2021 Student Research Study

In an industry that holds cutting-edge professional design above almost anything else, engineering students may seem like a strange demographic to study. The reality, however, is that students—whether they’re undergrads destined to be circuit designers or they’re pursuing a doctorate to revolutionize the field through their academic research—represent the future of the electrical engineering world.

Many industry actors, including manufacturers and research institutions, look to either hire or expose their products to the next generation of engineers to ensure they have the most recent education in their ranks.

Kate Smith
All About Circuits


Respondents to the EETech survey who call themselves students (as opposed to educators, professional engineers, makers, or retired) are primarily undergraduates—over 62%. As may be expected, this is the category represented the most heavily, with fewer students moving on to graduate (19%) and doctorate (5%) education. High school and trade school attendees and seekers of certifications are also present, but in smaller numbers.

What level of education are you currently pursuing?

When asked what level of education respondents aspire to reach, the trend remains the same: a sizable percentage of respondents (mostly high schoolers and current undergrads) said they want to attain their undergrad degree. The majority of respondents, however, said they had their sights beyond an undergraduate degree. Nearly half of respondents expressed interest in attaining a master’s degree. A shocking 27% indicated that they’d be interested in attaining a doctorate. Given how few engineering graduates go on to get their Ph.D., this was a surprise.

This data indicates heavy interest in attaining degrees that are arguably not necessary for a successful engineering career.

What level of education do you hope to pursue in the future?

In order to understand what resources these students have available, we asked what electrical engineering curriculum their institution offers.
Only 66% of respondents said their institution offers an EE major. 24% reported having an EE concentration and 26% said an EE minor was available. These are lower numbers than our industry might expect from typical educational institutions.

On the other hand, 37% of respondents said they have professional development opportunities such as EE co-ops and internships available to them.
This data tells us there may be opportunities for industry companies to provide additional educational materials or networking to engage the next generation.

Does your institution offer curriculum specific to electrical engineering?

Specialties Planning to Pursue

In order to better characterize how students may impact the industry, we asked which specialties they actively plan to pursue. The most common specialty selected was the EE field in general. Significantly less popular but still desirable were computer engineering and circuit design. Control engineering, software, and PCB layout specialties also stood out.

On the less popular side, specialties like IC design and power engineering were each selected by 15% of respondents. It may also be important to note how few respondents selected firmware (8%), RF (9%), and component engineering (11%).

This information tells us that some particularly difficult specialties, such as IC design and RF design, may be intimidating or uninteresting to students, despite the industry’s clear need for them overall.

Which engineering specialties are you planning to pursue?

(Multiple responses)

Areas of Expertise Pursuing

For comparison against planned specialties, we asked which areas of expertise respondents would like to pursue. Among students, the most popular segments of expertise were software design, digital design, machine learning, and PCB layout.

Click to the second part of this data to see that students show more interest in software design, machine learning, data science, algorithm development, and cloud computing than did professional EE respondents. All of these specialties have risen to prominence in recent years, which may account for their elevated interest for students.

What areas of expertise would you like to pursue?

(Multiple responses)

Usage of Maker Boards

STEM students often use maker boards to learn basic electrical and design principles. This means they’re often compared to the maker demographic. When we asked how students use maker boards, we can see commonalities between their habits and those of makers. Both demographics said they most often use maker boards for prototyping and then for tinkering.

The two groups differed in that makers were more likely to use maker boards in end products and students were more likely to use maker boards to characterize components. This discrepancy makes sense as makers are more likely to develop products for commercial sale whereas students are more likely to spend time characterizing components as they learn.

Do you ever use maker boards (e.g., Arduino) in your projects?

(Multiple responses)


Both makers and students also had similar preferences when it comes to which maker board manufacturers they use. Arduino was the clear #1 choice, followed by Raspberry Pi, both of which are well-known for their robust documentation and communities. Adafruit and SparkFun were also frequently selected, both of which offer products and kits geared towards ease of use for projects and those learning about electronics.

If applicable, which maker board manufacturers have you used?

(Multiple responses)

Best Educational Mediums for Concepts

Knowing which mediums help students learn can be helpful for those who develop educational materials. Students reported that hands-on and lab experience is the most valuable to them, followed by face-to-face instruction in general.

Outside of in-person interactions, students said that video resources, tutorials, and textbooks were their preferred mediums. Podcasts were selected notably less often than any other option. This tells us that understanding technical concepts may require a visual element.

What educational mediums best help you understand technical concepts?

(Multiple responses)



Next Gens & Career Pros

A Career Pro is a seasoned electrical engineer with 6 or more years of engineering experience. These engineers represent who leads in the industry today. A Next Gen is either a young engineer with 5 or fewer years of experience or a student pursuing a EE degree. These engineers represent where the industry is going next.

Let’s see how they compare to Students (in general).

Likelihood to Contact Supplier

Most students selected that they would contact a supplier for help in the design process for 50–75% of their designs. Compare that to the most common choice from both Career Pro and Next Gen professional engineers, who said they would contact a supplier on less than 25% of their designs.

Students, who most likely have little to no professional engineering experience at all, would understandably ask for input from suppliers more than professionals, who have their own experiences to draw from.

Approximately on how many of your designs are you likely to contact a supplier for assistance?

Usage of New Products

Interestingly, all three demographics followed the same general trend when asked how often they branch out to try a new product on the market. All three most commonly reported they would only try a new product if their specs call for it. Significantly fewer said they either branch out “all the time” or that they tend to use the same products consistently. Very few respondents of any type said they would never branch out to try new products at all.

This data indicates that perhaps age or experience in the field are not as important when deciding whether to try new hardware as one might initially expect. Familiarity with products that are proven to work, paired with required specs, seem to be the most important considerations when considering trying new products.

How often do you use a new product on the market that you’ve never used before?

Sources of Info Used Most

“Sources of information” tells us where respondents go when seeking out information. Students were on-trend with professional engineers by selecting search engines as their #1 source of info. Students were significantly less likely than professionals, however, to turn to manufacturer and supplier websites for information.

On the other hand, students were more likely to turn to engineering communities, social media, textbooks, maker blogs, and news sites compared to professional engineers. This indicates that students are looking for sources of information that allow them to ask questions from other users, more so than professional engineers are.

Which of the following sources of information do you utilize most during the design process?

(Multiple responses)

Types of Info Relied On

“Types of information” tells us what kinds of resources respondents reach for from their preferred sources.  Students kept with the trend of relying on datasheets more than any other type of info, though at a lower rate than professional engineers.

The largest discrepancies between demographics here were that students said they rely on technical resources like whitepapers, app notes, and reference designs less than professionals did. The most attractive resources for students were videos (where Career Pros were represented the least), technical articles, textbooks, and online design tools.

Which types of information do you rely on most for during the designs process?

(Multiple responses)

Desired Info

Asking which types of content respondents would like to see more of gives us an idea of what content they would most like to engage with, even if it’s uncommon.

Video tutorials were the top selection among students and Next Gen respondents. The significantly lower interest from Career Pro engineers may indicate a generational difference where video content is going to be increasingly important as students and Next Gen engineers dominate the field over time.

Students also indicated interest in written tutorials, technical articles, and research coverage. Those looking to engage with students should take note to consider developing these kinds of resources, which are in the highest demand.

What kinds of informational content would you like to see more of?

(Multiple responses)

Open Source

Open-source solutions, whether hardware or software, are those that provide public-facing documentation to enable customization. While benefits include quicker turnaround on designs and collaboration, cited drawbacks may include the lack of protection for intellectual property and concerns about security.

Students support that trend, wherein most respondents across all demographics most commonly said they use open-source solutions, fewer said they use them in some situations (“depends”), and fewer still said they do not use them at all.

Do you use open-source solutions in your projects?

Likely to Recommend

When we asked respondents which EETech websites they’d be willing to recommend to a friend or colleague, we see that All About Circuits was the most commonly selected option. Students were more represented than either professional demographic, however, across every single other site. This indicates that the educational resources on all EETech sites merit recommendation from students (and Next Gen professionals).

How likely is it that you would recommend the following sites to a friend or colleague?

(For each persona, the charts show the percentage of those who said they were “very likely” or “likely” (top 2 ratings) to recommend each site.)

Can’t Get Enough Data?

The data presented here is only the tip of the soldering iron. If you are interested in more data, particular insights, or would just like to use our data in your marketing materials, please reach out to us. We’re happy to share!

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