. Engineers just entering the work force can register for pre-licensure certification. Once they have earned enough work experience, they may apply for actual licensure.
Many trade and professional associations for engineers help professionals make connections and share ideas. These organizations offer seminars, luncheons, and job fairs so engineers can explore their options and keep current on the latest trends in their field.
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