Learning Electromagnetics: Where to Start

Electromagnetics is a broad field requiring a diverse set of skills. The beginning of your journey can be daunting, frustrating and even boring at times. But it doesn’t need to be – I’ve broken it down into steps to help you get jump-started on your journey to becoming an electromagnetics expert.

First Step - Background Knowledge

Specifically, vector calculus and differential equations. This is the language that electromagnetics is communicated through. One of my own hurdles was getting past how incredibly boring these subjects were to me at the time. They only became more interesting as I understood more about their application and when I learned more about scientific visualization. 

It may help to know that it isn’t necessary to have an A+ level of understanding of these topics. That level is only necessary when performing a detailed analysis of something. For me, understanding the concepts visually was key. 

EMPossible Coordinate Grid

An equation means nothing to me unless I have a picture of the equation’s meaning in my mind. I put together a very quick review of this subject in my Electromagnetic Field Theory course.  See Topic 2 here:  https://empossible.net/emp3302/

Step Two - Read. A Lot.

Pick different topics in electromagnetics. Journal articles can be very difficult to read so look for textbooks, websites, MS theses, and PhD dissertations. These usually have much more, and much better, background and introductory information.

Don’t worry if there are things you do not completely understand. In the beginning, just try to understand the bigger picture and not worry so much about the details. You will likely find some subjects more interesting than others. Pick those topics for deeper dives into the details. At some point you will find it likely difficult to find new information on certain topics and you will be left with unanswered questions – those can be the seeds of your eventual research.

Step Three - Develop some skills

Start developing some skills that will let you explore and experiment with electromagnetics. If you are a theory person, these first skills should be simulation and visualization. There are some great resources for these skills on the EMPossible resources site. 

If you are more of a hands-on type of person, consider getting an amateur radio license. Start building and testing your own antennas and radio equipment.

Both of these approaches will let you experiment with electromagnetics and let you become more intuitive about how devices are actually working. That intuition can help you tremendously get you through difficult mathematical or theoretical steps in your learning.

Step Four - Find a mentor

If you are a student, find an advisor at your university or institution. Look for a person that is willing to devote time to you and is active in research that interests you. If you are an industry professional, look for a mentor within your company. If that’s not an option, look for someone at a local university or maybe connect to somebody through social media. 

Finally - Be patient

Adopt a positive mindset. Electromagnetics is challenging, and you will hit some bumps along the way.  Don’t let yourself be easily intimidated. I am deeply embedded in the electromagnetics and photonics community and I do not know anybody who thinks it is an easy subject or who never struggled. Having a good sense of humor will help you get through the stumbling blocks. Ask for help and collaborate with others whenever you can. Always remember to help others to whatever degree you can, especially when you get to the point where you could be somebody’s mentor.

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