Getting started with Control Engineering

Hello, I have some rather old books on Control Engineering that have material similar to the Wikibook on "Control Systems" (
http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Control_systems ) and I was wondering if this material is a good way to get started in Control Systems Engineering. Actually, I am thinking of trying to get a thesis (undergraduate diploma project) in this field later on this year. I'm an Electrical Engineering student in Athens, Greece but the Control Division in our School is in a big mess and I'm not sure if it's a good idea. Any advice or support is very welcome. Thanks, John H.
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John H. wrote:

That looks like classical "modern" control theory (never call something "modern" unless you're 80 -- if you call it "modern" when you're 30 you'll look stupid in 50 years). The "modern" control theory that was developed in the 1950s is still the basis for all of the current control theory development, and it doesn't change. Furthermore, on a per-dollar basis most of the work in control systems is either done using 1950 control theory, or it's done by guess and by gosh.
So that would be a good place to start.
I can't begin to tell you what to do about the fact that your school has a messed-up control division. You need to make the decision yourself, but if you're absolutely determined to do control the choices I see are to:
A: Concentrate on something related, like communications systems, then either be happy doing that, or get a Master's degree in control at a different school. There is a lot of common ground between low-level communications systems theory and control theory. I studied both, I consult with both, and I'm constantly improving my practice of the one with things that I learned doing the other.
B: Change schools. If you're only a year away from graduation this could be a pain -- I know that the picky US schools have a 2-year residency requirement, and even the lesser state schools have a one-year residency requirement. I actually transferred in to a school with a 2-year residency requirement when I was only one year away from my bachelor's, but I did it by promising to get my Master's degree there, too. This only worked because it was a small, flexible school (Thanks, WPI!).
C: Get your degree in controls anyway. Depending on how messed up things are, how determined you are, how smart you are, and how resourceful you are, this could either be a success or a disaster. I wouldn't recommend it unless you can really go out and get stuff done on your own _and_ there is at least one good controls faculty member that you can latch onto for help. If the whole faculty sucks then it's best to revisit options A or B.
D: In the US, mechanical engineering departments often give control systems degrees in parallel to the electrical engineering department. I'm starting to see a groundswell of support among software departments for yet another parallel track (just in time for sales of my book*, heh heh heh). You may be able to switch majors to an ME, or arrange to take the necessary courses from that department.
Good luck -- it's always a bummer when your school lets you down.
--

Tim Wescott
Wescott Design Services
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/ Tim Wescott :

Tim,
I can't find the words to thank you for your reply. I've noticed your special contribution here in this group and I really admire your knowledge and your work.
In my personal situation I think possibility C, as you described it, is the path I should take. There's a "civil" war in our Controls Division (among professors mostly) but I'm an "old student" and maybe somebody there could give me a simple project so I can finish my degree at last. I've only studied just a few things on Control Systems but I am very passionate about it and for now it's become my full-time self-study subject. I'm watching this group very closely via Google, done a lot of searches on various subjects and I'll try to help anyone in need of information. I'm not thinking about employment right now but I can cope without a job for a while. I'll be happy if I become a ProAm (Professional Amateur) on Control Engineering and help other people out.
Thanks again, John H.
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John H. wrote:

Sure! The fundamentals don't change much. The application does, but that's what a Master's Thesis should be about in a field such as engineering.

My schooling amounts to a Bachelor's Degree in Electrical Engineering. I don't have a Master's Degree; although I am a registered Controls Engineer. Personally, I think that while a Master's degree looks impressive, for practical purposes it doesn't add much to your capabilities on the job.
Engineering is a hands-on application of theory to the real world; and this is never more true than for controls engineers. Schools have difficulty teaching these things because practical applications are not easy to come by. I could be wrong about this, but my experiences dealing with those with Master and PhD degrees lead me to believe that that they simply represent a chance to learn more theory but not much application. Engineering, as I said before, is all about the application.
There are many things to learn which have very little to do with the math and the application of control theory. A perusal of Liptak's handbooks will show you the breadth of other knowledge you might need to know besides just control theories.
Were I in your place, I would do what it takes to get the degree, and then go out and try to do the real work in industry. That's where you prove yourself.
Jake Brodsky
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Jake Brodsky wrote:

A Master's degree, at least if you do a thesis, is good for completing big projects, and writing book-length coherent works. I'm not sure how the 'senior thesis' track that so many schools compares, but I do know that I've used both the book-writing skills and the extra theory I learned in my day-to-day jobs.

I use a lot of theory in my day-to-day job -- but I work on some unusual stuff, which can't be done by recipe or out of a handbook.

This is a good point. Schools will teach you how to be a good control systems mathematician, and that certainly has a place in your box of tools when you go to work. What they can't teach you as well is all of the bedrock practical stuff, or how to dance along the borderline between theory and practical, which is where a control systems engineer can _really_ start adding value.

Yup.
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Tim Wescott
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<snip>
If you're looking for a useful capability on the job, you might want to consider networking and industrial comms. Connectivity issues between devices come up all the time with control systems nowadays and many control engineers - me included - can easily get stuck.
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Bruce Varley wrote:

I'll second that. Been there and learned a whole lot!
Jake Brodsky
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