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I was told chemical engineering is relatively niche among engineering disciplines, is this true?

I am a senior in high school but don't know which engineering discipline to go into. Chemical engineering used to be my top choice but I was told it is too niche. What options exist for employment and job prospects?

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Subject: Career question for you

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Maya’s Answer

In college there was a general sense from chemical engineering majors that their career paths were limited to either Academia or Oil & Gas. As Atul and others mentioned, that isn't the case, and if you can get through a chemical engineering degree, which is quite rigorous, that puts you in a great position as long as you don't fall for the logic of your peers and career fairs.

Some options I can tell you as someone who works in the water industry are:
1. Water treatment plan operations (deciding how much of which chemicals to dose for specific plans in specific geographies to ensure safe drinking water!) - these exist in EVERY community in the WORLD. Not limiting at all!
2. Laboratory technician (water quality testing provided from samples all over your local community or across the country to determine pollutants and whether they exceed safe limits for humans or the environment)
3. Government agency - an important and often neglected career path, employees at the EPA, USGS, DOE, etc. are often highly skilled and lead the policy making and guidance that the rest of the engineers (civil, chemical, mechanical, etc) have to follow. While they may not get paid as much as consultants or product companies, the job stability, benefits, field and office hybrid opportunities, and variety and independence in project work can be very exciting and meaningful.

I hope you consider the water industry no matter what major you decide. We are in need of the best and brightest, and there are always important and exciting problems to solve everywhere in the world around water. And guess what water is? H2O (plus hundreds of other dissolved chemicals :)

Maya recommends the following next steps:

See if you can schedule a public tour with your local water or wastewater treatment facility and meet the lab technicians or engineers there! Most local municipalities have a mandatory public education requirement.
Seek out the Chemical Engineering professional society
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Atul’s Answer

If you're leaning towards a career in Chemical Engineering, you'll need a strong affinity for subjects like Math, Chemistry, and Physics. As a Chemical Engineer, a wide array of career paths are open for you. You could find yourself working in:

1) The Oil and Natural Gas sector with companies like Chevron.
2) The Agriculture industry with firms such as Scotts.
3) The Specialized Chemical Products field with corporations like FMC or Air Products.
4) The HVAC industry with companies like Carrier or York.
5) The Consumer Products sector with giants like P&G or Lever.
6) The Nuclear Energy industry with organizations like the Department of Energy.

Among all the engineering disciplines, Chemical Engineering is considered one of the most demanding. While the pay scale is quite rewarding, it may not match the earnings of a Software Engineer in today's market.

Chemical products are an integral part of our daily lives, from the pots and pans we use, to the toothpaste we brush with, the plastic we use, the cereal we eat, the fertilizers that nourish our crops, and even the freon that cools our homes and offices in the HVAC systems.
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Bill’s Answer

I would disagree that chemical engineering is too niche of a discipline. For the most part, all engineering disciplines will usually start in a field that is related to their discipline (ChE might work in a chemical plant in production or process engineering, ME might work in reliability or pump design, EE might work in power distribution or with instrumentation). As your career progresses, sometimes those lines can start to blur, especially if you go into management. I have known chemical engineers that run the maintenance group and mechanical/electrical engineers that have led operations teams in chemical plants. Don't feel like you will be stuck in a small sector of engineering.

As you begin your career you will find things that you like and things that you don't, which will allow you to shift your career in the direction that you want it to go. If you choose to stay in a technical role, your career will likely stay more towards the core jobs that are related to your discipline (process design, operations, PSM, etc.). It would be very unlikely that a chemical engineer would design a bridge or a road, just as it would be unlikely for an electrical engineer to design a new pump impeller. Just because you will likely end up doing things related to your discipline doesn't mean that the discipline itself is too niche.

As Atul's answer points out, there are a lot of different areas where chemical engineers can work. In addition to the list above, I would add design and application engineering to the list as well. There are a lot of chemical engineers that work at design/engineering firms. Being a chemical engineer would not limit your career opportunities at all, as there are ample opportunities in the market for chemical engineers. If you like chemistry/math and want to pursue chemical engineering, then you should go for it.
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Tasha’s Answer

Hey Scott, I'm a proud holder of two degrees in chemical engineering, both a B.S. and an M.S. Interestingly enough, I only worked briefly as an engineer. The insights from other folks here beautifully illustrate the vast possibilities that chemical engineering offers. Initially, I thought I'd be delving into the world of academia, but life had other plans. I briefly dabbled in semiconductors before finding my true calling in sales, where I've been for over 20 years.

What's really cool about an engineering degree is that it equips you with the ability to think critically and solve problems - skills that are highly transferable and valued in many professions. It's not uncommon to find engineering grads in law school, medical school, or various other fields. So, in my view, a degree in chemical engineering doesn't limit you to a specific path. Instead, it opens a multitude of doors, offering a world of opportunities.
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Sadaf’s Answer

Chemical engineering is a relatively niche engineering discipline, but it is still a highly sought-after profession with good job prospects. Chemical engineers are employed in various industries, including chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, energy, environmental engineering, materials science, manufacturing, and consulting.
However, it is essential to note that chemical engineering is a challenging field that requires a strong foundation in mathematics, physics, and chemistry. If you are interested in chemical engineering, I encourage you to research and talk to chemical engineers to learn more about the profession and decide if it suits you.
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Deboleena’s Answer

Chemical engineering is a core engineering field with lots of opportunities after. There are many concentrations under ChemE, e.g., pharmaceuticals, energy, material science, polymer science, chemicals etc. In terms of job prospects, you can build your career in research (e.g., R&D) or industry (e.g., production, manufacturing etc.)

A good starting point is search on LinkedIn what people with chemical engineering backgrounds do, what industries they work for and what type of roles they do.
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Michael’s Answer

Chemical engineering is a great career choice. We might be a smaller group than EE or mechanical engineers but we have a wide array of career options. I have practiced chemical engineering for over 40 years and never been out of work for even a day!! My son is also a chemical engineer and has a great job.
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