Is a PhD in Electrical Engineering Worth It?

May 30, 2020

Students who wish to obtain a PhD in electrical engineering can choose their degree focus in areas like signals and systems, graphics and interactive media, computing algorithms and applications. Although some entry level positions may be available without a graduate degree, those who wish to be the most competitive in the industry and to move into academic or research positions will benefit from having a PhD. To aid you in your decision, here are five jobs that are often filled by individuals with such degrees.

PhD in Electrical Engineering Careers/Salary

Through their pursuit of a doctorate degree in electrical engineering students are able to work side-by-side with leading individuals in their field of study in areas like wireless communications, computer electronics, and image and video processing. They will learn how to work within a laboratory setting and have a good understanding of how to go about conducting their own independent research. Graduates will have advanced knowledge of mathematics and fundamental science, making them ideal for a wide range of professions. Found below are five careers that those with a PhD in electrical engineering may pursue after completing their studies.

Job Title Median Salary (2019)* Job Growth (2018-2028)*
Computer Network Architects $112,690 5%
Instrumentation Engineers $83,032 (2020)** 5% (electrical engineers)
Machine Learning Engineers $111,141 (2020)** 16% (computer and information research scientists)
Electrical and Electronics Engineers $101,250 2%
Sales Engineers $103,900 6%

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics', **

PhD in Electrical Engineering Careers

Computer Network Architects

Computer network architects present a plan for the layout of data and communication networks and aid in its construction. They research new technologies to determine which ones would best support their organization in the future and prepare it for expansion down the road. Having a deep knowledge of computer hardware and electrical systems, those with a PhD will be able to effectively place both electrical systems and hardware to increase productivity and efficiency. These same individuals will create systems to monitor existing hardware and make repairs and upgrades to the network when needed.

Instrumentation Engineers

Instrumentation engineers are primarily responsible for the design, development, and installation of equipment used in monitoring of control systems, machining and processing. These same individuals are responsible for managing all equipment, performing maintenance and troubleshooting, to ensure that all aspects are working properly. In addition, those with a PhD who pursue this job will be tasked with collecting and analyzing data, as well as working with and possibly supervising fellow engineers to ensure that quality control and safety standards are being followed. They might also be tasked with writing computer software and test procedures, along with acquiring new hardware and equipment for their employers.

Machine Learning Engineers

Machine learning engineers conduct research experiments through the use of programming language and develop machine learning solutions for production. They create and optimize solutions for scalability and performance and ensure that all systems run effectively and efficiently. Additionally, they actively monitor data networks to ensure quality of data flow and make hardware changes and modifications to current equipment to improve network efficiency. Through their training in computer electronics and computing/networking, graduates will be able to quickly identify areas where signal degradation is occurring and repair it effectively.

Electrical and Electronics Engineers

Electrical and electronics engineers work on research projects related to cell phones, radars, navigation systems, computers, robotics, and electrical systems. They determine what a new electronic device will do and then use computer software to design the circuits and parts associated with it. Once the design has been completed, they will go about constructing and testing a prototype until it meets quality control and safety standards. Additionally, they will aid consumers and businesses in coming up with solutions to issues related to electronic systems and hardware.

Sales Engineers

Sales engineers often demonstrate new products and services to prospective customers and answer any questions or concerns that they may have. They speak with technical staff about designs and features and attempt to figure out what the current market need is for a given product or service. These same individuals follow up with consumers to ensure that their current expectations are being met and make modifications to products or services when necessary. They collect data on new materials and machinery and present this information to current or prospective clients in an effort to convey how their implementation may improve efficiency. Because sales engineers may wish to take part in these areas of research and development for new products, a PhD could be very beneficial.

PhD in Electrical Engineering Graduate Program Information

For the majority of prospective graduate students, tuition is not a barrier to entry, thanks in large part to the fact that graduate programs tend to cover the cost through the use of stipends, fellowships, and teaching/research assistantships. Those students who wish to enter such programs will usually have to first take an electrical engineering PhD qualifying exam and achieve a satisfactory score. Furthermore, they commonly need a B.S. or M.S in electrical engineering or a closely related field and have maintained a 3.0 GPA during their coursework toward such degrees. Depending on the graduate program, students may also be required to provide a written statement detailing their purpose for pursuing such a degree, along with details about their research interest and objectives.

Applicants should expect five years of study to complete such a degree, and most graduate programs require that they maintain a 'B' or better throughout their doctorate coursework. While completing their coursework, students will take courses in quantum electronics, microwave and electromagnetic theory, computational electromagnetics, digital circuits, and fiber optics. Once their coursework is completed, students often have to pass an oral exam and research presentation to continue on in the program. The last three years of the program are spent doing research toward the student's dissertation and defense. During this time students must usually complete one semester of teaching.

Those who go about earning a PhD in electrical engineering will have extensive knowledge about not just electrical systems and hardware, but also computers and software, giving them a wide range of skills. This will allow them to be the top applicants in many industry positions, in addition to academic and research/development openings, while remaining competitive in an ever growing field.

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