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Thoughts on the IEEE August 13, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering.
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I finally got around to listening to the third edition of The Amp Hour. I saw that one of the topics was going to be on the IEEE, of which I’ve been a member for about seven years, so I was quite interested.

And then I was quite disappointed.

Chris and Dave came to the conclusion that the IEEE was a good body to provide things like standards, but not good for much else. I realize that both of them work in industry and I am merely an academic, but I just thought I’d provide an alternate point of view.

A major part of being an academic is keeping up on current research and publishing research results, and the primary vehicle for that is journals. I think this is one area where the IEEE stands above most, if not all, professional organizations. They provide a huge variety of journals. Although they are not ‘open-source’, I have to say that the cost of membership and journal subscriptions is significantly lower than that of many other organizations and their journals. Maybe it’s not such a big deal for someone who is in a very narrow area of research. However, when your area of interest is ‘electromagnetics’, this can encompass many things and require subscriptions to many journals. I can subscribe to several journals in the IEEE for the cost of one or two in another society. Further, almost all of their journals have been put into electronic format, making it much easier to find and obtain journal articles.

In general, I have found that they are doing a lot to try to benefit working engineers, but much of this is in the realm of political action. One particular issue that comes to mind is that IEEE USA been fighting to keep the limits low on H1B visas and offshoring. (Take a look here.) Another issue they’ve pursued is trying to make health insurance portable, so that if you lose your job, you don’t have to switch insurance companies. These sorts of things affect all engineers, and I appreciate that there is a professional organization that is making these things a priority.

There are other more tangible benefits, like dental insurance, life insurance, credit cards, yada yada.

Finally, there are also benefits to having a local chapter where you can get to know other professionals. Obviously, this means networking. Chris and Dave mentioned that sometimes they have presentations, which Dave mentioned were ‘dry’. I think that depends on the flavor of your local chapter. I know that for a while, our local chapter was dominated by academics, and yeah, some of those presentations would be on the slow side. On the other hand, there are also tours of facilities as well as some fairly interesting presentations given by those in industry. I would venture to guess that the local chapter will depend a lot on those who get involved, and that someone who wants to get more out of their chapter could do so by volunteering to help organize meetings or find speakers. I know that some chapters of the EMC society, for example, are composed primarily of industry professionals, and I imagine most of the presentations would be very relevant to those working in EMC and EMI aspect of engineering.

I do realize that membership in such an organization may value in utility for some people. On the other hand, I think that some of the notion that the organization is useless may hinge upon one not being aware of what they offer and not getting involved enough to make it useful.

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Comments»

1. Chris Gammell - August 13, 2010

OOOhooo! Conflict!

Haha, you make some really great points though, namely your last one. Like any group, you get out what you put into an organization. If Dave and I were to dive in headfirst, I’m sure there would be many unseen benefits.

However, the journals thing is quite irrelevant to me, at least at this point in my career. It’s interesting to stay on the edge of new techniques and technology, but until it’s actually implementable (or I’m in charge of implementing), then I don’t have time. I realize this is not the case for the “publish or perish” mantra of the academic work. If you don’t know what others are publishing, I’m sure that could lead to some perishing as well.

Thanks for the counterpoint!

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mareserinitatis - August 16, 2010

I understand the perspective you’re coming from. If I were working in industry, I’m sure I’d get far less out of the IEEE than I do coming from the academic side. I guess I just wanted to put a different viewpoint out there.

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2. Fluxor - August 13, 2010

As a working bloke and not an academic, I fully agree (well, almost) with Cherish.

From my point of view, all of the credit card, insurance, etc. are irrelevant to me. Rather, I benefit from the bread and butter business of the IEEE:

1. Standards.

2. Publications. There are two very important publications in the IC world. The first is the Journal of Solid State Circuits, lovingly called the “The Red Rag”. The second is conference proceedings from the International Solid-State Circuits Conference. I also enjoy reading Spectrum from time to time. The journals are not just reading for interest. I’ve actually used circuit ideas from these journals in some of my designs and the ideas in the papers have sparked further ideas of my own. The references section of each paper is also important in point me to more source material on the topic at hand. Paper reading and research comprise only a very small part of my job, but nevertheless, an important part.

3. Conferences. I’ve attended two, one as a presenter and one as an attendee. Learned lots from both experiences.

4. Career enhancement. Presenting your own work at a conference or having your papers published is a great way to advance your career. It looks good on the resume and it gives you exposure to those in the field.

5. Short courses. I attended a great short course on IC failure analysis put on by the local IEEE chapter.

I think it’s worth to note that IEEE is politically neutral while IEEE-USA is not. IEEE-USA’s is very vocal on their long standing position on the H1B visa. IEEE-Canada, on the other hand, is pretty apolitical.

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mareserinitatis - August 16, 2010

So do you prefer political or apolitical organizations?

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Fluxor - August 21, 2010

My preference is for politically neutral organizations, but on the whole, I don’t really care if the politicking is done sparingly and my core services are still being delivered.

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3. Ian Dees - August 13, 2010

I’m in industry, but find the journals a happier story than the standards. The high barrier to entry to just look up one small nuance of, say, IEEE-488, has always rubbed me the wrong way.

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mareserinitatis - August 16, 2010

I’d say that’s the same issue with a lot of standards. I know that for one of the research projects I did, I had to go through some contortions to get an IEC standard that I needed.

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4. Charles J Gervasi - August 16, 2010

I volunteer with my local chapter of IEEE. I am not impressed with what I know about the national level. They send me junk mail promoting insurance at least once a week. Their website has sections for networking, but the ease of use is poor and the functionality is that of a website 10 years ago. I get the feeling they’re old and stodgy.

I could be completely wrong, but this is just what I get from my very limited interaction with them.

Regarding the lobbying, that’s a good thing, I suppose. I’m ideologically in favor of promoting the profession by engineering excellence rather than gov’t lobbying, BUT I see how other professions do a much better job promoting themselves and earn more money as a result. Examples are law, where licensure is strictly required, and accounting, where licensure is not required but people respect the license so much they hire “a CPA” even for jobs that don’t require licensure. Engineering could benefit from one of these models.

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mareserinitatis - August 16, 2010

I’m not sure about nationally, but I know that our local chapter has been talking a lot about licensure issues.

But I think the examples you’re using may be a bit atypical. I am a member of several professional organizations, and the IEEE is one of the better run, probably because it’s larger. If you look at law and medical groups, the numbers are larger yet. I think lawyers have a better handle on the system because they tend to run it. I also think engineers may not make the best managers, so maybe that is part of what plagues the IEEE-USA.

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Chris Gammell - August 19, 2010

Although I’m biased as an EIT, I would favor this as well. Why not make people work for their license and have some kind of requirements when hiring then?

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mareserinitatis - August 19, 2010

I think the problem is that so much of the PE licensure is focused on power stuff, which makes total sense. However, for those working in electronics, it’s almost useless. If they could find some way to distinguish between the two and set up separate, and likely more relevant, requirements for the different areas, it might make sense.

I think this is where engineering gets into some trouble, though. My physics background was expected to be fairly broad. When I got into engineering, I ended up focusing on an extremely narrow area. Being in emag, it’s still more broad than some areas. However, companies are pushing for people to have very specific training, even wanting universities to train students to use certain types of software. Universities, however, are pushing for more broad training because students who receive very specific training are often cut out as technology progresses, which makes it hard for them to find a job later.

Ooops…rambling again. 🙂

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Fluxor - August 21, 2010

I hold a P. Eng. license and it’s nothing more than a small notation on my resume (and a cool rubber stamp that I get to use to officially approve engineering drawings..ha!). For those working in everyday electronics, it is quite useless indeed.

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5. The Amp Hour #4 — Cultural Differences | The AmpHour - August 18, 2010

[…] Cherish’s Response to our thoughts on the IEEE […]

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