Chemical Engineer Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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A chemical engineer's median annual salary is around $95,730. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a chemical engineer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Chemical Engineering

If you're looking for a way to use your knowledge of physics, math, life science and mechanics in various fields to make changes in products that are used every day, chemical engineering may be for you. Read on to see several pros and cons of working in the field of chemical engineering.

Pros of a Chemical Engineering Career
Average salary is high (median annual salary of $96,940 in 2014)*
Work is available in multiple industries (biotechnology, chemical manufacturing, electronics, energy and health care)*
Opportunity to influence emerging technology**
Multiple specializations exist in this field (sales, nanotechnology, specific substances or products)*

Cons of a Chemical Engineering Career
Extensive post-secondary education may be required (some positions might require master's or doctoral degrees)*
Health hazards might be present in work environment (including hazardous gases, liquids or dust)***
In some cases, drastic safety measures must be taken***
Meeting deadlines may be stressful***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Stanford University, ***State of Michigan.

Career Info

Job Description and Duties

In this field, you influence the development of products and services that are used by the general population everyday, including paper, health care and electronics. They also look for solutions when difficulties arise in the manufacturing and use of fuel, gases, food, pharmaceuticals and more. You may choose to specialize in a particular field, such as plastics or nanotechnology.

Chemical engineers work in every stage of chemical handling. They begin in the lab and can follow projects through full-scale production. As a chemical engineer, you'll conduct research, perform tests and develop production plans, all while ensuring safety along the way. You might also be involved in estimating the cost of your project and participate in other team endeavors. Chemical engineers often work with other engineers, chemists, physicists or technicians.

Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in May 2014, the median annual salary for chemical engineers was $96,940. Most employees in this field earned an annual wage of between $59,480 and $156,980 in the same year. Demand for employees in this career is projected to grow at a rate of 4% from 2012-2022. This is slower than the national average for engineers in all fields, at 9%, and the average for all occupations, at 11%.

What Are the Requirements?

Education Requirements

Chemical Engineers must earn at least a bachelor's degree to enter their professional field. Majors in chemical engineering or chemical and biomolecular engineering are most applicable. Coursework includes the study of polymers, chemistry, thermodynamics and many levels of chemical engineering. Students should seek programs that are certified by ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology).

Many college and university programs require, or at least recommend, that students participate in research or a cooperative (co-op) education program. One option is to take a senior thesis course that can include research with university faculty. Co-op programs allow students to alternate semesters between work in their field and classroom studies.

Skills

Chemical engineers need to be able to think critically and analytically, since they often play the role of problem solvers. They also need to have an aptitude for mathematics. Finally, chemical engineers should be able to work as part of a team, and use good oral and written communication skills when they present their work to others.

What Employers Are Looking for

Job requirements can vary widely for chemical engineers, since they can be employed in many different industries. Take a look at the job postings below to see what real employers were looking for in March 2012.

  • A tire manufacturer in Texas is seeking a chemical engineer to assess performance quality by developing reports, audits and product specifications. Applicants must have a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, understand the basic principles of this field and possess superior problem-solving and communication skills.
  • Also in Texas, a technology developer is hiring a chemical engineer to work in the gasoline technology industry. This position requires research and development, team leadership and sales. Candidates must be willing to travel, have at least 10 years of experience and be able to perform physical inspections.
  • In San Francisco, CA, a chemical engineering position is available to candidates with a master's or doctoral degree in chemical engineering and at least 2 years of experience in their field. This job includes equipment selection, laboratory capabilities and work in many stages of catalytic processes.

How to Maximize Your Skills

Continuing Education

While many jobs require only a bachelor's degree, employers might give preference to a candidate with an advanced education. Both a master's degree in chemical engineering (MChE) and doctoral degree programs are available. These programs can take 1-4 years following the completion of undergraduate studies.

Get Licensed

While certification for chemical engineers is not as common as it is for other fields, having your license as a professional engineer (PE) can give you a leg up on the competition. To earn your license, you'll need to obtain a bachelor's degree, pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, gain work experience and pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Licensing requirements vary from state to state. Generally, there is a fee for the exams, and they must be retaken to maintain a current license.

Get Specialized

Some chemical engineers work in sales, distributing manufacturing equipment and chemicals. To work in this area, you will benefit from gaining sales experience and possessing product knowledge.

You may also earn a specialization by working with specific substances within your field. You might begin focusing your career by choosing a specialized path during college or a co-op program early in your career.

Other Fields to Consider

If you'd like to work as an engineer but don't think the field of chemical engineering is for you, other options exist. You can work in mechanical, nuclear, architectural and other engineering fields. With a projected growth rate of 62% between 2010 and 2010, the field of biomedical engineering is a bright option. Employees in this field solve problems in biology and medicine to improve the quality of patient care. To enter this career, you'll need a bachelor's degree in bioengineering or an undergraduate degree in another field of engineering as well as a graduate degree in biomedical engineering.

Although job growth is projected to be slow, you might also consider a career as a chemist. Working as a chemist entails studying the structures of materials and substances and examining how they interact with one another. Your job will be mostly research-based. A bachelor's degree in chemistry or a similar field of study is required, though a master's or doctoral degree is often needed for many research-based positions.

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