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Master’s in Computer Science vs Master’s in Electrical & Computer Engineering

On April 10, 2019, astronomers published a photograph of a black hole, giving humans their first ever peek at one of the universe’s most mysterious and fascinating phenomena. A worldwide team of researchers was involved in the project, but one important contributor was a postdoctoral fellow named Katie Bouman. Drawing on her background in electrical engineering and computer science, Bouman helped develop the algorithms and imaging methods that made this unprecedented event possible.
Close up of circuit breaker being worked on
Computer scientists and electrical engineers guide a variety of remarkable technological leaps with the potential to transform lives. Researchers drive innovations like biomechanical brain implants that could treat neurological disorders, smartphone apps that revolutionize mobile health and deep learning systems that facilitate communication between hard-of-hearing people and others who don’t understand sign language.

If you want to discover solutions to complex problems and fuel the next generation of products, devices and groundbreaking discoveries a graduate degree could be a vital step. Earning a master’s in computer science or a master’s in electrical and computer engineering can deepen your knowledge of some of the most fascinating challenges emerging today while opening career opportunities in technical organizations. If you’re considering a graduate degree, here’s what you should know about these two related, yet distinct, educational paths:

Master’s in Electrical and Computer Engineering Master’s in Computer Science
Topics of Study
  • Electromagnetic fields and waves
  • Linear control systems
  • Neural networks
  • Power systems
  • Physical electronics
  • Robotics
  • VLSI design
  • Algorithms
  • Computer vision
  • Deep learning
  • Natural language processing
  • Networked and distributed systems
  • Optimization
Essential Skills
  • Design, implement and supervise manufacturing for electrical systems and devices
  • Use computer-assisted engineering software and equipment
  • Collaborate with other engineers and stakeholders
  • Collect data from projects to report on progress and compliance
  • Use computer hardware and software to solve problems
  • Analyze data and create or implement effective algorithms
  • Write code in widely used programming languages, such as Python, Java and C++
  • Communicate clearly with teams and decisionmakers
Common Job Titles
  • Circuits engineer
  • Electrical controls engineer
  • Instrumentation and electrical reliability engineer
  • Power systems engineer
  • Application developer
  • Data scientist
  • Information technology director
  • Software developer

The Power of a Master of Science in Electrical & Computer Engineering

Electrical engineers create and implement a variety of advanced equipment, devices and systems. These professionals generally focus on the practical demands of circuit design, power generation and signal processing. Exploring the latest methods and tools in the field allows engineers to create efficient solutions that deliver long-term benefits for organizations, the lives of individuals and scientific research. For example, the black hole researchers relied on signal processing performed at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany to correlate the immense quantities of data gathered by the EHT.

A master’s degree program in both electrical and computer engineering can provide professionals with the skills to lead development, testing and manufacturing processes. They may go on to work with generators, motors, communications networks and navigation systems, and a variety of other electrical equipment.

Graduate students build their engineering expertise by studying concepts such as:

  • Operation planning for power systems
  • Digital integrated circuit design
  • Linear control systems
  • Modeling, programming and designing controllers for robots
  • Deep learning and neural networks
  • Electromagnetic fields and waves
  • Physical properties of electronics
  • Distributed analysis of microwave circuits and systems
  • Applications for diamond devices
  • Essential systems and sensors for autonomous vehicles

What Can You Do with a Master’s in Electrical & Computer Engineering?

With a graduate degree in electrical and computer engineering, professionals can start a career in a technical organization or move into a leadership position. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, engineering services are the biggest employer of electrical engineers, but they can also succeed in roles at organizations such as utilities providers, research and development firms and electronics manufacturers. An advanced, interdisciplinary education gives professionals the necessary background to take charge of teams working on complex projects and communicate with stakeholders at all levels of an organization.

The Department of Labor reported that the top job titles for electrical engineers include:

  • Circuits engineer
  • Design engineer
  • Electrical controls engineer
  • Electrical design engineer
  • Electrical project engineer
  • Instrumentation and electrical reliability engineer
  • Power systems engineer
  • Project engineer
  • Test engineer

These positions offer both fascinating challenges for capable problem-solvers and financial rewards. The BLS found that electrical and electronics engineers earned a median salary of $97,970 as of May 2017.

Why Pursue a Master’s in Computer Science?

Computer scientists analyze the data involved in complex problems and find powerful, efficient solutions. To turn the information collected by the Event Horizon Telescope into an accurate image, researchers needed to build algorithms capable of interpreting the relevant data and filling in the missing pieces.

While electrical and computer engineering focuses more on the practical side of building systems and processes, the discipline of computer science places more emphasis on the theoretical principles that enable real-world applications. Advances in the field drive the development of new computer hardware and software, sophisticated algorithms and fresh approaches to gathering and managing data.

Graduate students have the chance to go beyond everyday tasks writing code and optimizing performance, gaining the insights that shape the future of human interactions with computers. Computer science professionals and students may focus on areas like:

  • Software engineering
  • Machine learning
  • Natural language processing
  • Bioinformatics
  • Network security
  • Data mining
  • Mobile computing
  • Digital evolution

How long does it take to get a master’s in computer science?

Full-time students can expect to finish their program in about two years, while completing a degree part time could take three or more years.

What Can You Do with a Master’s in Computer Science?

A master’s-level education in computer science could ready students to pursue jobs at a variety of technical organizations, advance into senior or leadership roles or progress into a doctoral program. Some of the most common positions for professionals who hold a master’s degree include:

  • Application developer
  • Data scientist
  • Information technology director
  • Java developer
  • Software developer
  • Software development manager
  • Software engineer

A graduate education in electrical and computer engineering or computer science can lead to a career in accomplishing amazing things. The efforts that resulted in our first view of a black hole also illustrate the deep connections between these two fields and the potential for electrical engineers and computer scientists to solve previously impossible problems. An advanced education in electrical and computer engineering could put you at the forefront of the next leap forward in technology that transforms the way we look at our world and universe.

About Michigan State University’s Online Master of Science in Electrical & Computer Engineering

Michigan State University’s online Master of Science in Electrical & Computer Engineering program readies students to excel in the field by expanding their technical knowledge and focusing on the real problems spurring technical innovation. Courses in the online program are taught by MSU’s faculty of pioneering researchers and experienced educators. Online students can choose from two plans of study, selecting a thesis or non-thesis option as they complete a graduate education from an R1 research institution ranked among the Top 100 Global Universities by U.S. News & World Report.

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