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How to Become a Chemical Engineer

By Ajoke Aminu

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Chemical engineering is one of the traditional sectors that remains extremely varied and rewarding even with the tech industry booming. This field is perfect if you’re looking for endless possibilities and the potential to progress and make an impact. Let us help you unlock your full potential with our Guide to A Career in Chemical Engineering– learn about the different roles, skillsets, salary ranges and more in one of the world’s most innovative fields.

Career Summary

Chemical Engineer Salary Review

Chemical Engineer Salary

The average salary range per year for chemical engineers are:

  • Entry Salary (US$101k)
  • Median Salary (US$106k)
  • Executive Salary (US$135k)

Compared to the general average income of the US citizen which is around US$60,575, the salary of a Chemical Engineer is approximately twice as much.

What do Chemical Engineers do?

A chemical engineer is a problem-solving expert who applies scientific principles and engineering skills to create practical solutions involving chemicals and materials. Whether it’s developing new medicines, designing sustainable energy systems, or improving manufacturing processes, chemical engineers make a tangible impact on our lives. They ensure that the products we use are safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly. From the fuel in our cars to the packaging of our food and drugs, chemical engineers are behind the scenes, making it all possible.

Chemical Engineer Career Progression

  • Entry-Level Engineer/Graduate Engineer: This is the starting point for most chemical engineers after completing their undergraduate or graduate studies. They typically work under the guidance of experienced engineers, assisting with tasks such as data analysis, process optimization, and technical documentation.
  • Process Engineer: As an engineer gains experience, they may progress to a process engineer role. Process engineers are responsible for designing, optimizing, and troubleshooting chemical processes. They analyze process data, identify areas for improvement, and implement changes to enhance efficiency and productivity.
  • Project Engineer: With additional experience, chemical engineers can transition to project engineering roles. Project engineers lead and manage engineering projects, coordinating resources, timelines, and budgets. They collaborate with cross-functional teams, oversee design and construction activities, and ensure projects are completed successfully.
  • Technical Specialist/Subject Matter Expert: Chemical engineers who develop extensive expertise in a specific area may become technical specialists or subject matter experts. They provide advanced technical support, mentor junior engineers, and contribute to research and development efforts. They may also be involved in evaluating and implementing new technologies or processes.
  • Engineering Manager/Team Leader: As chemical engineers progress in their careers, they may move into managerial or leadership positions. Engineering managers oversee teams of engineers, set strategic goals, manage budgets, and ensure the successful execution of projects. They are responsible for fostering a collaborative work environment, developing talent, and making high-level decisions.
  • Operations Manager/Plant Manager: Some chemical engineers transition to roles focused on managing the overall operations of a chemical manufacturing facility or plant. Operations managers or plant managers are responsible for ensuring safe and efficient plant operations, meeting production targets, managing resources, and implementing quality control measures.
  • Executive/Corporate Leadership: Chemical engineers who excel in leadership and have demonstrated a strong track record of success may progress to executive or corporate leadership positions. These roles involve setting organizational strategies, making critical business decisions, and representing the company at a high level. They often have broader responsibilities beyond engineering, such as financial management, business development, and stakeholder relations.
Chemical Engineer Career Progression

Pros:

  • A diverse array of job opportunities across various industries (energy, food, pharmaceuticals, and others).
  • The fulfillment of overcoming intellectual challenges.
  • The stability of the job and a competitive salary.
  • Opportunity to grow professionally and stay at the forefront of scientific advancements.
  • A chance to think critically and creatively and devise optimal solutions to real-world problems.

Cons:

  • Balancing creative aspirations with stringent safety protocols.
  • Constant exposure to toxic substances and hazardous materials.
  • Limited collaboration due to specialized knowledge.

Some Important Skills to Have as a Chemical Engineer

  • Technical Proficiency
  • Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving
  • Data Analysis and Statistical Skills
  • Process Design and Optimization
  • Adaptability, Ethical and Professional Conduct

Well-known Chemical Engineering Specialties

Whether you are captivated by biology, environmental protection, or energy optimization, there’s a specialty that aligns with your passion. Here are some popular specialties:

  • Process Engineer: specializes in developing and optimizing manufacturing processes.
  • Biochemical Engineer: focuses on applying engineering principles to biological systems and processes.
  • Material Engineer: works with the design and development of materials for various applications.
  • Material Engineer: involved in the extraction, refining, and processing of petroleum and its byproducts.
  • Pharmaceutical Engineer: responsible for the design, development, and production of pharmaceutical products.

How to become a Chemical Engineer

Chemical Engineer 5 Steps to Career

As a chemical engineer, you have the unique opportunity to contribute to groundbreaking innovations, develop sustainable processes, and improve the quality of life for people everywhere. The question is, how do you navigate this exciting path and become a proficient and influential professional in this field? In this section, we will guide you through every factor.

Prioritizing Education: Why, When, and How?

Education in chemical engineering goes beyond textbooks and lecture halls. It offers a myriad of opportunities for hands-on learning and practical experience. This alone tells how significant comprehensive knowledge in this field will be. Here, we will answer all your questions, from why and when you should school, and even how long it should take.

Earning a Chemical Engineering Degree– Must I?

Yes, you must. A bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering or a related field is the standard educational requirement for entry-level positions. A chemical engineering degree provides you with the foundational knowledge and skills necessary to understand the principles of chemical engineering. What’s more, pursuing advanced degrees in chemical engineering, such as a master’s or Ph.D., can provide additional opportunities for specialization, research, job security, and the likes.

Can I Earn a Chemical Engineering Degree Online?

Absolutely, you can earn a degree in chemical engineering online. Becoming a chemical engineer through online education is possible with the right approach.

First, start by researching accredited online programs offered by reputable institutions. Then ensure that the program you choose covers essential subjects like chemistry, mathematics, physics, thermodynamics, and fluid mechanics. While online programs may lack hands-on laboratory experience, look for programs that offer virtual lab simulations or remote lab options.

Afterward, you can gain practical experience through internships or co-op opportunities and network with professionals in this field. Remember to stay updated with industry trends and consider pursuing professional certifications to enhance your credentials. Finally, leverage online resources for job search and career development. If you earnestly follow all these steps, you too can also be an online accredited chemical engineer.

Online Resources to Acquire Vital Skills for a Chemical Engineering Career

The field of chemical engineering is expanding rapidly, and with technology advancing, it is easier than ever to acquire the skills necessary for a successful career in this industry. Thanks to the abundance of online resources, you can obtain the knowledge you need from:

  • ACS Journal of Chemical Ed: The ACS publications division is dedicated to offering a range of top-notch information, products, and services in various formats. These resources aim to advance the practice of chemical and related sciences globally, while also generating annual net contributions to support the broader mission of the ACS in promoting the chemistry field and benefiting the earth and its inhabitants.
  • LearnChemE: LearnChemE is a website dedicated to chemical engineering education. It offers tutorials, interactive simulations, videos, and practice problems on various topics within chemical engineering. The resources provided cover core subjects and can supplement your learning.
  • ChemEd X: ChemEd X is a website focused on chemical education, offering a range of resources for chemical engineering and other related disciplines. It provides teaching materials, experiments, and activities that can enhance your understanding of chemical engineering concepts.
  • ChemistNATE: ChemistNATE is a Youtube channel dedicated to high school and university level students on any questions and scientific problems in chemistry.
  • Consider joining online communities and forums related to chemical engineering to engage with fellow learners and professionals in the field.

The Timeline for Earning Different Chemical Engineering Degrees

Becoming a chemical engineer requires enduring dedication and commitment to your education.  If you’re interested in pursuing a career in this exciting field, it’s important to understand the timeline for earning different levels of chemical engineering degrees:

  • Bachelor’s Degree: It typically takes four years of full-time study to complete the undergraduate study.
  • Master’s Degree: Expect to spend an additional two years beyond the bachelor’s degree, making a total of six years. However, some programs offer accelerated or combined bachelor’s and master’s degree options, which can shorten the overall time.
  • Doctor’s Degree (Ph.D.): It usually requires three to five years of study in addition to the master’s degree, totaling nine to eleven years of post-high school.

Cost of Obtaining a Chemical Engineering Degree in a University

Earning a degree in chemical engineering will definitely be worth some good bucks. Depending on where you are, your institutional choice, and other determinants, the expenses can vary.

In the United States, there are 199 colleges that provide Chemical Engineering programs with Bachelor’s Degrees and Master’s Degrees. As of 2023, the average bachelor’s degree tuition and fees for state residents in the Chemical Engineering program is US$11,669, while out-of-state students pay an average of US$35,482.

Additionally, 26 colleges offer certificate or associate’s degree programs in chemical engineering. On the other hand, 138 graduate schools offer Chemical Engineering programs, with an average Master’s tuition and fees of US$13,440 for state residents and US$31,766 for out-of-state students.

Why Obtaining a Degree is Crucial

Without a solid foundation in principles like chemistry, mathematics, thermodynamics, etc., becoming a chemical engineer would be impossible. Hence, the essence of earning a university degree. Furthermore, it establishes your credibility and demonstrates to employers your commitment and dedication to the field. In other words, a chemical engineering degree guarantees the following benefits:

  • Global Versatility: Chemical engineering qualifications are globally recognized, making highly qualified professionals in demand worldwide. Multinational corporations eagerly seek diverse talent to bring fresh perspectives and innovation to their projects. So, obtaining one or two professional degrees in chemical engineering will be in your best interest.
  • Job Variety: A chemical engineering degree opens up numerous career opportunities. With skills in chemistry, physics, math, and biology, you can excel in diverse engineering fields such as materials, mining, energy, chemical, analytical, and health and safety. You’ll definitely be recognized by various industries.
  • Practical Experience & Expertise: Pursuing a degree in chemical engineering offers practical experiences that shape your expertise. Laboratory experiments, research projects, and internships provide hands-on opportunities to apply your knowledge, develop practical skills, and navigate real-world challenges. These experiences not only enhance your technical competence but also foster adaptability, teamwork, and effective communication—essential qualities for success in the field.

Understanding the Value of Practical Experience in Chemical Engineering

When you actively engage in hands-on applications, that is when you really bridge the gap between academia and industry, as a chemical engineer. A study conducted by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) found that 89% of surveyed chemical engineering students believe practical experience is crucial for their career success. No doubt, there’s nothing like passing through an internship, research projects, and industry collaborations. This is when engineers gain valuable insights into processes, safety protocols, and project management.

6 Best Chemical Engineering Internship Opportunities in 2023

As a chemical engineer, gaining experience is one valuable ability you can use to sail your career dreams. The field is broad and divers-depending on what you’re interested in, there are many opportunities that you can come across. Internship opportunities in chemical engineering help you apply your skills in a real-world setting. Some of its best internships opportunities are:

  • Process Engineering Intern
  • Research and Development Intern
  • Quality Control/Assurance Intern
  • Environmental Engineering Intern
  • Supply Chain and Logistics Intern
  • Energy Engineering Intern

It’s important to research your skills and compare the various internship opportunities available to find the one that matches your expertise, skills, and interest. That way, you can learn how to find some of the best internships in 2023.

Must-Have Standard Skills That Will Qualify You as a Chemical Engineer

Chemical engineers seeking success in their field should focus on developing a set of essential skills. As long as you desire to join the critical world of chemical engineering, you must have these said skills. By mastering the skills below, aspiring engineers can confidently navigate complex challenges and drive innovation in their chosen industries.

  • Strong Foundation in Science and Mathematics: A solid understanding of chemistry, physics, and mathematics is essential for chemical engineers. This includes knowledge of chemical reactions, material properties, differential equations, and calculus.
  • Proficiency in Engineering Fundamentals: Mastering core engineering principles such as thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, heat transfer, and mass transfer is crucial. These concepts form the basis for designing and optimizing chemical processes.
  • Data Analysis and Interpretation: Chemical engineers often work with large sets of data. Being able to analyze and interpret data using statistical techniques and software tools is vital for process optimization, troubleshooting, and decision-making.
  • Technical Aptitude: Proficiency in using engineering software, laboratory equipment, and simulation tools is necessary for chemical engineers. Familiarity with programs like MATLAB, Aspen Plus, or COMSOL can be beneficial for process modeling and simulation.
  • Safety and Environmental Awareness: Chemical engineers must prioritize safety and environmental considerations in their work. Understanding safety protocols, risk assessment, and environmental regulations is essential for designing processes that minimize hazards and environmental impact.

How To Gauge Your Work-Life Balance as a Chemical Engineer

Chemical engineers tend to be diligent and hardworking professionals. They are easily one of the few hardworking professionals out there who strive to maintain a healthy work-life balance. The extent of their dedication borders on the following:

  • Their challenging field which requires a strong work ethic.
  • Their rigorous education and coursework to acquire adequate skills, experience, and knowledge.
  • Their consistent effort to meet up with projects deadlines and deliverables.
  • Their high attention to detail to ensure foolproof processes.
  • Their habit of continuous learning to update their knowledge and skills for the sake of their professional growth.

While chemical engineers typically work full-time hours, there may be periods of intense work or overtime. In this case, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is crucial, and there are several strategies that can help. They are:

  • Personal Time Management: Effective time management and prioritization skills can help you achieve a better work-life balance. By efficiently managing tasks, setting boundaries, and allocating time for personal activities and hobbies, you can create a healthier balance between work and personal life.
  • Delegation and Collaboration: Don’t hesitate to delegate tasks or ask for assistance when needed. Effective teamwork and collaboration can help lighten your workload and create a more balanced work environment.
  • Communicating and Seeking Support: Openly communicate with your colleagues, supervisors and loved ones about your need for work-life balance. Seek support from your support system when facing challenges or feeling overwhelmed.
  • Establishing Routines: Establishing consistent routines can help create a sense of structure and balance in your daily life. Set aside specific times for work, personal activities, and relaxation to maintain a sense of control and stability.
  • Practicing Self-Care: Make self-care a priority. Engage in activities that help you relax, rejuvenate, and maintain your physical and mental well-being. This can include exercise, hobbies, spending time with loved ones, or pursuing personal interests.

What’s the Career Outlook for Chemical Engineer?

The career outlook for chemical engineers in the United States is promising, with a ballpark growth of 14% from 2021 to 2031, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. On average, there are estimated to be around 2,000 job openings for chemical engineers each year over the course of the decade. These openings primarily arise from the need to replace workers who transition to different careers or retire from the workforce. The future prospects for chemical engineers are rather promising.

Chemical Engineer Popular Career Specialties

Various Job Opportunities Available for Chemical Engineers

Too often, people think that a career in chemical engineering means being stuck in a lab all day with no chance of progression but they couldn’t be further from the truth. Chemical engineering is expanding into other domains like nanotechnology, alternative energies, and biotechnology, which is sustaining the demands for engineering services. Most of what is left is a good chemical engineering resume and a sleek cover letter that stands out. Are you looking to find a career in chemical engineering? Do consider the following roles:

  • Process Engineer: Process engineers focus on designing, optimizing, and improving manufacturing processes in industries such as chemicals, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, and food processing. They work to enhance efficiency, reduce costs, and ensure safety and quality standard are met.
  • Research and Development (R&D) Engineer: R&D engineers conduct research, develop new projects, and improve existing ones. They work on innovations, new materials, and technologies in industries such as pharmaceuticals, energy, materials science, and consumer goods.
  • Environmental Engineer: Chemical engineers can specialize in environmental engineering, addressing issues related to pollution control, waste management, and sustainable practices. They develop processes and technologies to minimize environmental impact and ensure compliance with regulations.
  • Bioprocess Engineer: Bioprocess engineers work in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, focusing on developing and optimizing processes for the production of biological products, such as vaccines, antibodies, and biofuels. They combine knowledge of chemistry, biology, and engineering to design efficient and safe processes.
  • Energy Engineer: Chemical engineers contribute to the energy sector by working on the development and optimization of processes related to oil refining, natural gas processing, and renewable energy technologies. They play a role in improving efficiency, reducing emissions, and exploring alternative energy sources.
  • Quality Control Engineer: Quality control engineers ensure that products meet specified standards by developing and implementing quality control procedures. They conduct tests, analyze data, and make recommendations for process improvements and product enhancements.
  • Project Engineer/Manager: Chemical engineers can take on project management roles, overseeing the planning, coordination, and execution of engineering projects. They manage resources, budgets, and timelines to ensure project objectives are met.
  • Technical Sales Engineer: Technical sales engineers combine their technical expertise with sales and communication skills. They work closely with clients to understand their needs, provide technical solutions, and promote products or services.
  • Consulting Engineer: Chemical engineers can work as consultants, providing expertise and guidance to clients on various engineering projects or process improvements. They analyze problems, propose solutions, and assist in implementing changes.
  • Academic and Research Positions: Chemical engineers can pursue careers in academia, conducting research, teaching, and mentoring students. They contribute to advancements in the field through scholarly publications and collaborations.

10 Most Suitable Firms to Work in as a Chemical Engineer

Chemical engineers are hired by a wide range of companies across various industries. Here are some examples of the types of companies that commonly hire chemical engineers:

  • Chemical Manufacturing Companies
  • Energy and Oil Refining Companies
  • Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Companies
  • Environmental Engineering and Consulting Firms
  • Consumer Goods and Food Processing Companies
  • Engineering and Design Consultancies
  • Research and Development Organizations
  • Environmental and Regulatory Agencies
  • Engineering and Construction Companies
  • Academic and Educational Institutions

Should I become a Chemical Engineer?

Becoming a chemical engineer can be a rewarding and fulfilling career choice for those with a passion for science, problem-solving, and making a positive impact on society. As you have explored the world of chemical engineering through this guide, you may be wondering if it’s the right path for you.

You might ask yourself, “Should I become a chemical engineer?” Well, the answer lies in asking yourself more questions. For instance, are you passionate about scientific innovations, research, and development? Do you think you can survive the complexity of the chemical engineering industry? Are you comfortable dedicating a lot of time, energy, and effort to this course?

If you are serious about your decision, wear an unwavering spirit and follow through with this guide. All you have to do is choose the role best suited to you and prepare to pass interviews and programs- you’ve got this!

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Chemical Engineering use a lot of physics?

Yes, chemical engineering involves the application of principles from physics. Physics provides a foundation for understanding the fundamental principles and laws that govern the behavior of matter and energy. In the field of chemical engineering, knowledge of physics is essential for analyzing and predicting the behavior of fluids, heat transfer, thermodynamics, and reaction kinetics.


How do I write a good Chemical Engineer resume?

When crafting your resume, start by including a clear header with your contact information. Don’t forget to add a concise summary that highlights your qualifications and goals, and make sure to include relevant education. When listing your work experience, focus on your achievements and quantifiable results. Also, showcasing your technical skills, notable projects, leadership roles, publications and certifications is also important. Remember to format your resume in a professional manner, tailor it for each application and, finally, double-check for any errors before submitting.

What is the largest professional society for Chemical Engineers?

The largest professional society for chemical engineers is the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). It represents over 60,000 professionals from industry, academia, and government institutions worldwide. AIChE provides a wide range of resources, including technical publications, conferences, networking opportunities, and professional development programs.


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Ajoke Aminu

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