Chemical Engineer: Job Duties, Occupational Outlook, and Education Requirements

Explore what it takes to become a chemical engineer. Learn about educational and professional requirements, job duties, salary, and potential job growth to see if this is the career is right for you. Schools offering Engineering & Technology Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Chemical Engineer?

Chemical engineers use scientific and engineering principles to research, develop and manufacture chemicals, drugs, fuels, food and a wide range of other products. They design experiments, create safety procedures for working with dangerous chemicals, conduct tests and monitor results throughout production. A strong background in chemistry, physics, biology and mathematics is paramount.

Typically, chemical engineers will specialize in a particular process, like oxidation, or specialize in a particular field or product. They must be able to solve problems as they arise and evaluate the engineering process for safety compliance and environmental regulations. Check out the following chart for an overview of this career.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Chemical engineering
Key Skills Math, problem solving, creative and critical thinking
Licensure Professional Engineering license recommended
Job Growth (2014-2024) 2%*
Median Salary (2015) $97,360*

Source: *U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Job Duties of a Chemical Engineer?

A chemical engineer usually works in manufacturing, biotechnology or health care. Building on initial discoveries made by chemists, chemical engineers use computer models and other processes to test the efficacy of these products and to determine their safety for consumers and the environment. Your job duties as a chemical engineer would include researching new methods of manufacturing chemicals, creating the process by which gas or liquid components are separated, gathering estimates of the cost of production and designing and implementing safety procedures for employees working with potentially hazardous chemicals. Areas of specialization you could choose include nanomaterials and oxidation.

What Is the Occupational Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in chemical engineering are expected to grow by 2% from 2014-2024, slower than average job growth in other fields. With chemical manufacturing plants predicted to offer fewer jobs in the future, you'd likely have more employment opportunities in the fields of nanotechnology and biotechnology, as well as in the technical and scientific service industries. According to the BLS, as of 2015, the average yearly salary for chemical engineers who worked in scientific research and development was $104,740. Those in chemical manufacturing earned average annual incomes of $104,920.

What Education Requirements Should I Satisfy?

Typically, you'll need a bachelor's degree in chemistry or chemical engineering to become a chemical engineer. Information on accredited chemical engineering programs can be found through the ABET website. If you're still in high school, you can prepare yourself for admission to an engineering program by taking courses in advanced mathematics and science, along with introductory courses in engineering and computer science. Your college curriculum will include subjects such as chemical engineering design, linear algebra, biochemical engineering, calculus, chemical reactor design, quantum mechanics and chemical process calculations.

What Professional Requirements Must I Meet?

For some jobs, you may need to acquire a professional engineer (PE) designation through licensure. This is required of all engineers whose work serves the public. To obtain the PE license, you must first hold an undergraduate engineering degree from an accredited educational program. In addition, you must pass the Fundamentals of Engineering examination, after which you go on to acquire on-the-job experience. Finally, you must receive a passing score on the Principles and Practice of Engineering Examination. In many states, you must also participate in continuing education programs to maintain your license.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Other related careers that require at least a bachelor's degree include those of occupational health and safety specialists, chemists and materials scientists, and biomedical engineers. Occupational health and safety specialists analyze work procedures and environments to check for compliance with health, safety and environmental regulations. Chemists and materials scientists work at the atomic and molecular levels to study how substances interact. Their work is then used to test and improve products. Biomedical engineers create equipment, software and more that is used in healthcare. They do this by combining their knowledge in biology and engineering.

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