Is Chemical Engineering right for me?
This is definitely a daunting question to ask before pursuing a degree that will potentially determine how you spend the next few years of your life and professional career.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about how to effectively answer this question. I considered sharing my experience in navigating this difficult question but realized that my answer would be somewhat limited.
Ultimately, the best way to answer this question is to get some perspective from others who have built and are building their careers based on their answer.
I did some reaching out asking a few engineers at varying levels of experience to share their responses and I’m excited to share them with you!
We’ll also take a deeper dive into some quotes from their responses to try and paint a picture that you can pick out your own answers from.
A few things to delve into here. Whilst each answer is unique to the answerer, they share a notable similarity.
As Sergio mentioned, one’s choice of which engineering discipline to pursue is subjective. Choosing chemical engineering as your discipline of choice and ultimately answering the question of whether it is right for you elicits you to answer the following questions:
You have probably gotten a sense of what chemical engineering entails through some of the responses provided. Here’s a quick video by a friend of mine that I hope will give a more explicit answer to the question.
In a nutshell, Chemical Engineering is the study of design or operation of chemical plants designed to transform raw materials into a finished product through synergistically functioning processing units.
As Shawn mentions in his video, “a Chemical Engineer is someone who oversees large industrial scale processes. Chemical Engineers are constantly thinking of how we can improve the processes we manage”
We have mostly been speaking in vague terms about what chemical engineers do and what industries they operate within.
In the Engineers Response #1, Sergio offers a bit more clarity in this line from his response:
“We find them working on the development of processes and technologies such as fuel cells, conversion of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to green chemicals, mining of electronic waste, vertical farming, new vaccines, medical devices, or conversion of wood to fabrics for clothing, just to name a few.”
One of the most attractive features of a Chemical Engineering degree is its versatility. Its range of applicability spans virtually every sphere of life we interact with.
I can say with certainty that almost every product you interact with on a daily basis (toilet paper, laundry detergent, plastic bottles) has a chemical engineer at the helm of its development.
To demonstrate this point, here’s a few examples of job titles held by individuals with a Chemical Engineering degree:
In trying to answer this question, I will also try to provide an answer to the second question I posed a few paragraphs earlier.
“How do my interests and passions align with my answer to the first question?”
To prepare for a degree in Chemical Engineering, one needs to possess a strong grasp of what I would refer to as the scientific “holy trinity”
I thought I would challenge this notion by surveying a group of chemical engineers to find out their favorite classes at a high school level that best prepared them for their degree.
Following 1,353 responses, here are the results:
Approximately 50% of the respondents on the forum voted Chemistry which is expected but may be misleading. 26% voted for Math (Calculus) and 13% for Physics as their favorite classes.
Hessam mentioned in his response that he pursued Chemical Engineering as he found that it combined his interests in Chemistry, Math and Physics at a university level.
Whilst a firm understanding of all 3 classes guarantees certain success in your academic and professional career as a Chemical Engineer, I refer to the second question posed by our friend Sergio (especially with regards to Chemistry).
“Am I interested in the practical application of science and math?”
Chemical Engineering is an applied science that deals with the study of manipulating a substance’s chemical properties utilizing the laws of physics and a knowledge of its chemical makeup.
What personality traits are needed to be a chemical engineer?
Now that you have realized that Chemical Engineering may be the perfect degree for you based on your interests and passions, it would also be nice to know that you have the personality for it.
Based on personal experience and frequent interactions with Chemical Engineers from all backgrounds and industries, here’s some prompts to get you thinking.
It is important to mention that a lot of personality traits/soft skills particular to Chemical Engineers can be built. What is more important is your underlying interest and desire to learn the trade.
Chemical Engineers are characterized as creative thinkers. You will likely be working in industries with cutting edge products and technologies, so it is important that you are able to think outside the box. The problem solving nature of chemical engineers often requires digging for information from a variety of sources ranging from research papers to equipment vendor specifications to live plant data. Naturally and quite frequently, you will need to make assumptions about a problem to simplify the process of developing an adequate solution.
Chemical Engineers usually serve as the quarterback of the teams they work within as they are the most familiar with the inner workings of a process. Therefore, there is a large emphasis placed on being able to communicate with individuals from different disciplines and academic backgrounds.
As mentioned previously, a majority of these skills are built during the course of your studies through courses and projects. I can personally testify to this especially when working in a team. Having these skills or traits should not define your choice to pursue Chemical Engineering but should be considered more “nice to haves”.
To know if Chemical Engineering is right for you, it is important to understand what you are getting into. Chemical Engineers are the drivers of innovation utilizing physical principles to transform raw materials into useful products.
Ultimately this demands a strong grasp of classes such as Physics, Math and Chemistry with an emphasis on the application of the concepts taught in these classes.
I think the best way to conclude would be with a quote from Sergio’s response:
Remember, you have the information, but more importantly, you have the Engineer’s Perspective!
Interact with us in the comments and let us know why you decided/are deciding to study Chemical Engineering!