Alumnus Marcel Pelgrom

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"Don’t choose Electrical Engineering"

Marcel Pelgrom, UT alumnus, wrote this column as contribution the the U-Today special about Electrical Engineering, 2019.

You’ve barely learned how to stand on your own two feet and are already asked to make a choice that will affect the rest of your life: what will you study? Fifty years ago, the choices for someone with a beta talents were limited: crude mechanical engineering, incomprehensible physics or chemistry aboard an oil platform. As a young kid, I loved breaking apart electric devices to find the answer to such questions as where the sound in a radio came from. I was fascinated by how things work, so I messed around with trains, built my own calculator, that sort of thing. What I loved most of all was when something broke; how could I put it back together again? Electrical engineering was the answer for me.

Looking at it like that, you really have no choice. You often wonder how things work and what you can do with them. If you have never felt like that, don’t waste your time with electrical engineering.

There are other reasons why you should not choose electrical engineering. It offers no guarantees for the future, but in all my years I have never had trouble finding great jobs. If you want to earn the big bucks, you should stay far away from electrical engineering. In fact, don’t go to university at all and just do your own thing instead. Do business, close deals, take smooth and charm the pants off everyone you meet. Of course, you have to have a knack for that, because only the best businessmen and -women make it in this world. The rest of us ends up in the gutter.

Do you like to party, the more the better? Are you an easy-going sort of person who loves to chill out and have fun? Here is an ice-bucket challenge for you: electrical engineering is a devilish difficult programme. Party animals: seek your fortunes elsewhere. Electrical engineering requires mastery of myriad mathematical techniques. The first year is brutal. You often only realise what something is for when you understand the physical aspects of a problem. When the two come together and you suddenly see the big picture, it is a feeling like no other. Wait, am I promoting electrical engineering after all?

In the last fifty years, the field of electrical engineering has evolved from kilometre-long cables to transistors measured in nanometres. Countless technological innovations (vacuum tubes transistors, chips, computers, artificial intelligence) have made the field into what it is today – and the end is nowhere in sight. Electrical engineering is essential to every aspect of human progress: from autonomous vehicles and zero traffic casualties to a laboratory in your own stomach and putting the first men on Mars. You should definitely not study electrical engineering, because you will never be done! There will always be another challenge waiting for you. Something impossible that you have to pull off. If that sounds fun to you, welcome to the world of electrical engineering!


Marcel Pelgrom

1975 – 1979 Electrical Engineering University of Twente
1979 – 1995 Researcher at Philips Physical Laboratory
1988 -  Doctoral degree obtained from the UT

2003 Consulting professor at Stanford University
2013 Foundation of Pelgrom Consult, honorary professor at KU Leuven, lecturer at TU Delft, University of Twente, Stanford University and other international research institutes

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