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Electrical Engineering Specializations

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BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING

At the intersection between healthcare and technology rests electrical engineering with a biomedical focus. Electrical engineers who specialize in biomedical technology are responsible for developing the technology needed for efficient, accurate, and effective healthcare, including instrumentation technology, diagnostic technology, bioinstrumentation and informatics, biometric data and readout system, signal and image analysis, computing devices, display devices, and more.

Many electrical engineering programs offer a biomedical specialization at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral level, much like the University of Illinois. There are several sub-specializations within this track, so the courses that electrical engineering students take throughout their education vary but include a core set of electrical and computer engineering courses followed by subspecialty courses. Examples of courses include digital signal processing, magnetic resonance imaging, biomedical instrumentation, analog integrated circuit design, and micro-electromechanical devices and systems.

While there are no official certifications in biomedical engineering, those hoping to practice independently or be a principal engineer in research can become professional engineers (PEs) by taking the National Council of Examiners for Engineering (NCEES) PE exam in electrical and computer engineering. Careers for electrical engineers with a biomedical focus include those in research and development, analysis, field service engineering, validation engineering, and consulting.

COMMUNICATIONS ENGINEERING

Electrical engineers who specialize in communications are responsible for determining how to transfer data at high speeds. Electrical engineers with a specialty in communications can work with wired and wireless telephone systems, satellite systems, email, internet, and broadband technology, and more.

Electrical engineering students hoping to specialize in communications can find a variety of programs available at all academic levels, both on-campus and online. Some programs offer communications as a specialization or concentration of an electrical engineering degree, while others offer telecommunications as a part of the degree title (e.g., Drexel University).

Generally, students earning a master’s level degree in telecommunications engineering take core courses in electrical engineering and electrical computer engineering, and then complete elective coursework focused specifically on communications engineering. Examples of coursework include digital communications, signal processing, communication network analysis, and communications control theory.

In addition to becoming a PE in electrical engineering, telecommunications engineers can find a wide variety of telecommunications certifications available. Some certifications are based on specific companies or technologies, while others are general telecommunications engineering certifications. Examples of telecommunications engineering certifications can be found on the following websites:

Telecommunications engineers can find careers working with telecommunication service providers, communications software developers, governmental agencies, public center agencies, equipment manufacturers, infrastructure manufacturers, and in transportation organizations.

COMPUTATIONS, DATA & INFORMATICS

A highly multidisciplinary specialty of electrical engineering, those pursuing work in computations, data, and informatics work to use the power of computers to collect and analyze large amounts of data and information in an attempt to understand real-life phenomena and engineer their solutions. Electrical engineers with a focus on computations, data, and informatics work with advanced-level computers to create algorithms, modeling software, and more.

Those hoping to pursue higher education in computations, data, and informatics can find bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and post-graduate certificate programs available. Some programs have a specific focus in computations, data, or informatics, while others provide an educational blend of all three. Some universities also offer a degree in electrical engineering with a choice to focus in these disciplines as a subspecialty, while others (e.g., City College of New York) offer degrees where electrical and data, computational, and informatics are in the title of the degree. Examples of coursework include the theory of high-speed parallel computation, machine learning and data mining, massively data parallel programming on GPUs, and waves and fields in inhomogeneous media.

Because computations, data, and informatics make up such a multidisciplinary field, electrical engineers with one of these specialties can pursue a range of professional certifications. Examples of certifications can be found at the Data Science Council of America (DASCA), the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS), and IBM. Those pursuing a career in electrical engineering with a focus in computations, data, and informatics can work in virtually any industry that uses big data to make decisions, including healthcare, space, transportation, logistics, government, and more.

ENERGY & POWER

Electrical engineers who specialize in energy and power are responsible for determining how to make power and energy systems efficient, effective, and environmentally responsible. Concerned with the generation, transmission, and distribution of electric power, energy and power engineers can work with devices, processes, and analysis, as well as the design of systems, technologies, and infrastructure.

Similar to the other disciplines in electrical engineering, power and energy tracks can be found at the graduate and undergraduate level. Programs are offered online, on-campus, or as a hybrid. Some programs offer power and energy as a subspecialty of an electrical engineering degree, while other institutions offer energy-specific titles like the master of science in energy systems (e.g., Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering at Clarkson University). Examples of courses include power system analysis, analysis techniques for large-scale electrical systems, electronic power conversion, solar energy engineering, and synchronous generator engineering.

While a certification is not required to work as an energy and power engineer, there are many certifications available for those wishing to establish professional competence, and connect to a network of highly skilled energy and power professionals. The Association of Energy Engineers provides a large list of energy-related certifications available to power and energy engineers. Careers for energy and power engineers can be found in any field concerned with power systems, including storage, renewables, transportation, conservation, and more.

Nanoengineering & Microengineering

Nanoengineers and micro-engineers work to create power solutions at the at the size of 0.1 to 100 nanometers. Studying and applying knowledge of phenomena, processes, and materials at the nanoscale involves learning both inside and outside the standard electrical engineering canon. With disciplinary overlap with physics, chemistry, materials science, and biology, electrical engineers who focus on nano- or micro-technology can apply their knowledge to almost any industry.

Programs in electrical engineering with a nanotechnology focus exist at all levels of higher education, though nanotechnology at the bachelor’s level is still limited. Degrees in electrical engineering with a concentration in nanotechnology are available in on-campus, hybrid, and online formats. Some programs offer a broad concentration in nanotechnology, while other programs offer a specific realm of nanotechnology in which a student can focus (e.g., Ohio State, which offers an online master’s in electrical engineering with a concentration in micro- and nano-devices and systems). Examples of courses in this electrical engineering specialization include optoelectronics and photonics, microelectronics fabrication, nanoelectronic devices and applications, and gaseous electronics and plasmas.

Because of the novelty of the field, there is no specific PE exam for nanotechnology yet. Due to the broad range of applications, those hoping to work as a PE can take a PE exam in the engineering field most closely related to the field in which the engineer is working. Those pursuing nanotechnology can find themselves in a range of careers including application engineering, research and development, product marketing, sales, and program management.

Systems & Control Engineering

Electrical engineers who concentrate on systems and control design complex systems that have both human and non-human inputs to ensure that they work predictably and efficiently. Another multidisciplinary engineering specialization, systems and control engineers are generalists who can work from a big-picture perspective to bring together the work output of differentiated engineers. Electrical engineers who pursue systems and control can work anywhere where there are large, complex systems to be analyzed and optimized including biological systems, industrial systems, environmental systems, transportation systems, computer systems, and more.

Students can pursue concentrations in systems and control at all levels of higher education both online and on-campus. While some programs offer systems and control as a specialization of electrical engineering, other programs (e.g., Case Western Reserve University) offer a degree specifically in systems and control engineering. Examples of coursework in a systems and control program include control system theory and design, continuous-time control system design, microelectronic design and technology, and nonlinear and adaptive control.

For those hoping to attain status as a PE, there is an NCEES PE exam specifically in control systems engineering. Those hoping to increase credibility, expand their networks, or become more competitive in the job market can seek certification in systems and control engineering from the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE). Control engineers can find careers in a vast array of industries including energy and power, utilities, manufacturing, healthcare, information tech, and transportation, among others.

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