How To Become A Chemical Engineer
Career Video: Chemical Engineer
Are you interested in using your knowledge about chemistry, mathematics, and engineering principles to improve product manufacturing? Are you concerned about the effects of manufacturing and consumer products on the environment and health of humans? Would you like to use your talents for troubleshooting and critical thinking to enhance safety, efficiency, and quality of chemically-produced materials? If you have the aptitude, inquisitiveness, and commitment to quality, you could thrive in a career as a chemical engineer.
Why Become A Chemical Engineer
The objective of chemical engineers is to utilize their knowledge of chemistry and engineering to create and improve methods for product manufacturing. Working in electronics, textiles, biotechnology, and other various industries, chemical engineers use the principles of science, mathematics, and engineering to decrease waste, improve the reuse of manufacturing byproducts, develop quality control procedures, and enhance researching methods.
Not only are chemical engineers interested in improving various products, but they are also responsible for eliminating harmful chemicals from the environment. The public and regulatory agencies seek safe and environmentally friendly consumer goods. Such items may include cosmetics, food, beverages, pharmaceuticals, healthcare equipment, fuel, clothing, and baby items. Chemical engineers may be responsible for conducting or applying research to improve products and the environment. For example, a chemical engineer that works in the beverage industry may work on finding ways to eliminate harmful chemicals from drinking water.
Chemical engineers are responsible for a host of products which consumers use on a daily basis. It is important that the work they do is reliable, consistent, and credible. They must exhibit certain qualities to meet the responsibilities of this occupation:
- Problem solving
- Aptitude for science, mathematics, and engineering
- Active learning
- Systems analysis and evaluation
- Sound judgment
- Communication skills
- Monitoring and managing materials and time
- Quality-control concern and analysis
Chemical Engineer Work Environment
This occupation requires work in offices, laboratories, factories, refineries, plants, and other industrial complexes. They work by directly monitoring research and manufacturing operations, as well as solving issues involved with these processes. This type of work may require exposure to hazardous materials and dangerous equipment. They must conduct all work with extreme care and caution.
Chemical engineers work for a variety of industries, including engineering services; basic chemical manufacturing; research and development; petroleum and coal production; and manufacturing of materials, such as resins, synthetic rubber, and artificial fibers. Chemical engineers can work with specific materials or processes, but they can also work in specialized fields (i.e. nanotechnology or biological engineering).
Chemical Engineer Salary
The median annual salary for a chemical engineer was $96,940, in 2014. Chemical engineers who work for the petroleum and coal manufacturing industries earn the highest salaries, with median earnings around $112,670, per year. Other top industries include basic chemical manufacturing, synthetic fiber manufacturing, research and development, and other engineering services. The lowest 10 percent of all earnings were $59,480, while the top 10 percent of earners made approximately $156,980, per year.
Most chemical engineers work full time, during regular business hours. Production and research deadlines can affect their hours, causing them to work overtime or during weekends and evenings.
Chemical Engineer Career Outlook
This occupation is expected to grow 2 percent over the next decade, which is slower than average for all occupations. Manufacturing employment growth is steadily declining, as well as the production of many existing materials. However, as the need to replace these materials with more environmental- and human-friendly substitutes increases so will employment for chemical engineers. Domestic production of natural gas and alternative fuels will also increase the need for more chemical engineers. Even though employment in this field is competitive, many new positions will be open in related fields, such as nanotechnology, alternative energies, and biotechnology.
Chemical Engineer Degree
Many positions exist for applied practice for chemical engineers with a bachelor’s degree. However, research- and development-oriented positions and post-secondary teaching jobs require a graduate degree. Engineers who work on products that directly impact the public must also have a license to practice.
Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree. Individuals who wish to work in an applied setting must have a Bachelor in Science in Chemical Engineering. This program offers courses to prepare students for work in a laboratory, which includes training in both engineering and non-engineering studies. Students will learn about organic and physical chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics. Training in engineering includes the analysis, control, and design of various processes.
Note: ABET, Inc. (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accredits over 100 chemical engineering programs in the United States. It is important that practicing chemical engineers receive training through an accredited institution because of the rigorous safety and quality requirements of this occupation.
Step 2: Obtain a license. Chemical engineers who provide direct services to the public can obtain a license to work as an engineer. To earn this license, they must pass two exams, which are administered through the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). These two exams consist of the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE). Students may take the FE examination prior to graduation but must have at least four years’ work experience before taking the PE, which is the last step in the licensure process.
Step 3: Obtain a graduate degree (optional). Chemical engineers who wish to work in an academic setting, either through research and development, or though teaching, will need to earn a graduate degree in chemical engineering. Many advanced positions in management (outside an academic setting) require a master’s degree; however, all advanced research and teaching positions require a doctoral degree. Students can enter a doctoral program with only a bachelor’s degree, depending on relevancy of the previous degree, or with a master’s degree. Career switchers do not have to have an undergraduate in chemical engineering to advance toward a graduate degree; however, completion may take more time to ensure background knowledge is sufficient.