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3 EE Courses That Are a Waste of Your Time

January 02, 2019 by Sam Holland

Studying for your electrical engineering degree is tough, ruthless, and overwhelming. These three courses are still being taught by universities around the world and aren't worth your time (or your sanity).

Back in 1962, J.D. Ryder wrote an article entitled 'Future Trends in Electrical Engineering Education' for IEEE’s Proceedings of the IRE. He predicted an emphasis on mathematics, specialisation, and systems analysis.  

Almost 60 years later, the curriculum for an electrical engineering degree has changed to reflect his predictions with room for elective courses. Ideally, these elective courses allow you to obtain more specialisation and pursue knowledge that will help you get that first engineering job. 

It’s easy to track down information on areas in electrical engineering that are good to focus on, such as wireless power, nanotechnology, or machine vision — but how do you know what kinds of courses to avoid? Here is some general advice to help you navigate the treacherous waters of a carefully cultivated electrical engineering degree plan.

Courses That Use Outdated Equipment

If you have a choice, avoid electrical engineering elective laboratory courses that are using outdated equipment and software. You can find out about the equipment without risking offence to the professor by talking to graduate assistants that work in that laboratory or by conversing with former students who already took the course.  

Keep in mind that a good engineering school may be stocked with old equipment simply because the funding is not available to update the labs. Funding for labs often comes through donations and grant money, so the more active a university is in research the more likely it is that the labs will have up-to-date equipment for you to use.

Although it is good to have some skills for older equipment (not all employers have the budget for state-of-the-art labs) you need to be getting experience and skills that won’t be outdated when you leave with your degree. If you see ancient PCs and oscilloscopes that look like they may have been used on the set of Star Trek TOS, then steer away from that course if at all possible. 

While you will no doubt learn timeless electrical engineering concepts, you can’t afford to waste your time struggling to learn the use of outdated equipment. Save those same struggles for equipment you will be using in your fast-approaching engineering career.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Courses Repeating Previous Material

Another facet of wisely selecting elective courses involves paying attention to the course objectives. Never choose an elective course based on the course title or the catalogue summary alone. Every course will have a syllabus and it will include a list of course objectives.  

Read through those course objectives to make sure the course is not simply a repeat of material you have already covered. While that may sound like a way to make a semester easier, it will not pay off in the long run. Your time in college is simply too valuable to waste on relearning concepts and skills you have already mastered. This tactic is more pertinent to upper-level students who have more power over the courses they can select. The first few semesters might include repetitive material from secondary education courses but you still need those credits to graduate.

The courses you choose can significantly influence where you start your career, which in turn can affect its entire trajectory. Use your course options to add to your engineering skillset so that you can be as competitive as possible in an already tight job market. You may not be from one of the top tier engineering universities, and the choices you have for courses may be limited, but make those choices count by acquiring new knowledge. Don’t waste your time with repeats of old material.

Courses You Find Uninteresting

The typical electrical engineering curriculum is packed with classes that are going to be hard and time consuming for most students. Engineering school is not the place to invest time in something you are not interested in with the off chance that you might discover you have a knack for it or might develop a fascination with it.  

University coursework is difficult enough without voluntarily taking something that will be a struggle for you. You may have heard that the professor is especially easy, or that the course itself is pretty straightforward, or some of your classmates may be taking it.

For example, if you only take math because you love engineering, then you will probably want to avoid any unnecessary mathematics classes offered by your engineering department (e.g., probability and statistics, linear systems).  

Or, if your interest in electrical engineering lies more with electrical power transmission than digital design, then a course in digital system design and VHDL might be an elective that you should avoid.

Talk with fellow students and graduate students who have similar interests as you and find out which courses they found most interesting and enjoyably challenging. These specialised courses could be the next step towards an internship or entry-level job doing tasks you enjoy.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Maximise Your Semesters with Courses that Matter

Your electrical engineering college years are going to be packed with lectures, laboratories, and long hours of studying. Be smart with the courses you choose to take and don’t waste your time with those that use outdated equipment, repeat material you’ve already mastered, or cover topics you simply have no interest in.

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