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Studying Electrical Engineering
in the USA

One of the most important decisions a person makes is choosing the right career. After all, the average person spends eight hours a day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year for forty years working in their chosen field. A career in electrical engineering in the US offers the potential for a challenging, rewarding, and lucrative career. More than 1.2 million engineers work in America today, making engineering the nation's second largest profession.

According to Graduating Engineer magazine, job opportunities for new engineers are projected to be four percent greater than they were last year, with starting pay averaging $40,000 a year. An engineering degree also opens doors to other exciting careers; many engineering graduates have moved into other professions where their engineering background has been a valuable asset. Did you know that P.A.M. Dirac, who received the Nobel Prize in Physics, was an electrical engineer? Alfred Hitchcock, Neil Armstrong, and Jimmy Carter were likewise all engineers.

What do electrical engineers do?

Electrical engineers design digital and analogue circuits similar to the ones on the dashboard of your automobile, and the control circuitry of the Space Shuttle. They also write programs to simulate the operation of these circuits on a computer. Another speciality is the hardware and microcode design of state-of-the-art microprocessors, like the Pentium III running at a mind-boggling 500 MHz. One must have a minimum of a BSc. in electrical engineering to qualify for these jobs. Another niche for an electrical engineer is to work as professor in an electrical engineering department at a university. These individuals love to teach their craft, and also carry out basic research in specialised areas of electrical engineering. The minimum qualification for this job is a Ph.D. in electrical engineering or a closely related field, and starting salaries can be as high as $60,000.

How can I tell if electrical engineering is right for me?

To be perfectly candid, electrical engineering is not for every Tom, Dick and Harry! You must enjoy dabbling in mathematics and science in school, and be able to articulate your ideas lucidly and write fairly well. You must be in the top 20 percent of your class. You must be creative and naturally curious about how and why things work. You must have an insatiable appetite to tinker with your radio, TV and assorted electronic gadgetry and an irresistible urge to disassemble (and eventually reassemble!) these 'toys'. Last, but not least, you must not be dollarphobic! You can test your creativity in engineering and proficiency in mathematics and science by sending an e-mail to newton@ieee.org with the subject line "I wannabe an engineer".

Why should I study in the US?

When a judge asked the bank robber why he robbed banks, the curt response was "Frankly, your honor, that's where the money is". US companies like Intel, IBM, and Motorola are the world's only manufacturers of state-of-the-art microprocessors like the Power PC and the Pentium III that are the heart of Macintosh computers and PCs. Frankly, US companies prefer to hire engineers who have graduated from accredited programs in the US. Electrical engineering degrees granted by accredited institutions in America command respect world-wide, and deservedly so. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) demands that universities with accredited programs meet high standards. More information on the ABET 2000 criteria can be found by visiting the following web site: www.abet.org. Membership in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) brings added benefits. The URL is www.ieee.org.

What are the requirements for an engineering degree in the US?

It takes an average of four to five years - after 12 years of high school - to complete the requirements for a BSc in electrical engineering. This is equivalent to 120-128 credit hours. Students normally take four to five courses (12-16 credit hours) for eight to ten semesters, with two semesters (fall and spring) in a year. There are many variations on the basic theme delineated above; for instance, a 3-2 dual-degree program can lead to two degrees, one in electrical engineering and the other in physics, in a total of five years. There is a lot of overlap between a physics and an electrical engineering program, making it possible to finish two degrees in five years.

The BSc. degree is adequate for the majority of job opportunities in the US; however, there are certain special occupations where the minimum qualification is a Ph.D. in electrical engineering; for example, a research faculty position normally requires a Ph.D. In major US universities, one must take approximately 45 to 60 credit hours of graduate-level courses, in addition to carrying out research on a topic selected by mutual agreement between the student and the dissertation advisor. The results of the research must be reported in a thesis, and must be defended in front of a committee of around five members. The completion of the Ph.D. can take from four to six years after the BSc. degree. Some individuals settle for a master's degree, which may take about two years after the BSc., and there are non-thesis options available in most instances.

Where can I find more information about engineering?

The best way to find more information is to surf the net! There are essentially three genre of web sites you want to visit.


Author
Asif Shakur, Ph.D.
Chair of Physics and Engineering
Salisbury State University

 

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