If you’re interested in becoming a chemical engineer, you probably want to answer the question; what does a chemical engineer do? This is an interesting career choice. While it will require a degree, you can also earn a very nice salary.
Learning what a chemical engineer does can help you decide if this is the right job for you. However, before you decide, let’s look at the job duties, the steps to become a chemical engineer and other information about this career.
Job Duties of a Chemical Engineer
One of the keys to answering the questions about a chemical engineer is understanding the job duties. There are many specific duties common from one company to another. However, the job duties of a chemical engineer may vary a bit.
Some of the most common job duties of a chemical engineer include:
- Establish processes to ensure gasses and liquids can be safely separated
- Generate electrical currents through a controlled chemical process
- Create estimated costs for management
- Establish the necessary safety procedures for those working with dangerous chemicals
- Create processes and equipment to ensure the company stays in compliance with safety and environmental regulations
There are many other job duties you may perform as a chemical engineer. Of course, each employer is a bit different, but these are some of the things a chemical engineer does.
Types of Qualities a Chemical Engineer Has
If you want to become a chemical engineer, you will need to develop the right qualities. There are certain skills and qualities common to this job, including:
- Ingenuity – A chemical engineer needs to learn concepts rather quickly and work to apply those concepts to production issues.
- Math skills – You need to be good at math to work as a chemical engineer. Calculus will likely be important, and you will use it to troubleshoot, design, and analyze.
- Analytical skills – Chemical engineers are usually very analytical people. They will need to troubleshoot design and production issues regularly.
- Creativity – As a chemical engineer, you will need to be rather creative. Looking into new ways to apply your engineering skills is necessary. For example, you might need to invent new materials or manufacturing techniques as a part of your job.
- Problem-solving skills – It’s very common for chemical engineers to spend most of their careers solving problems. These may be manufacturing issues or safety issues.
With these skills, you can become a chemical engineer.
Steps to Become a Chemical Engineer
Step #1 – Do Well in High School
You cannot become a chemical engineer without doing well in high school or equivalent. Therefore, it’s important to do well in your math and science courses, specifically. If possible, take AP math and science courses during high school.
Keeping your GPA up is important. Also, make sure you score well on the SAT or ACT. This will help ensure you get into a top college or university. A good SAT or ACT prep course can be very helpful.
Step #2 – Get Your Bachelor’s Degree
You need a bachelor’s degree to work as a chemical engineer. Usually, you will get a degree in chemical engineering or a similar field. Your degree will take four years to complete.
Becoming a chemical engineer means you will take many science and math courses. Expect to take courses in chemistry, biology, physics, algebra, trigonometry, and calculus.
Some universities offer five-year engineering programs. These programs may lead to both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. With a graduate degree, you can even move on to get your Ph.D. This can help open up more job opportunities as a chemical engineer.
If you want to make sure you go to a top school for chemical engineering, choose one of the following:
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Georgia Institute of Technology
- University of California-Berkeley
- California Institute of Technology
- University of Michigan
- Stanford University
- The University of Texas at Austin
All of these universities offer excellent programs in chemical engineering.
Step #3 – Complete an Internship
Usually, you will complete an internship as a part of your degree program. This may also be called a cooperative education experience. Either one will help you gain the experience you need to become a chemical engineer.
Step #4 – Join the Right Professional Organizations
The American Institute of Chemical Engineers is the first organization you should join. This organization will help you stay updated on the right technology for the field. It can also provide the necessary continuing education courses and seminars.
These four steps can help you enter into a career path as a chemical engineer. If you get a master’s degree, you will likely open up even more job opportunities. Going on to get a Ph.D. allows you to teach at a university.
Chemical Engineer License
It’s also important to understand the licensing While these are not necessary to gain employment, they can be rather helpful.
Chemical engineers often get a Professional Engineering license. This allows for jobs in a leadership position. However, licensed engineers can work independently, as well. Gaining this license will require the following:
- A degree from an accredited engineering program
- Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam
- Gain four years or more of relevant work experience
- Pass the Professional Engineering exam
Each state is a bit different and will have its own license requirements. Some may require continuing education to keep your license updated.
Frequently Asked Questions About Chemical Engineers
What is the average salary for a chemical engineer?
If you go through the steps to become a chemical engineer, you can earn an average salary of about $81K per year. It’s also common for them to get stock options within their company.
The location of your job will also impact your salary. Los Angeles is the highest paying city at about $140K, on average. Wilmington, DE also pays very high, and so does Pensacola, Florida.
What is the work environment like for a chemical engineer?
You will likely work in an office and a lab. It’s common to spend some time in industrial plans or refineries, too. Chemical engineers will work on designing systems with technicians and mechanics. They may need to do some traveling to work sites. You might work and travel domestically or internationally if you go into this career.
What is the work schedule like for a chemical engineer?
This is a full-time position in most companies. You will likely work a typical 9-to-5 schedule. Sometimes, you may need to work extra hours to troubleshoot an issue or meet a deadline.
Is the field of chemical engineering growing?
Yes, this field is growing at about a rate of 6%. It’s expected to keep growing around this rate, which is just a little above the average for all occupations.
Which industries are most common for chemical engineers?
If you want to become a chemical engineer, you will likely work in one of a few specific industries, including:
- Petroleum and coal products manifesting
- Wholesale trade
- Research and development in engineering, physical, and life sciences
- Pharmaceutical manufacturing
- Engineering services
These industries pay the best and hire the largest number of chemical engineers. Other industries hiring chemical engineers include:
- Health care
- Plastics and polymers
- Consumer products
- Food processing
All of these industries and many others hire chemical engineers regularly.
Are there advancement opportunities for chemical engineers?
Yes. You will likely start as an entry-level engineer and work under an experienced engineer. Larger companies will provide training through classrooms and seminars. Junior engineers will move into a position with more independence.
Over time, chemical engineers often become team supervisors. They may be in charge of technicians or other engineers. It’s also common for this type of engineer to become an architectural and engineering manager. You might require more education to move into management, however.
Is a job as a chemical engineer dangerous?
Chemical engineering is a bit of a dangerous career. You will likely be exposed to safety and health hazards when handling specific chemicals and equipment. However, safety protocols are in place, along with safety equipment to keep exposure from happening.
Who hires chemical engineers?
The top employers for chemical engineers include SM&A and the U.S. Department of the Navy. ABF, Eastman, and Univar Solutions are also top employers and pay more than the average salary for chemical engineers.
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