Question РI am currently attending a pre-engineering program. They have recently introduced a new program in conjunction with physics. I would attend for three years taking several core physics courses. After three years I would go to a school that has an engineering program and begin an electrical engineering degree. At the completion of the EE degree, I would receive that degree and a degree in physics. Is this a good idea and why? How would it be beneficial in the future, if my over-all plans are to obtain a BSEE and a MSEE? What might the advantages and disadvantages be?

I’m not the best one to respond, because I’m just one person who hires people at one small electrical engineering company that serves one small market. We have our thoughts about hiring, but our thoughts probably don’t reflect the market on the whole.

Here’s what I look for in an applicant, in about this order:

1) Ambition. A very positive attitude about him/her self that will translate into productivity. This can be revealed in many ways, like work history, achievements, grades, or presentation in the interview.

2) Communication and interpersonal skills. You’ve got to be a team player. You’ve got to be able to get your message across. Markers for this can be found in the interview, and from references.

3) Aptitude. Grades and the nature of the degree program are a good marker of aptitude. Other indicators may come in the interview, from references, or from the work history.

4) Experience. A recent college grad is not expected to have much experience, but anything that indicates an interest in what we do is valuable. Examples: Sincere knowledge of our market or our product, or just things you worked on in your garage because you were so interested in the subject. Work somehow related to our field or market helps, even if it is not technical. It broadens you, and that makes you more useful someday.

I would be impressed by the quality of the degree program, but only if it means that you took it because you really like physics and EE. I’ll be able to tell that about 10 minutes into the interview. Your transcript (grades) will probably tell the story too. If you stumble through it just to have two degrees, I don’t care. If it is a reflection of a real interest and aptitude for the material, because you really felt you wanted to learn more than was in another program, then I’m really impressed and more likely to hire you.

As for the MSEE, it is worth a few bucks of annual salary around here (+9.3% per the IEEE salary survey), but I’ve learned that there is not much correlation between a person’s output and the MSEE, except that it does seem to go with the people who are hard and focused workers, but we rarely use what they learned in that last year of school. In other words, I can find other hard workers, and not pay them the extra 9%. If they need to learn something extra, I’ll send them the class. (The BSEE is a must, though.) So, to me the MSEE is a marker of a motivated person, and that is about all. (Other companies who need more of what you learned in that last year would definitely reply differently.)

But we are small company (about 29 people) where everyone must wear more than one hat. Other companies hire engineers by the truckload. They concentrate more on just what you know, because you will be spending more time at your desk doing just what you were schooled to do. I imagine they would like a dual degree that contained more years or more courses because it might make you more productive or more versatile.

If you are going to do it, put all of yourself into it. Study to learn, not just to pass the tests. It builds. Toward the last year, you will be glad you really understood the underlying coursework. If you don’t feel this way, go get an arts, general-education or business degree. You probably already know all this, or you would not have sent me this email.

Make sure you take the EIT so you can get the PE license someday. It may not be required in many jobs, but it is another marker. If you really studied, it won’t be hard. If you didn’t, it will kill you. If you are interviewing with someone who knows that, it will help.