A Graduate's View: What Is A Chemical Engineer?

I submitted this article to Cheresources so I thought to publish it here as well. It's mainly directed to students who aren't sure what chemical engineering is all about; a situation I was in 4 yrs ago :)

I remember the time when I’d just finished my pre-university course and wondered: what career do I want to do?  I was a brilliant student, business and accounting was NOT for me, and I knew I wanted to go into something science-related but I didn’t want to be involved in research.  Be a doctor? Nah I’d probably accidentally kill someone.   Be a teacher?  I lack the patience and the passion for that.

I came across the term “chemical engineering” and decided to do some reading on that.  I had trouble understanding what it pertains to and I wished that someone provided an explanation about it back then!  I took a risk accepting an offer to study chemical engineering and four years later, I’m grateful that I took that chance!  So here’s my countdown on the top 5 things that make up a chemical engineer!

1) You don’t have to be a chem whiz
-          Chemical engineering requires basic understanding of chemistry, physics, math:   you’re not required to memorize formula, it’s more important to understand the principles and learn how to apply them to solve a problem/improve status quo.  However after a few semesters, your brain WILL remember many formulae!
-          You do need, however, to be analytical and think critically:  you must be able to look at the problem from a bigger viewpoint but you must also be detailed in your analysis!  Problem-solving is a key component in engineering because it is, after all, about making things better for the human race and the environment.
 2) Speak up!
-          A chemical engineer will have to communicate with various individuals: their superior, their colleagues, their project team mates, their counterparts from other disciplines, vendors and even the client!  It’s imperative to communicate effectively not only to ensure accuracy in information distribution but to also create a comfortable and smooth working environment.  Train yourself to have good interactive and communication skills because these are important assets to a chemical engineer.
-          A useful advice I heard at a seminar recently was that junior engineers should not be afraid to speak up.  We tend to think that because we’ve less experience than senior engineers, our ideas don’t matter much.  They DO.  A chemical engineer must be confident with his/her justifications and be able to present it winningly to the rest because if the idea is a good one, it’s worth a shot.  Don’t be afraid to criticize/be criticized: every discussion/debate will change your perspective and you’ll gain more knowledge.
3It’s a big, big world
-          One of the reasons why I was drawn to chemical engineering was the fact that everything around us has, in one way or the other, come in contact with chemical engineering.  Raw crude oil is taken from the deep underground reservoirs and processed by chemical engineers to produce commercial products like petrol for our cars and asphalt for our roads.  Chemical engineers ensure that propylene undergoes catalytic reaction to produce acrylic acid, a raw material for various products, such as resins and even baby diapers!
-          The fact that so many things around us come from chemical engineering is proof that there are various fields within this discipline.  A chemical engineer can feel right at home in biotechnology, oil and gas industry, wastewater treatment, plastic manufacturing and petrochemical processing!  Don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s all about science:  it’s good to know the economics of your work. An optimized solution is always the best one. Opportunities are boundless so it is good to explore different fields to find your calling.
4.   4) An ethical profession
-          A chemical engineer will be directly/indirectly responsible for the lives of the technicians, operators and other staff working at a chemical plant/laboratory.  A mistake in equipment design, or a careless judgment can cause serious injury and sometimes (unfortunately) death.  It takes one death to turn a finely crafted project into a disaster.  Safety always comes first and it’s the priority of every chemical engineer to provide a safe process/product for everyone else!
-          A chemical engineer also has a duty to protect the environment:  that’s why so many of them are working hard to reduce the impact of the industries on Mother Nature.  Pollution is a severe problem and everyone knows it has negative impacts on the ecosystem and human health.  Recycling and converting a waste product into a useful one are principles commonly incorporated by chemical engineers to fulfill this duty.
 5) There’s always something fresh
-          An important facet to chemical engineering is innovation:  there’s always a new product or a new method in the works.  Technology is always evolving and a good chemical engineer always keeps track of what’s hot and what’s not!  It’s important to have a strong desire to learn new things; knowledge is every chemical engineer’s weapon and updating it will sharpen the blade to find a today’s solution for yesterday’s problems.  It’s comforting to know that the old guys are still actively contributing ideas to the profession!

So are you thinking about being a chemical engineer?  It’s definitely a fun, challenging and exciting career.  It takes brains, guts and heart to be a good one.  It’s a job that ultimately aims to make this world a better place!  This is the lowdown from a girl who took a risk and spent four years of her life studying an enjoyable course.  I hope students out there find this article an easy and useful one! 


Radin87 said...

Hmm.. it is interesting indeed. But, for now.. I will stick with electrical eng for sometimes. =D

Rowan said...

Hehehehe maybe you should write something about electrical engineering! :p

Radin87 said...

Hehe.. yup, that's a great idea. Here is the link. (^_^)


Rowan said...

Hey I read your article, good job! :D