Presidential Blog: Continuing the journey

Presidential Blog: Continuing the journey

30th January 2024

IChemE President Nigel Hirst starts the year off with lots of reasons to celebrate.

There is already plenty to celebrate in 2024. An Ipsos poll was published recently showing that engineers command a high level of trust among the general public. Then, official statistics showed that undergraduate intake for chemical, process and energy engineering at UK universities rose by 6.6% in 2023, the first increase since 2015. The numbers also show steady increases in the number and proportion of female students and students from an ethnic minority group entering these courses. While there is still much to be done in ensuring we attract more young people from all backgrounds into our great profession, this is indeed good news. DiscoverChemEng is now up and running, supporting our members, schools and young people – so hopefully we will continue to see numbers interested in and entering chemical engineering courses rise worldwide.

Thinking back to my own time as an undergraduate, there were only 13 students in my year, so how we have grown as a profession - with the skills and knowledge we learn during our education being applicable to so many industries, sectors and walks of life. The world has never had a greater need for the skills chemical engineers bring, and I would like to thank everyone who helps inspire the next generation through work in schools, with young people’s groups or simply discussing what you do and how chemical engineering has helped you with those you know.

Talking of university, I am attending a reception at Draper’s Hall at the end of January, celebrating the distinguished life of Sir David Harrison, IChemE Past President, and Fellow and master of Selwyn College, University of Cambridge when I was a student. David was an inspiration to me and many others. He was someone keen to open widely the doors of education and engineering, overseeing the process which welcomed the first female students to Selwyn during his time in charge. The newly-created Sir David Harrison Fund will support the teaching of science, engineering and maths at Selwyn.

The late Sir David Harrison

Another former member keen to encourage new talent was the late Professor Syd Andrew whose generosity still enables IChemE to offer bursaries to early career researchers for the University of Liverpool’s sector-leading 'Catalysis Fundamentals and Practice' summer school in June. The deadline for applications is 16 February, so please do share this information as soon as you can with any current PhD, EngD or MSc students (or those who have graduated within the last 12 months) that you think may benefit.

Community is one of my priorities during my Presidential year. IChemE was founded as a community of, and for, people involved in chemical and process engineering, and this is still right at the core of our being. We have so much to learn from each other and our vibrant global community gains so much from that mutual interaction and support. Our new global digital community, IChemE Connect, is currently being piloted and will be made available to all members in February. This has so much potential for us all.

No matter where in the world you live, you’ll be able to sign up to IChemE Connect and join in conversations (or start them), opt into groups that interest you, ask questions, request support, share news and experiences, and exchange views. You might be looking for support with CPD, to learn from others, to share aspects of your own knowledge, or to get more involved. You can choose to check in daily, weekly, or when you spot an interesting discussion on the regular digests. Shortly after launch, dedicated spaces for member groups and special interest groups will be introduced, as well as resource and discussion areas for volunteers and the Sustainability Hub. IChemE Connect will also be supporting our developing mentoring offer – a way in which everyone can gain something from sharing perspectives, experience and thoughts.

With sustainability still very much on everyone’s minds (quite rightly), we are launching a new series of IChemE webinars exploring the concepts and practice of the circular economy, a vital topic for engineers of all sectors and career stages. Professor Adisa Azapagic MBE, the world’s first appointed Professor of Sustainable Chemical Engineering, and most recent recipient of the IChemE Davis medal, is presenting the first webinar in the series, so it is one for the diary – 15 February, 08:30-09:30 GMT. You can register now at ‘Systems, Life Cycles and the Circular Economy: Identifying Sustainable Solutions, with Practical Examples’ – and I look forward to seeing you there.

One of the greatest delights of my Presidency is, of course, meeting members and prospective members, and I was delighted to be asked to speak in person with the Milton Keynes Member Group on 24 January. Yvonne Baker, IChemE CEO, came along too. I gave a few thoughts on the cost, technical challenges and most importantly the role engineers will play on the road to Net Zero, but – as with all good meetings – this was mostly a great interactive discussion with the 22 members and one prospective member, who had kindly given up their Wednesday evening to come along. We were able to discuss the upcoming Trustee and Congress elections, as well as hear about how young members are finding their path towards professional recognition. Yvonne and I came away inspired and excited – with a group like this as the present and future of IChemE, we have an exciting and bright time ahead.

Previous presidential blogs

​​December 2023 - A seasonal message

November 2023 - Collaborations and conversations

October 2023 - To mentor or be mentored, everybody wins!

September 2023 - Engineering a sustainable world

August 2023 - Futureproofing the profession

July 2023 - The hard work starts now!