At least three times during the week, I have a small crisis over whether I’ve chosen the right major for me. People often cite chemical engineering as one of the most difficult majors anyone can pick. While I’m not one to back down from a challenge, the day to day struggle of juggling problem sets and lab reports and numerous readings often makes me wonder why I decided to become a chemical engineer. On any given day, I find myself staring at yet another mass balance problem, questioning if finding the amount of soap that can be recycled within an industrial Laundromat is something I want to do for 45 years.
I decided long before arriving at Tufts that I wanted to study chemical engineering. For most of high school, I knew that I wanted to go into a field that heavily relied on math and science, but I also knew that I didn’t want to study their pure forms. For months, my parents suggested that I look into engineering; they sent me articles and Wikipedia pages, but I refused to look. In my mind, engineering was making cars and lawn mowers and ceiling fans. I didn’t know that my mental image of engineering was only a small subset of a much broader discipline.
Then one fateful day, my AP Biology teacher mentioned something about chemical engineers and organic chemists designing and synthesizing proteins to perform specific tasks. That afternoon, I spent hours digging through the very same Wikipedia pages my parents showed me months earlier about protein, biomedical, and chemical engineering. In that moment, I was sold on chemical engineering, despite having no idea what chemical engineers even do.
As I write this, I still only have a nebulous collection of specific examples of what I could potentially do. I could make batteries, or carbon dioxide scrubbers, or distillation columns. What I find difficult is connecting the core concepts of these disparate processes into a concise summary of chemical engineering. My best attempt at such a summary (future updates to come) goes a little something like this.
Chemical engineers do everything. Whether it’s scaling up the production of a prescription drug or designing a process to melt and mold plastic into toys, there is hardly any industrial or commercial product that a chemical engineer has not touched in one way or another. We hope that the water we drink is free of pollutants like lead and mercury. Chemical engineers make that happen and keep us safe. We hope that patients get the safest and most affordable medication possible. Chemical engineers make that happen. We hope that the food we eat is produced reliably and sustainably. Chemical engineers make that happen. In general, chemical engineers design processes using chemistry, mathematics, thermodynamics, physics, biology, and economics to modern world running.
So when I feel like I made a mistake by choosing chemical engineering, I try to remind myself that some day someone might be drinking cleaner water, or breathing cleaner air, or using safer, more sustainably produced plastics, or taking cheaper medicines, or using more renewable energy because of my work. And that is why I’m a chemical engineer.
Seven Reasons to Study a Chemical Engineering Degree
For those considering a degree in this area but need further convincing, the Complete University Guide lends its expertise. Here are the top seven reasons to study a Chemical Engineering degree:
1. Modern and applicable
Of all the scientific subjects on offer at UK universities today, few have more modern applications than chemical engineering. The study of nanotechnologies and bioengineering will put you in the know when it comes to areas of research that are seen as most promising in the scientific community.
2. Great graduate prospects
In the same vein as above, chemical engineering is one of the most employable subjects in the world today. The degree opens up opportunities to not only work in the lab, but also out in the field, or in scientific management.
3. Multi-use degree
Doing a Chemical Engineering degree does not limit you to a job as a chemical engineer. You can also easily pursue a job in analytical chemistry, as well as engineering in manufacturing or mining, as well as in the mentioned managerial or production areas.
4. Standard of Education
In order to do Chemical Engineering, you need to grades. Most courses won't accept any less than straight As. The upside of this is that if you do get in, you are among the best, and can expect the best quality of education in your degree from former industry professionals who really know their stuff.
5. International skills
The world is a small yet diverse place, both more global, yet at the same time dividing people like nothing else. Chemical engineering offers skills and knowledge that can be applied in any country or culture around the world today. Knowing a foreign language helps too. Here's a list of combined degrees of chemical engineering with a foreign language.
You have to be smart to be a chemical engineer, and, in all honesty, the title of the degree sounds fancy and complicated, which will impress at parties. There's also the respect that will come when you graduate from one of the toughest degrees on offer - which is why you will get a job.
7. Practical work
Chemical engineering is a hands on degree - every course worth its salt will give you access and practice with industrial standard materials and machinery.