The past couple of months have been prime time for academic graduations. Graduation ceremonies, aptly named commencements, mark a time when graduates look forward to starting a new phase of their journeys. For some, it means moving on to a higher level of learning toward an advanced degree. For many, it means entering the working world, which poses a whole new set of decisions to be made about the variety of possible career paths that are open to chemical engineers. For me, that broad range of possible career paths is one of the reasons I pursued a chemical engineering education.
Wide breadth of possibilities
In addition to chemical manufacturing, the basic principles learned in the chemical engineering curriculum are applicable to jobs in energy, food-and-beverages, agriculture, electronics, personal-care products, mining, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, biomedical work and more. With worldwide focus on environment and sustainability, many companies in the chemical process industries are pursuing sustainable manufacturing practices and decarbonization, and are developing technologies needed for the energy transition.
A report titled “New Directions for Chemical Engineering,” published last year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (www.nationalacademies.org) outlines in detail, the many areas where chemical engineers are well-positioned to lead the way in many of the challenges we face today. Correspondences I have had with university professors and recent graduates indicate that today’s graduates are very interested in sustainability, and those interests can align well with what companies are seeking (see for example the interests of the recent recipient of the Chopey Scholarship ).
Where to start
Along with the variety of subject areas that employ chemical engineers, within each of these fields there are typically jobs related to production, process development, research, safety, environmental regulations and more. Graduates looking for their first job are faced with a myriad of decisions to make. When I received my B.S.Ch.E., I was interested in research and development (R&D). I took a summer intern job in R&D, which helped confirm my resolve to pursue this area. I expected that a graduate level degree would be helpful, and so continued with further education before taking a “permanent” job.
In one of our published articles , a senior engineer shares his experiences and lessons-learned from his over 40-year career. Learning from this type of experience can be invaluable when defining your own career path. Additional references below [3–5] offer more insights in career development that may be helpful to those starting out and those facing “forks in the road” along the way. A career path, like life, is a journey. There is no right or wrong path — each person makes choices along the way. Take your time to make those choices, seek advice when you need it and create your own path.■
Dorothy Lozowski, Editorial Director
1. Lozowski, D., Winner of the Chopey Scholarship, Chem. Eng., p. 4, May 2023.
2. Rentschler, C., Career Guidelines for Young Engineers, Chem. Eng., p. 56–59, January 2018.
4. Forsythe, G., Owning Your Career: Taking a Hard Look at ‘Soft’ Skills, Chem. Eng. pp. 41–44, July 2020.