Surviving Electronics and Communication Engineering: Semester 4 in a Nutshell
Your semester guide is here
You just got introduced into your core subjects in semester 3 and now it will be a full dive into the world of electronics and communication with a few electives that can bring in some diversity.
While the subjects and syllabus may vary from university to university, but every ECE course will broadly cover the topics discussed here.
Let us now explore what semester 4 has got to offer, subject by subject to get a head start on the important topics and understand what to expect.
1. Transmission Lines and Waveguides
From a student’s perspective, I’d call this subject, ‘Peaceful’. It consists of relatively simple concepts extending whatever we learnt in electromagnetic wave theory. Key problems tackled here revolve around circular and rectangular waveguides. You may have to give special attention to the topic called Smith chart. It’s super easy to score there if you properly know how to use it. Problems are generally direct formula based. Few derivations that are present are not too tough, can be repetitive but manageable. These concepts form the building blocks of microwave engineering which we will learn in later semesters.
The Bible to follow for this subject is a book written by Samuel Liao titled ‘Microwaves Devices and Circuits’. Apart from that, there is no necessity for any other reference. However, some PPTs and lecture slides can help at times. (A simple google search of “(Topic name) lecture slides pdf” should give you enough good results.)
Personal note: Those who generally find ECE as ‘tough’ to score marks, take help of those friends who are really good at this subject and let them explain you the concepts. Topics like the Smith chart are best learnt from friends.
2. Microcontrollers and Microprocessors:
This course basically consists of three broad topics:
A. Intel 8086 processor: This syllabus can get really obsolete. You’ll have these addressing modes and stuff related to the internal architecture of the Intel 8086 processor.
B. Intel 8051: These portions are pretty much similar to what you learn in 8086 with just some minor differences and extra topics. Topics can get quite repetitive.
C. MSP430: A little useful topic but ironically given least importance in the syllabus.
From examination point of view, PPTs alone is enough. Don’t waste your time with other material. If your professor doesn’t provide the same, it is better to insist on the same or get some PPTs from seniors.
If you want to score very high marks in this subject, there are three things you should do: Mug up, Memorize, By heart. It may appear conflicting to true learning and education but the reality is just harsh. However, there may be some exceptions where practical learning is given more importance.
There are some interesting books though to study the subject if you want to explore in personal interest. One such book is the ‘The Intel Microprocessors by Barry B Brey’.
Personal note: If you can’t remember abstract topics, timing diagrams, and block diagrams quickly, you will have a tough time with this. Question papers will be direct. Whoever remembers and recollects the most aces the exam and then comes the assembly language programming. Pay special attention to it. It can get really confusing to write assembly codes for more complex programs.
The key to cracking this course is learning properly right from the start. If you are through with 8086, topics of Intel 8051 will become quite familiar and easy to grasp.
3. Digital Signal Processing:
Contrary to popular belief, this is not the most difficult subject of this semester. It is, in fact, the most logical and practical subject and makes sense as to why we are learning it.
Taking regular class notes would be helpful. Apart from that, follow the video lecture series on Discrete Time Signal Processing by Ekeeda on YouTube. This is one of the best resources to learn this subject.
If you felt Neso Academy guys really explained the concepts well for digital electronics, then for DSP it’s Ekeeda guys as far as I know. There might be a few errors in some videos but they can be easily spotted and are non-technical. Overall, they have the best teaching and also solve a lot of problems from scratch.
Important topics from examination point of view:
- Z transform and finding the transfer function of systems.
- Finding DFT, FFT, linear and circular convolution. These concepts are actually easy. They are algorithmic in nature and If you know that, you can easily solve problems based on them.
- Filter design based concepts. FIR and IIR filter design. There are several types of filter designs that one must learn about. Each design can be learnt in a specific algorithmic approach. While there may be too many designs but once you get a hang of it, it will become easy.
- Realization of filters and lattice structures.
These are the main topics where you will definitely have questions in. All of them are covered in video lectures along with solved examples.
As for textbooks to refer, I haven’t yet come across a perfect book for this yet. There is one good book titled ‘Schaum's Outlines of Digital Signal Processing’. Apart from that, I don’t have any recommendations although ‘Digital Signal Processing by Proakis’ is generally considered as a standard textbook. You may check that for additional reference.
Personal note: There are three things you need to do to ace this subject. Learn, revise and then practice. Practice as much as you can. Most times, you will be writing the exam before you complete your learning because of the tight schedule and the vast syllabus. The subject is not difficult. The problem is, you will not get enough time to prepare. Hence starting early is important.
4. Electronic Circuits:
This is more or less the direct continuation of semiconductor electronics. You can refer to ‘Electronic Devices by Thomas Floyd’ (Power amplifiers and differential amplifiers topics are clearly explained here). Another learning resource is Nagendra Krishnapura lectures in Analog Electronics.
Then you have the standard ‘Microelectronics by Sedra and Smith’ for primary reference. This subject can be super interesting provided you have the right professor. You have a bunch of different circuits whose operation and working are to be analysed.
Key concepts include good old topics like the BJTs, FETs, and MOSFETs, etc. Apart from that, the new and important concepts revolve around differential amplifiers, power amplifiers, and CMOS circuits (*Very Important)
How to cover this subject?
The topics are well defined. Take your syllabus book and examine carefully. Every topic will have a circuit diagram and a corresponding analysis of its operation. Learn it one topic at a time. Make your own notes as you learn each topic. It can be quite handy for quick revision before exams.
If you are very good at basic current laws, the subject should be simple as long as you remember the circuit diagrams.
First study the key fundamental concepts. How and where do we use capacitors in a circuit? When and why do we connect a capacitor in series and parallel? (Those who are free, learn this stuff NOW in holidays. It’s fun.)
You need to be clear with the few fundamentals like this before you can get started with this subject.
What’s in for the Exam?
There will be a question on designing circuits for boolean expressions using CMOS switches. (Pretty easy stuff. For those who have difficulty with scoring marks, remember to concentrate more here- Designing logic circuits using CMOS)
One power amplifier, one current mirror based, and one on differential amplifiers based question will be there almost certainly. Hence lay more emphasis there.
5. Probability and Random Processes
Many people may not realize but this is THE MOST IMPORTANT AND USEFUL SUBJECT OF THIS SEMESTER.
THIS PARTICULAR SUBJECT IS THE BASE OF SO MANY OTHER CONCEPTS AND APPLICATIONS MUCH BEYOND OUR ACADEMIC SUBJECTS LIKE MACHINE LEARNING AND DATA SCIENCE.
If you are very strong in 12th standard probability, permutations and combinations, this subject initially will be a cake walk. Topics and problems are well defined. You assignment questions will come in exams, literally. If your professor doesn’t give one, you should probably ask them for it!
The subject starts with basics you may have already studied in 12th grade like the Bayes Theorem, Binomial Distribution, etc. It then moves on to concepts like random processes and probability distribution functions. Most of these topics have very high real-life significance.
The Probability and Random Process book written by Veerarajan is your Bible. It has everything you need.
Points to note here: Getting the right answer is difficult than knowing how to solve the question. Everyone knows how to solve it but only a few will arrive at the correct answer. That’s pretty much what this subject is from examination point of view. The reason being, it involves a lot of calculations and integrations but it will become easier once you have a good practice.
Final End Notes:
Spend maximum time with Probability and DSP. It’s worth it and they are useful for future subjects.
MPMC syllabus may appear obsolete. Nevertheless, it is the classic example differentiating what we need to be learning and what we should be aware of. If you are an enthusiastic person and want to learn extra stuff to up-skill yourselves, learn Perl programming language. (If possible read about System on Chip (SoC) as well)
Transmission Lines and Electronic circuits are relatively easy subjects. If you are very much interested, check out more on CMOS circuit design for extra in-depth knowledge. That’s interesting and demanding stuff.
So what makes the fourth semester special? It’s the uncertainty in your career that may build up at this stage. You might be eyeing on that one big internship or wondering if ‘ECE’ is the right choice you made. Ponder not, for there is still a long way to go before any decisions are to be made. Just don’t get distracted in this phase. Rest assured, there are tons of opportunities in many multidisciplinary fields. Your focus should be on building a strong profile in the areas of your interest.
From the beginning of the third year, companies will come down to the campus offering internships to students. There are also many off-campus processes that happen where a lot of students compete to get their ‘big’ third-year internship. Before we end the fourth-semester article, here are some perspectives one should probably ponder at this stage regarding placements and the world at large.
- Are you aware of all the different kind of opportunities that exist in this world? Do your own research. Don’t just blindly follow the trends. Be self-informed.
- Placements exist everywhere but are they coming with a price? The whole point of placements shouldn’t be to get a job but to start a career, a career you truly want to pursue.
- Computer Science rules the corporate world today. That doesn’t mean there aren’t enough opportunities in core fields. At the same time, it is quintessential to learning programming since it’s used everywhere, core or not.
- Luck plays a big factor and so will your soft skills more than your technical knowledge in a lot of situations.
Students should focus on becoming independent. Whether a TnP exists or not, you should strive to be the person in demand in the professional world. Don’t lay all the emphasis on getting that so-called ‘big’ intern or your gpa. Focus on becoming someone people would truly want to work with, someone with enough practical knowldge beyond the traditional academics.
Lastly, here’s some inspiration-
Never think you are anything less just because of how someone else might consider you or because of your academic record. At the same time, there is a fine line between being overconfident and having a good positive spirit. Be wary of it.
There are several examples of students who have been successful in the past defying all odds and expectations. However, all of them have one thing in common, perseverance.
Build soft skills that will make you confident enough. Confidence is the key to a lot of things in life and it in turn defines your body language.
Have a reality check. Most of us are not industry ready. The curriculum and the teaching methodology is clearly not enough. I think that’s exactly what one should focus on building in the summer of the second year, understanding what companies actually do and learning about the technologies in which they work in.
Always remember, grades exist to group similarities but what makes your different is what brings you value. All the best and spend your holidays wisely.
So, what after 4th semester? Explore it in the next article of the series!