Chemicals engineers play a role in designing everything from safer, more effective medications to creamier ice creams. They use their math and science savvy to solve chemical problems, often with a mind for safety and cost-effectiveness. This can take years of training, especially for those who hope to eventually lead cutting-edge research. For many professionals in this field, training starts with a chemical engineering degree program.
Chemical Engineering Degrees at a Glance
Chemical engineering majors learn how to study, use and evaluate chemicals, both theoretically and in practice. Programs vary, but tend to be heavy on math and science. The following are just a few of the courses chemical engineering majors might take:
- Chemical kinetics
- Organic chemistry
- Physical chemistry
Chemical engineering majors tend to do a lot of hands-on lab work, and according to the College Board, may be required to hone even more practical experience through co-ops and internships. Most chemical engineering degree programs result in bachelor's or master's degrees, but doctoral programs are also fairly common. These high-level engineering programs are ideal for those who want to work in research and development, or teach at the collegiate level.
Looking Ahead: Jobs for Chemical Engineering Majors
One might expect those with chemical engineering degrees to eventually become chemical engineers, and many do -- but not all. According to the College Board and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are actually a number of careers suitable for these grads. Here are a few of them, along with key employment trends from the BLS:
- Chemical engineers - Chemical engineers use math and scientific principles to solve chemical problems, often in the course of producing fuels, drugs, food and other products. Some work in large-scale factory settings, while others chug away in private, national or university labs. Though a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering is usually sufficient for entry-level positions, those who want to teach or conduct research should consider earning master's degrees or Ph.Ds. Work experience is a major plus. The BLS projects demand for chemical engineers to grow four percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022. Prospects may be best for those working in manufacturing, or in emerging fields like nanotechnology and alternative energies.
- Chemists - Chemists research chemicals at the atomic and molecular levels, examining their properties and how they interact with each other. They may apply what they learn to develop new or improved products, or in quality and safety testing. As with chemical engineers, chemists can usually enter the field with bachelor's degrees in chemistry or chemical engineering; research and collegiate teaching positions typically require master's degrees or Ph.Ds. The BLS expects employment of these professionals to increase six percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022. Prospects should be best for experienced professionals and those with advanced degrees.
- Environmental scientists - Environmental scientists use their science know-how to protect the environment and human health. They might help clean up polluted areas, for instance, or advise corporations and policy makers on how to reduce waste or make processes safer. Most entry-level positions require at least a bachelor's degree in a related field, such as chemical engineering. The BLS projects demand for environmental scientists to rise 15 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022.
In addition to the jobs listed above, chemical engineering majors might also consider pursuing careers as petroleum engineers, biochemists, or even college professors. Students can learn more about their options by visiting the College Board and Bureau of Labor Statistics online, or by contacting schools that offer chemical engineering degree programs. Professional organizations such as the American Institute of Chemical Engineers can also provide a wealth of information for students interested in entering the field.
"Chemical Engineers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/chemical-engineers.htm
"Major: Chemical Engineering," The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/engineering-chemical-engineering
"Chemists and Materials Scientists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/chemists-and-materials-scientists.htm
"Environmental Engineers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/environmental-scientists-and-specialists.htm
American Institute of Chemical Engineers, https://www.aiche.org/