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Chemical Engineer

Overview  

The work of chemical engineers can be seen in virtually every aspect of our lives. For example, chemical engineers develop fuels with optimum performance and environmental protection in mind. They create toothpastes designed to whiten your whites and work to ensure that your glasses are shatterproof. In short, chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry to engineering, seeking to develop ways of producing and using chemicals for practical purposes.

Chemical engineers are the "jacks of all trades" in the engineering profession; their knowledge is broad enough to cover an expansive range of fields, such as physics, mathematics, and mechanical and electrical engineering. For example, one chemical engineer may work on creating a new chemical, another may find ways to maximize the chemical's production, and another may discover the optimal ways to use the new chemical. As they continue their work, chemical engineers will focus on one chemical process or a specific area which becomes the center of their career. Chemical engineers generally work in teams, which fosters an environment at once competitive and cooperative.

About 70 percent of the chemical engineers in the U.S. work in the manufacturing industry. Others work for research and testing firms, engineering consulting firms, or as independent consultants. Consulting firms and consultants work on a contract basis on projects such as designing chemical plants.

Career Path  

Entry-level chemical engineers do a lot of number-crunching and running of tests and experiments. Within a year or two, engineers graduate to working on projects with greater responsibility. After gaining experience with a corporation or the government, some engineers choose to strike out on their own, establishing engineering consulting firms or starting their own engineering companies, where they pull down six-figure salaries.

Uppers  

Good pay;Wide variety of career options

Downers  

Some initial grunt work;Weird smells

Personality Match  

Analytical;Fastidious;Cooperative

Personality Miss  

Disorganized;Impatient

Hours  

Average about 40 per week

Salary  

Average entry-level salary: $46,900;Average for industrially employed B.S. chemical engineers: $60,000;Average for industrially employed M.S. chemical engineers: $74,500;Average for industrially employed Ph.D. chemical engineers: $79,800

Skills  

B.S., M.S., or Ph.D.;General computer and statistical skills

Our Survey Says  

If you enjoy "fixing things, improving things, and creating new and innovative processes," then you might just want to be a chemical engineer. The hours vary depending on the employer and position; some chemical engineers who work for corporations handle "swing shifts" while others work the regular 9 to 5 schedule. Chemical engineers who work in the field generally have more flexible hours and have to wear "clothes that can get dirty." Engineers who meet with clients must dress in "business fatigues," says one engineer, dryly referring to suits.

From chemical engineering, one can "go into almost any field," as chemical engineers work with all types of other engineers. However, be prepared to log long hours in developing this wide expertise: Many chemical engineers log "40 to 100 hours a week in classes to learn new skills." Having a "good mentor" in college or graduate school "makes for more successful engineers."

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