Chemical engineering frequently asked questions

Chemical engineering frequently asked questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about careers in chemical engineering:

What does the work involve?

Chemical engineers are trained to apply fundamental engineering principles to design, develop and manage processes while maximising economic returns and reducing environmental impact. Chemical engineers need to work as part of a team and develop good communication skills. Strong problem-solving and analytical skills are also a bonus.

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What sorts of companies employ chemical engineers?

Sectors chemical engineers work in include:

  • biotechnology
  • business and finance
  • consumer products
  • contracting and consultancy
  • education
  • energy, renewables, nuclear, fossil fuels
  • food and drink
  • materials
  • mining and minerals
  • pharmaceuticals
  • process and equipment
  • water

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What are the job prospects like?

A chemical engineering degree equips you with easily transferable skills. Graduates usually take on considerable responsibility within a few years of graduation. For this reason, job prospects are excellent and often involve the chance to reach senior managerial positions at a young age.

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What sort of jobs can I do with a chemical engineering degree?

The choice of work available is exceptionally wide. Chemical engineers work in large international companies, as well as smaller companies; in sectors as wide ranging as chemicals, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, food and drink, biotechnology and water. They are also highly sought after in business and finance.

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What does a chemical engineer earn?

Chemical engineers are the best paid group of engineers. According to an annual salary survey of IChemE members, those under the age of 25 earn £30,000/y on average. More details about the salaries for chemical engineers can be found on our salary survey page.

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Can chemical engineers enter other fields?

Yes! Chemical engineering is a well-respected discipline that opens many career paths across industry, business and finance. Chemical engineering graduates are highly sought after as employers recognise that their analytical and problem-solving skills are highly transferable.

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Are there opportunities to work outside the UK?

Yes, chemical engineering is a truly international profession providing many opportunities for worldwide travel.

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What is the difference between chemistry and chemical engineering?

Chemistry investigates the background of the science encompassing aspects of; organic, inorganic, analytical, physical, and bio-chemistry. Chemical engineering is more multidisciplinary and practical, applying engineering science to problems relating to heat transfer, fluid dynamics, equipment design etc. Whilst chemists will focus on developing novel materials and processes, chemical engineers focus on turning these new ideas and discoveries into useful products that are attainable.

A lot of work falls into the design, construction and operation of plants and machinery, focussing on making products for profit and on a scale that is accessible to the many. An increasing focus for chemical engineers is supporting the development of new technologies to, for example, support the energy transition and make best use of available resources.

Penicillin is a good example; a chemist had found the molecule in a lab, but it is only thanks to chemical engineers that the process whereby penicillin could be manufactured at scale was developed. A more recent example of this is the large scale roll out of COVID vaccines.

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What is the difference between biochemical and chemical engineering?

Chemical engineering is concerned with changing raw materials into useful products by designing processes which change their chemical or physical composition, structure or energy content.

Biochemical engineering is a branch of chemical engineering which is concerned with biological changes and is particularly important in the production of pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs and the treatment of waste.

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What is process engineering?

Process engineering is essentially the application of chemical engineering principles to optimise the design, operation and control of chemical processes. Since this requires equipment design and selection, mechanical engineers may also be employed as process engineers.

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Are there other routes into chemical engineering?

The most straightforward entry route is via an undergraduate degree course. There are some HND and HNC courses available but these would usually lead to completing a chemical engineering degree.

Degree-level apprenticeships are becoming available in a range of industries and allow you to gain practical experience and earn a living while also studying towards a degree qualification. More information about this route will be available in 2024. 

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What if I do not have the right entry qualifications?

There are a number of universities that offer foundation courses that cover the necessary background. However, these are usually designed for those without the correct subjects needed for entry, rather than for those who have the correct subjects but haven't met the level/grades required.

You could also consider an apprenticeship.

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How do I find out what degree courses are available?

Browse the list of universities with an IChemE accredited course, or use the UCAS Course Search.

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How do I choose a degree with a good reputation?

All accredited courses have a good reputation. Our strict accreditation procedures ensure universities maintain the highest standards. Find out which universities offer IChemE-accredited courses.

For an independent guide to the universities offering chemical engineering degrees, visit one or more of the following websites:

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What does ‘accredited’ mean?

A chemical engineering degree accredited at B-Standard (bachelors level) entitles you to become an Associate Member of IChemE upon graduation; from there you will be able to work towards a professional qualification. Qualified member grades are widely recognised and demonstrate professional competence and commitment to employers, policy makers, regulators and society.

You can see the full list of IChemE accredited university courses on the find a degree programme page.

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What is the difference between a BEng and MEng degree?

The MEng course lasts a year longer than the BEng course and provides a greater depth and breadth of study.

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Are all university programmes the same?

Apart from the compulsory ‘core’ subjects which are usually studied in the earlier years, there are a broad range of optional subjects. In addition to ‘straight’ chemical engineering or biochemical engineering there are some courses that combine both, and others which include elements of energy engineering, chemistry, nuclear engineering or biopharmaceutical engineering.

Other options such as study abroad or an industrial placement may also be available.

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Are there any courses that include a year abroad or in industry?

Most universities offer courses giving the opportunity to spend time in industry getting relevant work experience, or studying at a university abroad.

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Is work experience available and how do I find it?

Many companies offer work experience placements - some as short as one week, others lasting six months or even a year. To find out more visit the website of the company you are interested in or write to them directly. Alternatively, you can contact the Year in Industry who find paid, degree-relevant work experience for students in their year out before, or during, university.

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Are there any bursaries, grants or sponsorships?

A number of companies and organisations offer schemes to financially assist chemical engineering students, though demand is high so competition for places is fierce. Contact your university of choice to find out more as many companies have particular sponsorship opportunities linked to specific university departments. Alternatively, visit The Scholarship Hub.

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What help can IChemE offer?

IChemE offers a range of products and services to help its members maintain an awareness of developments in their field and support their professional development.

Membership introduces students to the world of chemical engineering and provides networking opportunities in addition to other resources.

Students can join IChemE as soon as they start university (or have a firm acceptance to study chemical engineering). For more information about IChemE and the benefits of Student Membership visit our Student Member page.

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