Electrical engineers play a role in creating the products individuals use in their everyday lives. From entertainment to the appliances we use to cook, clean and run our lives, an electrical engineer was likely involved. These professionals can be involved in several stages, product design and development to testing, and later, in the manufacturing process for electrical and electronic equipment.
At the design stage, electrical engineers spend time researching how electricity will work to power a new product or device. They try to figure out how to best design the power supply and how that power supply will work within the new product. They create prototypes, test them out, and then make any necessary changes before moving into full production.
These stages can be rather complex. Electrical engineers must have an understanding of the properties of electricity, of physics and, then, how to apply engineering knowhow when creating new items. These professionals must have, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree and an engineering license from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCES) for entry-level positions as electrical engineers.
Although a bachelor’s degree is the minimum required education for an entry-level position, there are two year degrees that prepare students for careers as electrical engineering technicians or electronic engineering technicians. There are degrees available at both undergraduate and graduate levels; ABET accredits these programs and handles licensure.
These 2-year degree programs are often referred to as electrical engineering technology degrees. Some of these courses can transfer into higher-level degree programs. Graduates of these programs can go to work putting together or repairing electrical and electronic devices designed by electrical engineers.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that electrical engineers must have a bachelor’s degree to qualify for entry-level positions. These programs typically include cooperative education and internships, as well as regular course work.
To work in research and development or to teach at the university level, an electrical engineer must have a master’s degree. Students can choose from a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering or a Master of Engineering degree. These 2-year degree programs differ in the amount of engineering courses you take. The Master of Engineering is a professional degree, while the Master of Science is not.
There are two doctoral degrees to consider: the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) in Engineering or the Doctor of Science in Engineering (Eng.Sc.D.). These programs differ in their requirements for residency, but the course requirements are typically the same. Most programs require a qualifying examination, a preliminary research examination, a dissertation and defense, and a final oral examination. Students typically have five years to complete a Ph.D. or Eng.Sc.D. Some programs allow individuals with undergraduate degrees in electrical engineering to go straight into a doctoral degree program. If a college or university offers both the Ph.D., and the Eng.Sc.D., students likely have to register with different schools or departments within the college or university.
At the undergraduate level, courses cover topics like the workings and structure of devices and circuits, electrodynamics and fundamentals of engineering. Students typically complete design courses where they design electrical equipment and complete a cooperative education experience or internship as well.
At the master’s level, students can expect to take courses in photonics, signals, systems and controls, devices and electromagnetics. Students are expected to complete research in a specialization within electrical engineering.
At the doctoral level, students must take courses in technical communication, attend a number of seminars, and complete several qualifying examinations. Courses in research help students to prepare and defend their dissertation.
At the undergraduate level, students in electrical engineering programs typically choose from specializations in wireless telecommunications, controls and signal processing, electric power and power electronics, analog mix-signal integrated circuit design and VLSI systems, electrophysics, optics, microwave and nano-engineering or biomedical imaging, nano-bio systems and genomic signal processing.
Graduate level specializations include analog circuit design, digital signal processing, semiconductor devices, wireless, power electronics VHDL/VLSI, embedded systems and communications.
Ideal Candidates for Electrical Engineering
Electrical engineers often work in offices as they create plans for different devices; they may also travel to work sites in order to see the part or product in action. These professionals do much of their work on computers, whether creating technical drawings or even topographical maps, according to O*Net Online. Electrical engineers may be in charge of other individuals during product design and construction phases.
The ideal candidate for a career in electrical engineering should be inquisitive and curious about how things work; they must be comfortable working with their hands and working on computers.
The BLS forecasts five percent growth in the electrical engineering field between 2012 and 2022; this is slower than the overall growth predicted for all careers. During the decade, the agency predicts there could be an additional 7,900 positions created in the electrical engineering field.
Changes in technology happen rapidly, and as such, that speed will likely mean more electrical engineers will be needed over the years, to keep up. But the growth will likely come at engineering services firms, as engineering companies outsource duties to keep their own costs low.
In May 2012, electrical engineers earned an average of $87,920 annually, although the top 10 percent earned $136,690 and the lowest 10 percent earned an average of $56,490. Most worked in engineering services firms (20%), followed by electric power generation, transmission and distribution (9%), navigational, measuring, electromedical and control instruments manufacturing (9%), semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing (8%) and machinery manufacturing (5%).