What is electrical engineering?
Electrical engineering is the design, building and maintenance of electrical control systems, machinery and equipment. Some electrical engineering concerns are also found in mechanical and civil engineering.
The term electrical engineering often includes electronics engineering. While electrical engineers mainly focus on large-scale production and distribution of electrical power, electronics engineers are concerned with smaller electronic circuits and often also work with computers and other modern technologies. However, any undergraduate course will include elements of both electrical and electronics engineering.
Electrical engineers work in transport networks, lighting, heating, ventilation, lift systems, power generation and distribution, renewable energy, manufacturing and construction. You will elaborate project plans, estimate project timescales and costs, manage the work of technicians and craftspeople, test installations, analyse data and ensure that health and safety regulations are met.
What might you find on an electrical engineering degree?
A lot of electrical engineering undergraduate degrees will include elements of electronics engineering too. Overall, you will develop analytical, technical and engineering design skills.
First year courses usually overlap across all engineering degrees usually including mathematics, communications engineering and signals, engineering principles, systems and communications and laboratory and presentation skills. There will also be modules specific to electrical engineering such as circuits and fields, computer engineering, real-time systems, analog electronics, embedded systems projects, and engineering programming.
During second year, you are likely to study data analysis, probabilistic and numerical techniques, signal processing and control engineering, telecommunications, analog system engineering, digital system design and implementation, power supply electronics, software engineering design, electrical engineering design, industrial management and robotic systems among others.
Typical final year modules may include system modelling and control, electromagnetism, power engineering, electrical machines, energy conversion for motor and generator drives, field waves and antennas, electronic design, digital design, web-based computing, digital video communications system and analog microelectronics.
But courses will vary based on the institution and country you’re applying to.
What should I study to do an electrical engineering degree?
Mathematics is essential to do electrical engineering at university. Many universities will also ask candidates to have done further mathematics. In addition, universities will want you to have done physics or chemistry or a technology subject.
If you’re applying to highly competitive programmes, you will need to demonstrate a record of high marks in these subjects at A-Level and in the International Baccalaureate Diploma or at the equivalent qualifications in other systems of education.
You can also stand out if you express your interest in the subject by having participated and obtained good results in mathematics and physics challenges. Extra-curricular engineering courses or activities may also help you in the application process.
But university requirements vary so do check the institutions you’re applying for.
Beyond sciences, taking a humanities subject or a social science will teach you communication skills which are crucial in most jobs.
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What do people go on to do?
Typical employers for electrical engineers are consultancies, the Civil Service, telecommunication, engineering, computing, construction, energy, manufacturing, transport and utilities companies and the armed forces. As computer and mobile technology is developing, they become the main areas where more electrical engineers are wanted. But you can also choose to work on a freelance basis.
As an electrical engineer, your workplace will vary from laboratories to offices and building sites depending on the project and the stage of the project you’re focusing on.
As they advance in their careers, electrical engineers take on management responsibilities. They sometimes have to take on extra working hours especially by the end period of their projects. Being an electrical engineer may involve both domestic and international travel.
Famous people who studied electrical engineering
The Serbian-American Nikola Tesla is one of the most famous physicists, inventors, electrical and mechanical engineers. He was an outstanding student of the Austrian Polytechnic in Graz, Austria, where he passed almost twice as many exams as he had to.
American Lynn Conway’s Mead and Conway revolution in VLSI design, career at IBM and invention of generalised dynamic instruction handling make her one of the most important electrical engineers today. She studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science in the US.
Austrian Claire F. Gmachl, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Princeton University is known for her studies in quantum cascade lasers. She studied physics at the University of Innsbruck and did a PhD in electrical engineering at the Technical University of Vienna.
Hungarian-born American Rudolf E. Kalman was an electrical engineer, mathematician and inventor known for the development of the Kalman filter, a mathematical algorithm widely used in signal processing, control systems, guidance, navigation and control.