Study Chemical Engineering: Masters, PhD & Online Degree Info

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What will you learn in a chemical engineering degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD, and potential careers.
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Chemical Engineering: Master's Degrees and PhDs at a Glance

In order to earn a graduate degree in chemical engineering, you will need a strong academic background in biology, chemistry, physics, math, and other related subjects. While enrolled in chemical engineering graduate programs, you will often use creative, innovative, and complex thinking skills to complete the coursework, pass exams, and carry out research projects. Chemical engineers use scientific knowledge and mathematical principles to solve problems related to various industries and products.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of chemical engineers is expected to grow 6% from 2010 to 2020. This projected growth is slower than the average for all occupations. The demand for products and goods produced by manufacturers impacts the availability of jobs for chemical engineers.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals with exceptional science and mathematical skills who desire to apply their knowledge to solve problems involving the production of chemicals, fuel, and other products Those seeking to lead project developments, research, or teach at the university level
Common Career Paths (with approximate annual salary) - Chemical engineer ($99,000)*
- Chemical engineer instructor ($51,000**
- University engineering professor ($97,000)*
- Research scientist ($41,000-$97,000)***
Time to Completion 1.5-3 years full time 4-5 years after the master's degree
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 30 units of course work
- Advanced-level science, math, and engineering courses
- Master's thesis
- Oral and qualifying examinations
- Approximately 40 units of course work beyond the master's level
- PhD qualifying exams
- An approved topic of research
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in math, certain science fields, chemistry, chemical engineering or related field Bachelor's or master's degree in chemical engineering or other engineering field
Online Availability Yes (limited availability) None available at this time

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 mean salary figures), **Salary.com (June 2012 median salary figures), ***Payscale.com (June 2012; 10th-90th percentile salary range).

Master's in Chemical Engineering

Earning a master's degree in chemical engineering requires advanced academic skills and knowledge in science, math, innovative thinking, and research. Once you are enrolled in a Master of Science in Chemical Engineering program, you will study chemical transformations and be expected to apply your knowledge of engineering and other related subjects to find the solutions to manufacturing or industrial problems. You will receive guidance, instruction, and training on how to utilize current engineering tools, design systems, and analyze chemical engineering processes.

Master's degree programs in chemical engineering also provide a basis for continued study leading to the PhD. As a graduate chemical engineering student, you will work on graduate courses, independent research, and defense of a thesis based on your research. Common research areas in chemical engineering include minerals processing, biochemical engineering and process safety.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • You can gain the knowledge necessary to make the environment safer*
  • Chemical engineering is a well-compensated field*
  • Demand for chemical engineers may increase as chemical engineering expands into new fields such as nanotechnology and biotechnology*

Cons:

  • The demand for chemical engineers depends largely on the fluctuating demand for industry products*
  • Demand for chemical engineers can be impacted by slowdowns in manufacturing growth*
  • The projected job growth rate is slower than the average for all occupations*

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Common Coursework and Requirements

As a graduate chemical engineering student, you will take central courses in areas covering thermodynamics and applied math. In addition, you'll take a combination of core and elective courses in specific areas of chemical engineering, such as:

  • Reaction engineering
  • Mathematical modeling
  • Bioengineering
  • Transport phenomena
  • Kinetics
  • Heat transmission

If you enroll in a master's degree program, you will also be required to complete a research thesis under the supervision of the program's advisor or other faculty members. Some graduate programs also require an oral examination that will test your overall professional knowledge and coursework comprehension.

Online Degree Options

If you desire to continue your education while remaining employed full time, you may consider online degree options in chemical engineering. In addition to traditional on-campus classroom instruction, some colleges and universities offer online delivery through their distance education networks. These online master's degree programs in chemical engineering provide the same content and instruction as traditional programs. In some schools, you'll use interactive online learning applications, but you may also be required to visit campus on occasion.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

Your employment opportunities in chemical engineering can be enhanced by staying on the forefront of new, emerging technologies while completing your degree. You can read professional journals, do independent research, and take specific courses or participate in seminars to stay abreast of the latest technology trends. For instance, you might consider pursuing research options in such areas as nanotechnology, environmental remediation or optoelectronic materials. You can also look for schools that encourage your involvement in professional development activities, like participating in student symposiums or joining professional organizations.

PhD in Chemical Engineering

If you have aspirations of earning a PhD in Chemical Engineering, you must have the ability to carry out independent research, apply chemistry and engineering principles to a variety of industrial problems, and use advanced design and experimental methods to analyze and solve research problems. You'll study advanced concepts in mathematics, fluid mechanics, process dynamics, physics, chemistry, technology, and other related areas.

To earn your PhD, you'll be expected to complete a dissertation based on original research. You can work with a faculty mentor or advisor as you focus your research and prepare to summarize your findings, present the results, and publish articles in scientific journals. In addition to your dissertation and coursework, you'll complete oral and written exams.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Chemical engineering is a field with diverse opportunities for specialization, including areas such as biotechnology and chemical process development
  • You will be qualified to teach at a multitude of colleges and universities*
  • You will have the qualifications needed to conduct independent research and oversee graduate research projects *

Cons

  • Job options outside of research and teaching generally require only a bachelor's degree*
  • Availability of postsecondary teaching positions may be impacted by budgetary decisions at state and local levels*
  • Some colleges and universities are moving away from tenure-track positions, making these positions extremely competitive*

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

As a PhD student in chemical engineering, your courses will cover a wide variety of areas, such as:

  • Surface chemistry
  • Heat and mass transfer
  • Reaction kinetics
  • Applied mathematics
  • Engineering design
  • Microbe cultivation
  • Transport phenomena

In some programs, you may focus your studies on general areas, such as processing or materials, while other programs offer concentrations in more specific topics, like thermodynamics, transport processes, or chemical reactions. You'll be required to take graduate seminars and may have to take advanced courses in areas outside of chemical engineering, such as computer science or mechanical engineering.

Online Degree Options

PhD programs in chemical engineering are generally not available through online study. These programs require you to work closely with faculty mentors and collaborate with other students through your research efforts, which may not be possible through online study. In addition, you may be required to work as a teaching assistant while you complete the program.

Stand out with this degree

As a PhD candidate, you will have many opportunities to maximize your degree potential. For instance, since the chemical engineering field continues to expand as technology advances, you can stay knowledgeable about the field's growth by attending engineering conferences, participating in professional organizations, reading journals, and collaborating with veteran engineers and experts in the technology field.

Furthermore, many universities prefer to hire professors who already have teaching experience. In order to make yourself a more attractive candidate, you might consider becoming a graduate teaching assistant, if it's not required by your program.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSTIM - Engineering Management
      • MBA - Management of Engineering and Technology
  • New Haven, CT

    Yale University

  • Worcester, MA

    Worcester Polytechnic Institute

  • Morgantown, WV

    West Virginia University

  • New York, NY

    Weill Cornell Medical College

  • Saint Louis, MO

    Washington University in St Louis

  • Tulsa, OK

    University of Tulsa

  • Youngstown, OH

    Youngstown State University

  • Toledo, OH

    University of Toledo

  • Rochester, NY

    University of Rochester

Featured Schools

Northcentral University

  • MSTIM - Engineering Management
  • MBA - Management of Engineering and Technology

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Yale University

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

West Virginia University

Weill Cornell Medical College

Washington University in St Louis

University of Tulsa

Youngstown State University