Why study chemical engineering?

Students studying in a science lab

If you’re considering studying a chemical engineering degree, and need some help in making your final decision, read on for more information and top reasons to study this fascinating subject.

What is chemical engineering?

Put simply, chemical engineering is turning raw materials into everyday products. Chemical engineering is responsible for fulfilling everyday needs such as clothes, food and energy. Chemical engineers devise these production processes while also remaining mindful of managing resources, making sure health and safety standards are adhered to, and protecting the world’s environment.

Most chemical engineering jobs fit under one of two headings: the design and operation of machinery and plants, or the production of new or modified materials and substances.

Why study chemical engineering at university?

There are many reasons to study a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. Exciting and various career prospects, developing a wide skill set and having the opportunity to change the world are just three examples. Read on for more details.

Exciting career prospects

Chemical engineering offers a number of exiting careers. Once qualified, you’ll have a wide choice, depending on your interests. Some of these roles might include:

  • Process engineer
  • Fire and explosions engineer
  • Food hygiene engineer
  • Biochemical engineer
  • Thermo-fluid engineer
  • Pharmaceutical engineer
  • Continuous improvement engineer
  • Blast furnace supervisor
  • Professor

Due to their work and skills diversity, chemical engineers can be employed in many different sectors. In fact, chemical engineering is among the most employable subjects in the world.

Chemical engineers’ expertise in developing commercial products and processes means that they can expect high salaries when starting work.

Two Surrey University students conducting an experiment

Modern and relevant

Of the many scientific subjects currently on offer at UK universities, chemical engineering probably has the most modern applications. You can become proficient in promising areas of scientific research such as:

Bioengineering: Bioengineering is the line between medicine and engineering. Bioengineers collaborate with researchers, doctors and clinicians. They practice conventional engineering techniques and principles, and use them to solve real-life medical and biological problems.

Nanotechnology: Nanotechnology comprises building materials and devices on the scale of atoms and molecules. This technology is thought to hold the promise of increasing energy consumption efficiency, solving major health issues, and helping to clean the environment.

Obtain a high level of education

A chemical engineering degree can be challenging but will provide you with a high level of education. Chemical engineers have vast technical knowledge of engineering, biochemistry, chemistry, information technology and materials science. In addition, these professionals also have a wide knowledge of management, economics, the environment, and health and safety. Finally, chemical engineers have experience of using tools such as computing developments, scientific experiments and pilot plants.

Develop a wide range of skills

Chemical engineering graduates have a wide range of skills that can either be used in an engineering career or can be transferred to a whole host of other jobs. Some of these skills include:

  • Analytical skills: engineers and scientists are analysts. They work by continually reviewing and analysing their work, identifying the gaps and pinpointing required changes.
  • Ability to work under pressure: chemical engineers are frequently called into time critical situations – for example an oil spill – and expected to fix the problems quickly and effectively. Chemical engineers are used to having to work well under pressure.
  • Creativity: sometimes, engineers are stereotyped as ‘geeky’. However, engineers are very creative; their careers centre around creating new products and systems.
  • Communication and teamworking: chemical engineers frequently work with large teams of people – both fellow engineers and those from other fields. Engineers must work productively with others to achieve results.
  • Problem-solving: Chemical engineers solve problems every day. The capability to recognise problems is a valuable skill, but chemical engineers are qualified to have the knowledge to assess the possibilities and then find the top solution.

Chemical engineering is not restrictive

Unlike some subjects, chemical engineering is not restricted to certain careers. Even if you decide not to pursue a career in the industry, there are many things you can do with a chemical engineering degree. Chemical engineering graduates are highly desirable in other fields because they are adept at problem-solving and have solid management and analytical skills. Chemical engineers also develop a number of soft skills including logical, innovative and creative thinking. Graduates of this subject can move on to positive careers in consultancy, scientific journalism and finance, among many others.

Make a difference to the world

Making a difference to the world is important for many people’s sense of professional and personal satisfaction. A degree in chemical engineering is a real opportunity to change the world. These professionals work every day to improve people’s lives. The majority of items and services people use on a daily basis are created at source by chemical engineers. Additionally, chemical engineers work to find answers to ending poverty, food shortages and disease. In addition to helping humans directly, chemical engineers also work to preserve the world’s climate. Teams and individuals are working on solutions to climate change, acid rain and pollution.

International opportunities

If you’ve always wanted to work in different countries, chemical engineering has the added bonus of international travel opportunities. The high number of global companies working in the chemical engineering sector means that many professionals can enjoy this perk. Working in different countries will allow you to experience new professional and personal cultures and to widen your skillset even further.

A Sussex student in the laboratory

How to study chemical engineering?

To be accepted onto a chemical engineering degree course, previous qualifications in maths, chemistry, and physics will be helpful. Other useful subjects may include statistics, engineering, further maths, design technology and product design.

Chemical engineering is a challenging subject. Entry requirements are high, but once on the course, you’ll obtain a correspondingly high level of education.

If you’d like to study in the UK, you can progress to a Chemical or Chemical and Petroleum Engineering degrees from the Engineering and Physical Sciences International Foundation Year at the University of Surrey International Study centre. The courses will help you fulfil the chemical engineering requirements for university.

University programmes in chemical engineering are generally made up of seminars, lectures, tutorials, practical laboratory work, computer practice, and both group and individual project work. Some courses include visiting industry professionals and site visits. Work placements or spending a year in industry sometimes forms an essential component.

Why study chemical engineering at the University of Surrey?

  • University of Surrey offers BEng and MEng Chemical Engineering courses that have been developed in consultation with industry.
  • The courses will enable you to practice real-life engineering challenges and prepare you for a successful career in the industry.
  • The University’s new £1.7m chemical engineering facility encompasses a fully-working pilot process plant that students use and operate.
  • University of Surrey is a top placement provider, with more than 2300 partnerships including with EDF Energy, Thames Water and Air Products.
  • University of Surrey is ranked 21st for chemical engineering in The Guardian University League Tables 2020.
  • The University is ranked 7th in the Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey 2018.

Chemical engineering is an exciting, worthwhile and ever-changing profession. If you’d like a career that will challenge as well as reward you, consider studying a Chemical Engineering degree.

Find out more about starting your studies or check the latest COVID-19 information.