There are many choices when it comes to selecting a STEM career path, and if you are interested in learning complex math concepts and building tools powered by the science of electricity, studying electrical engineering could be for you.
To help you make the best decision possible when it comes to your area of STEM study, we’ve compiled answers to common questions about electrical engineering. Not sure? Take a look to see if this rewarding industry is the right career path for you.
What is electrical engineering?
Electrical engineering is a branch of engineering focused on the various uses of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism. Considering the big picture, electrical engineering is a relatively new area of academic study. Electrical engineers apply the theory of electricity to the creation and construction of machinery and systems. When you start your car, fly in an airplane, or enjoy the cool air conditioning in a movie theater, you are relying on technology electrical engineers helped build.
The history of Electrical Engineering
The roots of electrical engineering date back to the 1860s. This is when Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell outlined the basic laws of electricity in a mathematical way. Maxwell, who is responsible for defining the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, is also known as the father of modern physics. Without his discovery and contribution to the field, we would likely not know what we know about electricity today.
Some of the most influential electrical engineers throughout history are Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla, and Edit Clarke. Today, electrical engineering and electronics engineering are two disciplines that are similar yet slightly different. Electrical engineering deals with “heavy current” and its relation to light and power systems. Electronics engineering, in contrast, refers to applications of “light current,” such as radio and telephone communications, radar, automatic control systems, and computers. Both areas of study overlap and can be applied to similar careers.
Is electrical engineering hard?
Generally speaking, studying electrical engineering isn’t a simple walk in the park. To be successful, you need to have a variety of STEM skills and a solid comprehension of base knowledge in order to scaffold into more complex aspects of the discipline.
Someone studying electrical engineering should be highly interested in learning about the physics and mathematics of electronics, electricity, and electromagnetism. This can be a difficult subject to master even for those talented in this area. When you study other areas of engineering such as mechanical engineering, you can often see the direct results of your hard work. With electrical engineering, however, a lot is left to the imagination.
It’s important to remember when deciding on an area of study to pursue that what is easy for one person can be difficult for another. So, is electrical engineering hard? It all depends on your skill set, how motivated you are, and the amount of time you have devoted to developing a solid base of “beginner’s knowledge” in this area.
All that to say, yes, most people would agree that electrical engineering is a difficult area of study.
What makes electrical engineering a challenging college major?
Unlike other types of engineering, electrical engineering requires a considerable amount of abstract thinking over concrete application. You can’t really see the results of your work or hold it in your hand. Simply put, many of the processes involved in electrical engineering aren’t visible.
This is because electrical engineering requires you to think about how electricity is moving through circuits and interacting with wireless signals, magnetic fields, and electrical fields.
Once you have perfected the fundamental theories and skills of electrical engineering, you will be required to apply them in real time. You will need to be able to figure out why your circuit or system is working, or why it isn’t, and test certain variables to find an answer.
This field is known for using partial differential equations more than other branches of engineering, which can be a definite challenge. Partial differential equations are used to solve problems that incorporate several variables such as heat, sound, and electrodynamics, and these equations can never actually be solved. If you prefer discrete mathematics, where objects can assume separate and distinct values, you might prefer another field of engineering.
Why become an electrical engineer?
Electrical engineers are behind most of what keeps our world up and running today. As an electrical engineer, you can feel proud that your work is highly needed and integral to people’s lives. New innovations are required and electrical engineers often work at the forefront of the world’s practical technology. From computers to solar energy systems, cell phones, manufacturing systems, communications systems, and more, electrical engineering is at the heart of today’s human life.
In addition, electrical engineers are often in high demand across a wide variety of industries. By studying in this area, you can have peace of mind that your academic pursuits will most likely lead to a lucrative career down the road. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average salary for an electrical engineer is more than $100,000, nearly twice as much as the average salary for all occupations. High-paying jobs and satisfied employees are a trend across the engineering sector.
Due to the intrinsic rewards electrical engineering can bring, and the promise of numerous well-paying job opportunities in the future, electrical engineering can be an exciting career path to choose.
Skills You’ll Have as an Electrical Engineer
Electrical engineers need to have multifaceted expertise. In order to be successful, you will need to have skills in:
- Nonlinear math
- Circuit design
You will also need to have 21st century skills such as:
- Developing electrical schematics
- Data collection and analysis
- Critical thinking
- Problem solving
- Having patience
- Testing variables
- Abstract thinking
When you study electrical engineering, you will learn to design and maintain electronics and electrical systems. You will also learn about the manufacturing and installation of electronic networks and equipment.
Once you enter the electrical engineering field as a career, you may find yourself managing other people. In this case, you may also need to have essential soft skills such as being able to collaborate well with others, lead a team towards a common goal, construct accurate budgets, engage in strategic thinking, and lead team meetings.
If you love abstract math and physics, and you appreciate applying this knowledge to practical systems and products people use everyday, electrical engineering could be an ideal fit.
Jobs You Might Enjoy as an Electrical Engineer
According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, about 186,020 people were employed as electrical engineers in the US in 2021. In the same year, the mean hourly wage in this sector was $51.87/hour, and the mean annual wage was $107,890.
Jobs in electrical engineering may include:
- Automotive engineer
- Computer engineer
- Systems engineer
- Power engineer
- Telecom engineer
- Biomedical engineer
- Engineering management
Electrical engineers tend to work in a variety of industries including manufacturing, telecommunications, research, and more. As a broad field, you might find a career in computers, working with circuits, building fiber-optic networks, and in many other areas of industry.
Electrical engineering can be a difficult discipline to study but all that hard work can be worth it. If your interests lie in mathematics and its application to everyday needs that solve problems and find solutions for your community, this could be the right career path to explore.