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Why did you want to be a chemical engineer?

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Robert’s Answer

I started in ChE (chemical engineering) because a high school aptitude test told me I would be good at it (I had a knack for math and science, and for complex problems involving interconnected systems). The aptitude test was right, and I loved the first two years of the program: it was like a liberal arts in engineering; I took a little electrical engineering, some statics and strength of materials, and lots of chemistry, physics, and math. The last two years were the real chemical engineering courses, where I learned fluid dynamics, mass transport phenomena, reactor kinetics, and other stuff specific to chemical engineering: those courses were really tough, but I did very well in them. Unfortunately, once I realized that doing ChE pretty much required I work for a huge corporation (ChE is about big plants, not always in petroleum, but always costing megabucks) and wasn't very interested in why things are the way they are, I switched into (applied) chemistry. (In ChE I was constantly asking "Why is this?" and being told "We don't care, we just need the right number." Ironically, in chemistry I am constantly asking "What's this good for?" and being told "We don't care, it is something new!") Please see also my answer to
p.s. Other people pursue ChE because it pays well (it does, but it is very hard and stressful, so you earn that pay) or because they want job security (my capable ChE friends have hardly any trouble at all finding work, but most stay at one company their entire career).
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Jessica’s Answer

Hi Iydia,

Although I myself am not a chemical engineer (I studied industry engineering), my mom, brother, sister, two uncle, and several cousins all studied chemical engineering. Many of them did so to go into the oil industry. Most specifically studied petroleum engineering (a subset of chemical). If you do decide to go this path, it's important to understand that the petroleum engineering job market is heavily dependent on the performance of the oil industry. Some years it's going great and there are plenty of jobs, the next there could be a downturn in the industry and people are getting laid off. In general, oil companies do take good care of their engineers when things are going well (at least from what I've seen). Others I've known studied chemical engineering to stand out in their med school application. There's lots of great reason to go into the discipline but it's helpful if you have some idea of where you'd like to end up. I studied Industrial because it felt like I was able to keep my options open a little more than some of the other engineering types. I'd highly recommend engineering, even if you end up pursing something different after college. The problem solving skills you get with this major in college is really helpful in almost every area.

Hope this helps!


Whoa! I'd really, really advise against ChE as a pre-med route, unless you are genuinely interested in the subject matter and want it as a career option to fall back on. What you learn has very little application to medicine (though the relevance has gone up since I was in school) and I can't think of a harder way to maintain a high GPA. Biomedical engineering, or a biology-focused ChE program (there are some, and more come online all the time now that bioreactors are a thing), might make more sense: at least your biology courses would serve double duty in those cases (traditional ChE doesn't include any biology training), but they are still very demanding. Robert Rossi