FAQ about Fall 2024 Changes

    Note: This FAQ will be updated with edits and additions for clarity on a regular basis.

    This is a FAQ covering some of the most common questions we receive about the retiring of the 6-1, “Electrical Science and Engineering” and 6-2, “Electrical Engineering and Computer Science” degree programs, and the launch of the 6-5, “Electrical Engineering With Computing” degree program. While this FAQ is thorough, it may not cover every possible question students have. If you have questions or would like to talk through your specific situation and degree plan, both the EECS Undergrad Office and EE Faculty Head Joel Voldman are happy to meet with you.

    Why are you launching a new degree number?

    For many reasons, but one of the most important is that we have significantly revised the EE curriculum, created a number of new classes, and enhanced existing classes. We want our degree program and curriculum to reflect this change. EECS is launching 6-5, “Electrical Engineering With Computing” as the sole new electrical engineering major. As a result, there is now one major in each of the department’s three primary areas: Electrical Engineering (6-5), Computer Science (6-3), and Artificial Intelligence & Decision-making (6-4).

    The 6-5 degree program has an exciting, forward-looking curriculum that was developed through an extensive process and with a great deal of thought by MIT’s EE faculty. Recognizing that electrical engineering has grown unrecognizably large and is now a foundational and crucial part of many new and emerging fields, the EE faculty sought to organize the program in a way that better reflects the current and future state of the field.

    The new major will also feature several tracks that will prepare our students for a diverse range of careers. These tracks span the entire EE discipline and provide a high degree of flexibility for students to pursue their interests and desired careers. Learn more at 6-5 Track List.

    Why is the 6-5 degree name “Electrical Engineering With Computing”?

    The EE faculty named the 6-5 degree “Electrical Engineering With Computing” in recognition of the long-term bilateral interdependence between electrical engineering and computing. Our goal is to best prepare the next generation of electrical engineers for a diverse range of careers. To achieve that, 6-5 students will be required to take courses in computing, giving them the breadth of knowledge needed to work on modern systems, which almost invariably combine hardware with computing.

    Every electrical engineer uses computers or computing in their field, and our major now reflects that. For students who are most interested in the physical world of circuits, devices, and materials – they are going to use computing, whether to analyze their data, design new devices, or create new materials. For students interested in modeling, controlling and optimizing complex systems, they will use a combination of physical modeling with data-driven computation.

    Additionally, the degree name acknowledges the pivotal role electrical engineers have played and will continue to play in the rapidly growing fields of computing, as well as the impact advances in computing have had on the field of electrical engineering. The next phase of architectural chip development will require electrical engineers to make advances. The 6-5 degree will prepare students who are interested in developing systems in the physical world that support advances in computing.

    We developed a new EE curriculum that we believe is the best way to teach modern electrical engineers and prepare them for the array of fields in which EEs will make a difference in the world. The new major features a dozen tracks that will prepare our students for not only a huge variety of careers today, but for the technology landscape of tomorrow (for instance, with our new UG track in quantum computing). These changes are reflective of the field’s increasing stature.

    Why are you discontinuing 6-1 and the “old” 6-2?

    When we restructured the department to rest on three main Faculties — EE, CS, and AI+D — in 2017, we intended to have three main degree programs, one for each general field (with a lot of overlap, because all these fields are interconnected and interdependent). Within that tripartite structure, having a 6-1 degree and a degree joint between EE and CS (the “old” 6-2) no longer made sense.

    With the launch of 6-5, we now have 3 degrees with sufficient overlap that any reasonable path through the curriculum should fall within those degree programs–programs which are now clearly labeled to pertain to the three Faculties.

    This program was initially rolled out in 2022 as the “new” 6-2, which we are now renaming and renumbering to more accurately reflect the changes to the curriculum.

    Additionally, EECS has a history of being flexible with petitions, so we can accommodate even more flexibility, making it possible for all our students to find the right blend between the fields for their career and their interests. 

    Why are just 3.5 subjects of computing required? Is that really enough for a degree with “computing” in the title?

    The new program incorporates classes in computer science (programming, algorithms), computer engineering (architecture), as well as modern computational subjects such as linear algebra and optimization. Additionally, we expect that our students will likely develop interests and pursue more advanced classes based on their interests. The new computing requirements gives students a firm foundation for the continued learning which they’ll do throughout their career.

    I’m in the middle of my undergraduate studies. Do I need to switch majors?

    We’ve put an extraordinary amount of thought and care into how we’ll transition between the people currently finishing their degrees in 6-1 and 6-2, and the new classes who will come into 6-5. Both the EECS Undergrad Office and Joel are ready to help you evaluate the best path for you to take as you finish your degree. In many cases, you might find there’s little difference between the major path you’re on, and the new degree–and we’ll be happy to talk through all your options if you want to make a change. 

    Below is a summary of options available to current EE students:

    • Current 6-1 students: Can either complete their current 6-1 program or switch to 6-5; they do not need to switch to 6-5.
    • Current 6-2 (2022 curriculum) students: Can either complete their current 6-2 program or switch to 6-5; they do not need to switch to 6-5
    • Current 6-2 (2017 curriculum) students: Can either complete their current 6-2 program, switch to 6-5, switch to 6-2 (2022 version), or switch to 6-1 (option to choose any degree program that exists now or when they first entered MIT)

    Can current MIT students declare 6-1?

    Yes. Any UG who entered MIT prior to Fall 2024 (including current first-year students) can choose 6-1, 6-2 (2022 version), or 6-5. New students entering in Fall 2024 will only be able to declare 6-5.

    Can 6-5 students enroll in EECS’s MEng Program?

    Yes, the new 6-5 program enables students to enroll in EECS’s MEng Program.

    I’m a current 6-3 or 6-4 or 6-7 or 6-9 or 6-14 or 11-6 student and am interested in switching to the new 6-5? Can I do so?

    Starting in Fall 2024, these students can change to the new 6-5 degree program following the same procedures as they would switch between any majors at MIT.

    I’m a bit confused. Is MIT getting rid of electrical engineering?

    No. The EE faculty undertook a multi-year process to develop a brand-new curriculum for teaching EE, along with a host of new and revised classes (20+). The department is now launching a new, single EE degree program: 6-5 Electrical Engineering and Computing. Moving forward, 6-5 will be MIT’s sole EE curriculum. 

    EECS is organized into 3 sub-units: Electrical engineering, Computer Science, and Artificial Intelligence and Decision-making. Our goal is for each of these units to have a single undergraduate curriculum, and thus we are retiring 6-1 and 6-2 so that we have a single EE curriculum: 6-5.

    Who designed the 6-5 curriculum?

    This curriculum was developed by the MIT EE faculty with input from alumni, industry partners, and students.

    What are we doing to build community among students interested in hardware?

    We have heard clearly that some EE students feel a lack of community. We would like to help. We can imagine a number of options, be it restarting Voltage, or having get-togethers, or a monthly meeting with EECS leadership, but we’d like students’ input on what to do. Please reach out to EE Faculty Head Joel Voldman or the EECS Undergrad Office and let us know your thoughts.

    What if I want to take a set of track classes that are not within a single track? 

    We developed tracks to help organize classes into intellectually coherent areas. But if there are two classes students want to take that are not within a single track (or even a class outside EECS), students are invited to submit a petition. We will then either approve or deny the petition. Petition requests are helpful as they may also help us realize that we need to adjust a track, or make a new track.

    What is MIT’s approach to educating circuit designers?

    Analog and digital electronics are incredibly important aspects of EE. The resurgence of custom digital silicon (ASICs) and the CHIPS Act are just two notable examples illustrating their importance. 

    The department has greatly strengthened our curriculum in those areas, including the development of 6 new classes, the revision of 4 classes, the renovation of a laboratory space, and the incorporation of new equipment. 

    At the bottom of the stack, our top-down fabrication class (6.260[6.152]) was revised in 2022 to include a thin-film transistor based design project. This class now takes place in the new MIT.nano facility, where students get to use the same tool set that supports our research programs. This tool set is professionally maintained, deep in capabilities, and enables 6.260 to offer a rich menu of hands-on experiences to the students. Complementing 6.260 is a new class (6.254), where students learn about the principles of designing diverse nanotechnologies with a substantial hands-on design and build component. The topics cover the full progression from first principles, probing and understanding of the atomic scale, and design of nanomaterials, to engineering of nanodevices and their integration into enabling systems, such as optical spectrometers, QD LED displays, quantum tunneling chemical sensors and 2D material transistors. 

    At the analog circuits level, we have introduced a new circuit design class (6.208) to go in-between 6.200[6.002] and 6.209[6.301], with a deep focus on transistor circuits. This class includes training in industry-standard design tools (Cadence), and an actual tapeout in a leading Intel process. Doing an analog tapeout in an undergraduate class is not something offered by most EE programs, and reinforces our commitment to hands-on circuit design. In addition, after a multi-year process, the 6.204[6.101] lab area is being renovated this summer.

    On the power electronics side, we have a new “header” course for the energy systems track that goes over the energy stack, from energy conversion (motors, generators) to power electronics to the grid.

    On the digital side, we have a new introductory sequence in architecture, with a new hands-on class (6.190) teaching C and Assembly using microcontrollers, which leads into a revised 6.191[6.004] that now includes an operating systems lab that has students program parts of the operating system in both C and assembly.  In addition, all students now build a pipelined RISC-V processor in addition to a single cycle processor. Beyond 6.191, we have re-introduced a revised follow-on architecture class 6.192[6.175], and 6.590 which goes even further into many concepts in modern computer architecture.  6.593 looks at cutting-edge hardware design topics with a focus on deep-learning acceleration and 6.594 looks into compression of models for AI/deep-learning applications. 6.595 explores hardware security. 6.601 has been updated and now has students using Cadence and a modern PDK. 6.205[6.111] focuses almost exclusively on digital design using FPGAs and has recently been updated, and a new follow-on class to 6.205 focusing on SoC and RFSoC operation as well as design verification with UVM is being piloted this Fall 2024, bridging the digital and RF worlds, enabling students to develop projects that interface with communication systems, quantum systems, and so on.

    Finally, photonics is increasingly being used to process signals and is being incorporated into electronic systems, and we have a new silicon photonics class [6.S046], that includes theory, industry-standard numerical simulation tools, and hands-on projects.

    The 6-5 curriculum requires 6.200 – but no circuits class beyond that. This does not differ from the existing 6-1 program. 6.200 is a circuits class that over the years has covered a variety of topics in circuit theory. There are two primary goals of 6.200: 1) teach the fundamentals of linear circuit theory and show how electrical circuits are useful for processing electrical signals and electrical energy, including applications in power converters, amplifiers, filters, and so on. And 2) expose students to circuits as one of the most successful languages for representing systems governed by ODEs (and even PDEs). There’s a reason that lumped elements are used across engineering to model mechanical, thermal, acoustic, and fluidic systems, among others. It’s incredibly powerful to see that a spring-mass-damper is analogous to an RLC circuit at a very fundamental level. 

    Alongside the lectures and recitation are a set of design labs (which have been revised as recently as this academic year), where students see how the circuit theory they are learning can be applied to design useful artifacts, whether it is using resistor circuits to create a video game controller, using RC circuits to create touch sensors, and so on. These labs are enabled by a recent donation of 40+ Keysight scopes.

    We do not teach transistor electronics in 6.200 (in fact, we haven’t meaningfully taught them since around 2005) because we’ve found over time that there is not enough time in 6.200 to teach them in a way that students retain. This is the reason we developed 6.208, where students who are interested in pursuing electronics can design transistor circuits. But other electrical engineers, who might be interested in quantum computing, or biomedical systems, or communications systems & information theory, or signal processing, can pursue other directions within EE.

    Why Require Linear Algebra and Algorithms?

    Designing complex systems using a hierarchy of abstractions (e.g., billion transistor ICs, nation-wide power distribution networks, world-wide communication systems) is more central for electrical engineers than for other physical engineering disciplines. At the lowest level, we design composable components whose behavior is easily abstracted (e.g., operational amplifiers or digital logic gates), and at the highest level, we rely on a hierarchy of abstractions to make system optimization tractable. The importance of composable components and an abstraction hierarchy (a shared perspective that tightly binds EE and CS) has driven EE curriculum design for more than half a century. Since the 1970’s, with variations in detail and pedagogy, there have always been four required EE classes that cover lumped-element, transfer function, digital logic, and procedural abstractions in circuits, dynamical systems, computational structures and software.

    So, what has changed? Increasingly complex systems have led to ever deeper abstraction hierarchies, and students need better tools for traversing that hierarchy. Matrix representation, and the associated analysis techniques, can often convert incomprehensible multidimensional problems into families of easily-understood scalar ones.  Adapting graph algorithms and dynamic programming techniques can often improve efficiency, but more importantly, can often be used to rule out strategies. We want you to have the right tools for the challenges that you’ll face over your career. That’s why we now consider linear algebra and algorithm to be crucial to modern electrical engineering education.

    Why are we requiring EE’s to learn algorithms?

    Algorithms’ importance is increasing in prevalence across EE, including in hardware. If students are doing digital design/architecture, understanding the algorithms they’re implementing in their HW can lead to better HW performance (accelerators, etc.). If they are working on ultra-low-power embedded and want their MCU to sleep as much as possible, coding and algorithms more broadly will help students achieve that. If they are working on control strategies for an electrical grid that has increasing amounts of renewable sources, they want algorithms that will provably converge and do so quickly enough to be used. If they are trying to implement a complex security protocol in a nW processor, they need close interaction between the HW and the algorithm it runs.

    Why are we requiring 18.06 instead of 18.03?

    Especially as it relates to math, we had to decide what math should be in stand-alone classes, and what to teach in context. Although 18.03 is thought of colloquially as the “diff eq” class, it actually covers a wide range of topics: ODEs, complex numbers, linear algebra, a bit of PDEs, Fourier analysis, numerical methods, among others. The core ODE content required for classes such as 6.200 is a relatively small portion of the class. 

    Further, our experience in teaching 6.200 over the years is that students often don’t internalize the DE content until they see it in our class, i.e., we end up re-teaching much of it.  Our experience with linear algebra in 6.310 is exactly the reverse.  Students who have taken 18.03, but not 18.06, usually do not have enough familiarity with matrix abstractions, so they understandably struggle with state-space topics.  Those who have taken 18.06 or 18.C06, on the other hand, find the state-space material easier than much of the rest of the class.

    Given our experience, we decided to switch, and teach ODEs in context in 6.200 and 6.310 but have students take a linear algebra math class. Also, with the introduction of 18.C06 (linear algebra and optimization focus), students have an opportunity to learn two incredibly useful sets of concepts in one class.