Elisabeth Drake

Elisabeth Drake

Emeritus Staff
Elisabeth Drake
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Elisabeth Drake is currently Emeritus Staff at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Laboratory for Energy and the Environment. Dr. Drake's work focused on development of sustainable approaches to world energy usage. Although she is officially retired, she still team teaches a graduate course at MIT on Sustainable Energy and participates in a variety of professional activities relating to engineering and environmental issues..

Answers by Dr. Elisabeth Drake

Dear Michaela,  Many years ago (when girls weren't thought able to be chemical engineers, I enjoyed science classes.  I liked chemistry, but didn't want to work in a lab for the rest of my life. Some classmates were applying to MIT - and I thought about going there to study chemical engineering.  Like you, I was afraid I might fail if I went there - and that I would have no time for any social life.  Also,that I would lose a year or two if I flunked out.

However, I got the idea that if I didn't try it, it might be a regret for the rest of my life.  So I applied and was admitted (to my surprise).  It was hard, but very exciting. I wasn't the best student but I learned a lot and met really smart and interesting classmates. In the Summer, I got a job in a consulting company where I got exposed to many facets of the industry. There were lots of interesting opportunities.  Today, I am so happy that I made the decision to try it - rather than to quit before I started!  Even if I had flunked out, I would have lost about a year at the most - and would have learned many useful things in the process.  

The first year of engineering school usually focuses on basic sciences and maths. You usually can switch fields without losing much time as a sophomore.
If you are interested in chemical engineering now - please give it a try!

Best wishes,  Lis Drake    16Sep16


Dear Lorena, 

Not sure where you are going to school, but if it is distant from Miami then smaller companies in Miami might not participate in your job fairs.  There is an AIChE local section in Central Florida.  (see:  http://www.aiche-cf.org/ )  If you contact them, I believe that they could give you a good idea of chemical engineering jobs in Miami.  You might also look for some Summer jobs there in chemical engineering before you graduate – if that is possible. 

There are many types of chemical engineering jobs – some in manufacturing, some with an environmental focus, some in specialty fields like biomedical engineering or energy.  I would suggest that you interview with a variety of companies (including those not in Miami) to learn more about the wide scope of our profession.  And I hope you are talking with your professors (and Chem E grad students) about planning your future career. 

I learned that chemical engineers enjoy talking to students – so don’t be shy.  It is a great profession, Lorena.  And any job you take will be a learning experience, so if you have a good attitude, you will find a good initial job even if you make a later change.  I started out working for a consulting company and that led me to opportunities that I didn’t consider when I was graduating from college. 

Many good wishes,  

Lis Drake

Dear Jeremy, There are plenty of chemical engineering jobs where your SB in neuroscience would be a plus.  It sounds like you have a master's in chemical engineering, so you are different from someone with only a neuroscience background.  Chemical engineering is a very diverse field and a solid grounding in a basic science area is always important.  Most chemical engineering companies usually have their own training programs for new engineers.  So if you find a job that interests you, you will quickly learn anything additional you need.  There are a lot of chemical engineering jobs related to the pharmaceutical industry where you might find connections to your earlier interests in neuroscience.  

Many good wishes!  Lis Drake

Dear Diane, 

This is really a question for the Ford Company!  Many engineers in US companies travel widely abroad in all sort of capacities. I am a chemical engineer and traveled throughout my career working as a consultant to governments and industries. Ford might send engineers abroad to help countries improve road networks as part of their broader marketing strategies, but that is speculation on my part.  If you are interested in international travel, that should be part of your interviewing strategy as you enter the profession.  Engineering is full of possibilities - many good wishes for a great future!  


Dear Raina,  

It sounds like you are taking more than the usual math and science courses needed to get into a good engineering college.  But this is the time to see which colleges might best meet your interests and to learn about the different engineering disciplines they offer.  See if you can find some working engineers who will take some time to tell you what they do and how they prepared for their work. A relevant summer job might also help.  Your love of chemistry might suggest chemical engineering – but that also is a very broad field.  Many colleges offer programs in bioengineering, materials science, environmental engineering, engineering management, etc.  When you visit schools that seem interesting, be ready to ask about the career paths of their graduates.  Will you also need a graduate degree to get the type of job you wish (in engineering research or some specialty)?  Can you change majors during the first two years without losing a lot of time?  Do they have sports and other programs that meet your non-academic interests?  You sound so motivated, that I am sure you will have a bright future in some part of the engineering profession.

Best wishes,  Lis 

Hi Leila!  If you are interested in chemistry and physics and their engineering applications, you will learn the math necessary for pursuing chemical engineering.  Right now, it is important to get a solid academic background so you can get into a good college.  You will have lots of time to decide whether chemical engineering is your passion - or whether something else might fit your interests better in a few years. Make sure you also take biology since a lot of chemical engineering now involves biochemical applications.

Is there any chance you might be able to get a Summer job somehow related to chemical engineering?  Also, do you know any chemical engineers?   Asked them about their jobs and what they do. If you like what you hear, some hard work is ahead - but also many opportunities for a great career!   Best wishes,  Lis                                                  

Hi Marwa! 

Thanks for a good question, but you didn’t say enough about what you really would like to do in the future.  If you are interested in pharmacy, then a Master of Science would be more useful.  (I don’t know whether this alone would qualify you as a pharmacist, but it certainly would give you a good background for taking any professional license exams.)  If you think you would like to keep your options open for a broader range of careers, then engineering management might be the better alternative.  I suggest you talk with some of your professors about this also, since they already know your strengths.  And know that you will always keep learning as you move forward in any career, and will get to know your own interests better as well. 

Many good wishes!  

Lis Drake

Dear Swarnalaxmi, I had the same questions you raise when I was trying to decide about what major to take in college. I liked chemistry but didnt want to go into a pure research field (where a doctorate is usually required for professional stature). My choice was finally based on what field would both match my interests and give me the most options for the future. I picked chemical engineering and have always been glad that I did. Today, there are increasing numbers of women in all the branches of chemical engineering and the range of activities open to chemical engineers is wide. Chemical engineering was a great background for all sorts of things as my interests and opportunities changed over my career. I worked for six years after getting my B.S. and then went back to school and got a doctorate in chemical engineering so I could move ahead in the consulting industry. Chemical engineers work in bioengineering, energy, environmental engineering, as well as in education and the traditional chemical industry. With globalization, there are great chemical engineering jobs worldwide. If you like solving real world problems, I cant think of a better preparation than chemical engineering the chemistry piece gives it a unique edge over other engineering fields. It takes work, but Ive always found interesting new challenges and have had a lot of fun along the way. With many good wishes! Lis

Dear Kayla, With your interests in math, chemistry, and biology, you seem to be well suited to become a chemical engineer. Chemical Engineering is a very broad profession (e.g., bioengineering, environmental engineering, computer-aided design, new energy technologies, etc.) and has lots of interesting directions to pursue as you move forward through college. During the first couple of years in college, it is pretty easy to change majors as you find some courses that you like more than others and talk with students who are junior and seniors. I remember being insecure about studying chemical engineering in college, but once I got there I found that I could do the work if I wasnt afraid to ask questions when I didnt understand something. (I thought at first that people would think I was stupid then I learned that they just thought I was interested and curious.) And if you can get summer jobs or internships that are in areas you like, they will let you know a lot about the post-college professional options. So best wishes, and know that most of us dont have detailed knowledge of where we are going just a knowledge of the direction of interest, the willingness to do some work, and the common sense to make good choices when new options appear. I have never regretted my choice of chemical engineering as a profession! Lis

Dear Emy, Twenty years ago, most chemical engineers did not study biology! Have you taken a course in biochemistry yet? If you love that as much as chemistry, then you know that you will enjoy a career in food engineering. As biological engineering became an important field twenty years ago, some chemical engineering programs incorporated biological engineering into their curriculum. Some universities started separate programs in biological engineering where chemical engineering techniques were applied to biological processing and production operations. If the university you are attending has both programs, you probably will find the biological engineering program best suited to food engineering. Perhaps you can talk to some of the students who are already in these programs to get a better idea of the content. I am sure you will find lots of excitement and rewards in pursuing any engineering career there are so many challenges and opportunities available if you have a good fundamental education! Many good wishes, Lis