How to Become a Chemical Engineer
Becoming a chemical engineer requires a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering or a related field.
Chemical engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering or a related field. Some employers prefer to hire candidates who have practical experience, so internships and cooperative engineering programs may be helpful.
High school students interested in studying chemical engineering should take science classes, such as chemistry, physics, and biology. They also should take math courses, including algebra, trigonometry, and calculus.
College students typically study chemical engineering or a related field that leads to a bachelor's degree. Programs in chemical engineering usually take 4 years and include classroom, laboratory, and field studies. Some colleges and universities have 5-year engineering programs that lead to both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. A graduate degree, which may include a degree up to the Ph.D. level, allows an engineer to work in research and development or as a postsecondary teacher.
Some colleges and universities offer internships and/or cooperative programs in partnership with industry. In these programs, students gain practical experience while completing their education.
ABET accredits engineering programs. ABET-accredited programs in chemical engineering include courses in chemistry, physics, and biology. These programs also include applying the sciences to the design, analysis, and control of chemical, physical, and biological processes.
Analytical skills. Chemical engineers must troubleshoot designs that do not work as planned. They must ask the right questions and then find answers that work.
Creativity. Chemical engineers must explore new ways of applying engineering principles. They work to invent new materials, advanced manufacturing techniques, and new applications in chemical and biomedical engineering.
Ingenuity. Chemical engineers learn the broad concepts of chemical engineering, but their work requires them to apply those concepts to specific production problems.
Interpersonal skills. Because their role is to put scientific principles into practice in manufacturing industries, chemical engineers must develop good working relationships with other workers involved in production processes.
Math skills. Chemical engineers use the principles of advanced math topics such as calculus for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.
Problem-solving skills. In designing equipment and processes for manufacturing, these engineers must be able to anticipate and identify problems, including such issues as workers’ safety and problems related to manufacturing and environmental protection.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Licensure for chemical engineers is not as common as it is for other engineering occupations, nor is it required for entry-level positions. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one’s career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires
- A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
- A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
- Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
- A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam
The initial FE exam can be taken after one earns a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE).
Each state issues its own licenses. Most states recognize licensure from other states, as long as the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements. Several states require engineers to take continuing education to keep their licenses.
Entry-level engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In large companies, new engineers also may receive formal training in classrooms or seminars. As junior engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move to more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.
Eventually, chemical engineers may advance to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some may become architectural and engineering managers. Preparing for management positions usually requires working under the guidance of a more experienced chemical engineer.
An engineering background enables chemical engineers to discuss a product’s technical aspects and assist in product planning and use. For more information, see the profile on sales engineers.