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I recently graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering and I'm trying to figure out what my options are and where I would fit in well.

Hi all. I recently graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering and I'm trying to figure out what my options are and where I would fit in well. My main reason for completing a chem eng degree was its versatility. At 18 I didn't know what I wanted to do but I knew this degree would give me options. I thought by the time I was done I would know what-what I'm passionate about but this has not been the case. My second reason for choosing this major was that I saw it as an opportunity to help people and create solutions. By my final year I was about 80% sure I did not want to be a chemical engineer but I decided to do an internship on a chemical engineering plant anyway before I made a decision. I've really enjoyed the problem solving and project scoping part of the job but I'm concerned about the stress and long hours that come with the job. I don't necessarily have a passion for the field. I'm hoping one of you can help me understand the other options I might have and possible career avenues I can look into. I really enjoy meeting new people and learning about sustainability. I've looked into jobs in SHEQ field as I assume my chem eng background would help but I'm not sure of the exact tasks involved. Thank you for taking the time to read my question and your response will be greatly appreciated.

#chemicaleng #chemical-engineering #SHEQ #engineering #career #career-advice #sustainability #college

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Serah’s Answer

Congratulations on getting to know yourself professionally! I had a similar experience. I earned my undergraduate degree in Behavioral Sciences, but chose not to proceed to graduate school in that field due to what I learned about it along the way. Now, I use those skills as a marketing and communications consultant and business owner.

What helped me was identifying my transferable skills that I enjoyed using (writing, analysis, theories), and then trying a few other directions. I first became a journalist, then a PR person for a nonprofit, and then used my tech ability to get work in software marketing. Later, I learned about sustainability and I earned an MBA in Sustainable Business from Presidio Graduate Institute. I'm now a member of the International Society for Sustainability Professionals.

You have to really dig into the operations of most companies to find out if they are really sustainable. For example, do they still extract fossil fuels or use the byproducts? Do they profit from externalized costs with harmful global impact? There are many environmental and social justice (usually tied together) challenges in the world and some companies are working directly on fixing them rather than making more. Sustainability is needed in every industry, from health care to manufacturing.

I'm excited for you to use your skills and talents for long-term good. There are so many resources I could share with you, so please feel free to ask more specific questions or DM me.

Serah recommends the following next steps:

Check out idealist.org and https://www.sustainablebusiness.com/greendreamjobs/jobs/ for some ideas on current roles.
Visit 80,000 Hours to understand some of the major trends and needs in sustainability. Project Drawdown is my favorite source for "what should we be doing?" answers.
Find three companies on LinkedIn with a sustainability focus and see what type of jobs they have open. Here's one: https://www.linkedin.com/company/neste/life/95a27d35-619c-4a7d-8628-b6341ffca999/.
Look for professional associations that might have chapters or interest groups about sustainability and join the discussion: https://www.chemengonline.com/taking-stand-sustainability/.
Thank you comment icon Hi Serah, thank you so much for your response, I really appreciate it. Your advice has been very helpful. I would really like to talk to you more about sustainability and the various career options but I am not able to send a dm on this site. In your opinion is a post graduate degree required for a career in sustainability? I'm not sure as to what my next step should be. I have been told that sustainability field in South Africa has limited jobs and it's difficult to break into. But I am passionate about sustainability and the enviroment and I want to enter the industry. Tazmyn
Thank you comment icon Thank you so much for the links, they are very informative. Take care Tazmyn
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Asheen’s Answer

This is likely too late for the OP (hope you're in a fulfilling role, Tazmyn!), but I wanted to add support and additional perspective to Serah's answer, in case anyone is in the same boat.

I graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering and, similarly, didn't want to become a ChemE. But this degree -- any engineering degree in general -- prepares you well for an understanding of the way that systems interact on multiple levels. These systems could be protein chemical pathways that spiral into cancer; biomaterial/tissue interactions to heal bones; visual processing to navigate during UAV flights; living wage labor practices in the apparel supply chain; or carbon accounting and reduction in aerospace manufacturing.

I've worked in all of those systems, and the common threads were understanding the incentives and resistances that cause the systems to settle into the patterns you find. My days of doing differential equations to describe these patterns are thankfully long behind, but the underlying ideas of what triggers, accelerates, dampens, or blocks the change and rate of change of a system is a learning that transfers from studying engineering problems to any human or natural system.

There's also a degree of trust that people have for you and your analysis when they know you've completed a degree as rigorous as an engineering degree, and that extends to fields ranging from finance to food to fashion.

As to the question of whether you need a graduate degree, I look at that very simply. Does the graduate coursework look fun and interesting? If the descriptions of those classes really excites you, then you'll put a lot into them and get a lot out of them -- and you'll find yourself branching out to so many possibilities. If, on the other hand, the courses seem like a slog to get through just to get the credential and finally "get to" do the job you really want, then you should think twice about the degree and, in fact, about how happy you'd really be in that job, using the skills you just brute-forced your way through.

This is advice isn't just theoretical: a professor gave me this same advice when I was asking this question, and it changed my perspective and my life. I immediately withdrew from the engineering PhD programs I'd been applying to and went to business school for my MBA, and loved it, and I've been generally quite happy in my career in sustainable business ever since.
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Michael’s Answer

Congratulations you have graduated with one of the top undergraduate degrees that are available!!! There are chemicals engineers doing many varied things in multiple industries.

Start looking for entry level jobs for process engineering. Go on a few interviews ask questions. Take a job that sounds interesting.

Your fear of hard work and stress is understandable because you will encounter both in any job with serious responsibilities. If you want to avoid those in a job try McDonald’s. Of course you will then have the stress of putting a roof over you head and food on the table!!

You earned one of the most difficult undergrad degrees available. Go out and use it Invent something improve something just go and do it. Don’t be afraid to succeed!!

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