Best blogs of 2014: Ten reasons to become a chemical engineer (Day 215)

Best blogs of 2014: Ten reasons to become a chemical engineer (Day 215)

28th December 2014

In June 2014, I suggested ten reasons why you should consider becoming a chemical engineer. In fact there are many more reasons, but I hope you find the ten that made our list helpful, especially if you are at school or in the early stages of your career.


The media (and generally readers) love lists of things. Easily digestible and readable, they are a great way to start debate and communicate in a few words. A quick Google will show you just how many top ten lists there.

Anyway, throughout my presidency I thought I'd use this handy technique in my blogs to get your views and comments - beginning with ten reasons to become a chemical engineer. In no particular order, my top ten are:

1. A growing global profession

In some countries membership of professional bodies are in decline. but this is not the case for chemical engineers. IChemE has 40,000 members and growing strongly. In India, the Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers has over 20,000 members. In the US, AIChE has around 45,000 members. The Philippines' Institute has nearly 2,000. These healthy numbers go on and indicate a thriving and like-minded global profession in demand.

2. Make a difference

Some professions attract the word 'vocation'. Nurses and teachers are often associated with the view that it's not just about the money, but the job satisfaction of knowing that you've helped someone personally and profoundly. Chemical engineers have this opportunity too. It may be less personal but better nutrition, improved health, greater social mobility, warmth and light, protection of the environment and many other measures valued by society are the result of our hard work. It's a great job for making a difference.

3. Money

Whether a graduate or well down your career path, chemical engineers generally feature at the top end of high earners. Graduates give dentists and doctors a run for their money with starting salaries in the UK of around £30,000. Median salaries for Chartered Chemical Engineers reach around 70,000, and are even higher for those working in oil and gas. All this leads to a great quality of life.

4. Job Choice

Undergraduates always have a tricky decision to make about which course to take. And there is always a danger that whichever course they choose narrows their job prospects in the future. But that could hardly be said of chemical engineering which opens doors to the following industries and jobs: Biochemical engineering, Chemical and allied products, Consultancy, Contracting, Education/Universities, Food and drink, Health, safety and environment, Mining and minerals, Oil and gas exploration and production, Oil refining, Paper and packaging, Petrochemicals, Pharmaceuticals and toiletries, Plastics, Power generation – fossil fuels, Power generation – nuclear decommissioning, Power generation – nuclear generation, Power generation – renewables, Process plant and equipment, Water, and Waste Management.

5. Great (big) companies

Some of the world's largest companies and biggest 'brands' operate in the chemical and process sector. Not surprisingly, oil and gas feature heavily in the top 50 companies ranked by revenue. So too are energy companies like E.ON and pharmaceutical suppliers. Impressive!

6. Travel and lifestyle

Chemical engineering provides some great opportunities to travel and work in different countries, facilitated by the high proportion of globalised multinational companies operating in the sector. So if you need a work passport, choose chemical engineering - if you're like our members (who are spread across 120 different countries), you'll have plenty of chance to work in several different continents and nations throughout your career.

7. Recession-proof

Since the global recession in 2008, by and large, chemical engineers have retained their standard of living. In a period when many professions have seen their salaries decline in real terms, median salaries for the chemical engineering profession has grown by nearly six percent (5.7%) since 2012 and by 12 per cent since 2010 to £56,000. Comforting to know.

8. On hand when it matters

In times of trouble, like natural disasters, emergency teams are on the ground as soon as possible. Once their work is over, teams of people - often volunteers - replace them to help the recovery by establishing vital services and infrastructure to provide like clean water, light, warmth and food. It's always great to know that charities and chemical engineers are part of these teams carrying out their unsung work.

9. Career progression

With so many large employers in the sector, there is an endless opportunity to progress your career as a chemical engineer. Even if you prefer to work for a smaller company, or on your own as a consultant, there is always an opportunity to choose your own career path. The China National Petroleum Corporation reportedly employs 1.6M people. In food, the Compass Group employs over 420,000 people. PetroChina comes in at nearly 600,000. Even McDonald's, with its chemically engineered food, employs 1.7M people. The result is a world of opportunity to move up the rungs of a very long ladder.

10. Diversity

Last year, IChemE achieved a first by delivering some training at Shell's Gamba site in Gabon, Africa. In addition to French-speaking Gabonese personnel, the Shell Gabon site employed an international mix of staff including people from Europe, North and South America, the Middle East, Asia and other African countries. The young, old, senior engineers and student interns all mixed together to create a diverse team. This is not uncommon and represents the diversity of our profession.

As always, it would be great to hear what you most value from being a chemical engineer.