Becoming a Chemical Engineer

I am a senior in high school and interested in a career in chemical engineering. What should I know about it? How many different supervisors or leaders would a typical chemical engineer have? Also, how does your job affect quality time with your family? Thank you for your help. –A.
posted by A. on April 2, 2012

Answer 1 by Belinda Butler-Veytia

When I started college I really liked chemistry and the idea of engineering, so I double-majored in chemistry and chemical engineering during the first couple years in school. Here's what I learned - remember these are likely gross generalizations and just my general thoughts on the topic: 1) Chemistry is more often the figuring out of the how and why in the laboratory, or life on a micro scale or atomic/molecular scale. For instance how the reaction between two materials works, or how to reproducibly make a compound out of multiple other compounds under certain conditions. Not all chemists work in a lab for their job, but that's where I experienced my 'inner chemist'. 2) Chemical engineering if more often taking the laboratory work to a larger scale production. For instance, A+B=C in the lab in small scale production and costs $10k per unit; to make a profitable business we need A+B=C in a plant producing 100s of units per day, and bringing down the cost to $1 per unit. Not all chemical engineers work in production facilities, but I have found you can apply the chemical engineering discipline to all sorts of process type work. 4) Chemists can be involved in a myriad of research or laboratory type topics - pharmaceuticals to oil and gas to ???. There are so many to choose from and so many topics to research in the world. 5) Chemical engineers can be involved in any process, producing any type of materials or products, anything that goes from A to B, or A+B to C. Glass, plastic, oil, shampoo, computer chips, potato chips, tissue paper, newspaper, cement, makeup, tea...anything. 6) You might be unique in the chemical engineering field if you actually like chemistry lab, etc; lots of my college friends in chemical engineering didn't really like actual chemistry all that much. 7) If you're extroverted, like me, you may not like some aspects of the solitary nature that working in a research lab has to offer - I found after a summer of working with 1 to 2 other people in a lab, I was ready to go crazy and probably drove my lab mates crazy. I need people and this was a huge draw for me to chemical engineering. On your other questions, it totally depends upon where you are in your career, what type of job you have, and how much drive you have for your career and its growth. I have worked under several supervisors and also been the primary project supervisor myself. I don't have any kids yet, and my husband also works a lot, so I do work quite a bit more than some of my other friends. I also am interested in lots of things in my industry, so I am constantly having to work on saying 'no' more often to keep my work hours at a reasonable level (in other words, I'm a bit of a workaholic). But much of how much you work at your career depends upon your own personal priorities in life, not necessarily what degree you hold. -Belinda

Answer 2 by Jenny Zhang

I think my major (Environmental Engineering) has a close relationship with Chemical Engineering, and we do have several graduate students in our department who have undergraduate degrees in ChemE, so I will try to answer these questions:-) Chemical engineers could work in variety of areas depending on their interests, such as manufacturing, medicine, and environmental consulting. For those who work in the environmental field, which requires knowledge of chemicals and processing, the applications include designing of water treatment facilities, modeling of contaminants transport, or the control of air pollution. Generally, the work of an engineer is more project-based, and sometimes it requires you to deal with many objectives. The emphasis is on the application of knowledge to real practice, and the number of supervisors will vary with the project. I have some chemical engineer friends who went to Ecuador last summer for a volunteering project. Here is a link to their blogs: You may get more insight about their lifestyle after looking through the diaries. Hope these help^_^ Best wishes. –Jenny

Answer 3 by Sandhya Prabhakaran

Engineering has many areas one can excel in, be it computers or electronics or chemistry. Chemical engineers are in great demand in a variety of fields--metallurgy, pharmacy, the energy sector, solid-state research, environmental agencies (NGO or governmental), and plant supervision--to name a few. Higher studies are also available in many areas. I have a friend (Chemical Engineer) who is at Cornell University doing her PhD in nanoelectronics. She enjoys her work and maintains a good balance of studies and social life. She is married too. Visit http://www.che.com/ and get a look at the sample enewsletter provided there. You could subscribe to it if you get interested. Ultimately it is about what interests you, and you would just need to follow what your heart says. ;)