What A-Levels do you need?
You’ll need to study hard if you want to read Chemical Engineering at uni – not that we expect anything less of you! Chemical Engineering courses at the University of Birmingham, for example, have average grade requirements of A*AA, while Imperial College London asks for a whopping A*A*A*. If you’re not quite on course to get all As though, don’t worry, as the University of Loughborough takes students with AAB on it’s BEng course, and Swansea University asks for BBB to study Chemical Engineering with a year in industry. Most courses look favourably on students studying chemistry at A-Level and, like the majority of engineering courses, A-Levels in maths and physics are also a plus, but specific requirements vary between universities so check the department’s web page or call the admissions office for advice.
What are your study options?
You can get your BEng in Chemical Engineering in three years, but the majority of courses offer an additional year in industry, also known as a sandwich year. Sandwich years are particularly beneficial with practical courses such as engineering, as the hands-on application of your knowledge will help you to really get to grips with all aspects of your subject, and the experience can be crucial in landing a job after graduation – in fact, many Chemical Engineering students are offered permanent positions at the place they spend their sandwich year.
It’s quite common for Chemical Engineering courses to have a built in MEng at the end – this could make your course up to a year longer, but it’ll mean you’ll be eligible for all the best graduate jobs. Chemical Engineering degrees are also ideal if you’ve always wanted to live abroad, as there’s usually an option to spend your sandwich year in another country of your choosing.
Why study Chemical Engineering?
A Chemical Engineering degree will allow you to combine lots of different interests, from design and manufacture to conservation and sustainability, allowing you to do work that is both creative and practical. Your career prospects will also be excellent, as engineers of all stripes are always in demand, plus – whether you use your skills to design and create new technologies and objects, operate chemical plants and oversee processes, or concentrate on improving the way we use the Earth’s resources – you’ll be contributing to the planet in a very practical way, and nothing can beat the warm, fuzzy feeling that will give you. That might be why, according to
this article in the Guardian, applications to study Chemical Engineering at uni have gone up by 4% over the last year, even as the number of applications to other courses have fallen.
After your Chemical Engineering degree…
There are plenty of options for further study after you’ve completed a BEng or BSc in Chemical Engineering. Many students go on to do an MEng, with a lot of courses having an optional MEng year built in, and if you enjoy the research side of your course, you could even go on to pursue a PhD and consider moving into academia.
To find out what kind of jobs Chemical Engineering graduates go on to do, Whatuni spoke to Beth Mather, a final year Chemical Engineering student at the University of Manchester who already has a job lined up for when she graduates in 2015. She said:
‘I'm going to be working for National Grid. But others on my course have worked with companies such as Shell, P&G, ExxonMobil, Cargill and many more international companies. The University of Manchester is one of the best universities for connecting you with industry, which was one of the reasons why I chose to study there. Some Chemical Engineering graduates go on to work in other sectors such as banking, teaching or business, so once you choose to study Chemical Engineering you don't have to graduate and become an engineer; the problem-solving skills you learn are useful and wanted in many other career paths.’
Q & As With Two Chemical Engineering Students
Florian Forster and Valentina Okolo are both studying Chemical Engineering at the University of Manchester...
What are you enjoying most about your course?
Florian: ‘It just never gets boring! Chemical Engineering offers the most interdisciplinary experience of the four main engineering branches as it adds chemistry and biology to classic engineering modules. You will work to maximise economic returns while minimising the impact on the environment.’
The best thing about my course at Manchester is that the third year is spent studying in industry combined with distance learning. I’ll get an insight into the day-to-day work of an engineer and acquire invaluable hands-on experience.’
Valentina: ‘At the moment I am currently enjoying working on my dissertation project and being able to read books, journals and papers. I enjoy learning about the application of all the theory I have learnt throughout my degree and also finding the impact my project could possibly have on the scientific world. I think it’s quite cool.’
What key modules did you study in your first year?
Florian: ‘Next to basic modules in science and maths you’ll get an introduction to the four main areas in chemical engineering:
- Chemical Reaction Engineering, which teaches you how to design chemical reactors.
- Transport Phenomena, where you learn how heat, mass and momentum are transported.
- Process Design, which is about which processes and machines to use to produce a certain product and how they work.
- Plant Design, where you learn how to to lay out a plant, how to modify it and the economics behind it.
In laboratories these concepts are put into practice to actually observe the physical phenomena behind the theory, and in design projects you work through a proposed plant and do an economic study.’
Valentina: ‘In my first year, my key modules were Maths, Transport Phenomena and Chemical Engineering Design.’
What are you hoping to do after you’ve graduated?
Florian: ‘I’m especially interested in the energy sector and the oil and gas business. Once you go into the commercial side of the business it is difficult to go to the technical one. Therefore, I’m seeking the most challenging experience I can think of – working as close to the source as possible, maybe even off-shore!’
Valentina: ‘I hope to do a PhD in a relevant scientific field but I haven’t chosen a subject yet.’
How has the course helped you achieve your ambitions so far?
Florian: ‘Next to acquiring deep knowledge of the subjects above, you will develop an engineering mindset and strong team-working skills. As these are very transferable, they also make you interesting to companies from completely different areas of business, like finance and banking.’
Next to the well-structured course, the university’s strong links to industry can help get you in touch with the people and companies you want to work for in the future and help you land your dream job!’
Valentina: ‘It has equipped me with transferrable skills, which give me the opportunity to develop further in either an academic or industrial role. It really has helped make the world my oyster, which is what I have always wanted. I like the idea of not being restricted to one type of career, and having lots of options.’
Q&A with a Chemical Engineering lecturer
Dr Nuno Reis is a lecturer in Chemical Engineering at Loughborough University...
Dr Nuno Reis
Why should students study a degree in Chemical Engineering?
Chemical Engineering is a multidiscipinary subject that will prepare you to pursue a career in some of the most relevant market sectors, including energy (petrochemicals and biofuels), healthcare, water and environment, or food. You will be trained to take a leadership position, work alongside other scientists on the development of novel products, or become a process engineer, i.e. be responsible for designing and running chemical and biological plants.
What kind of skills will students learn on the course?
A large range of both soft and hard skills, from subject specific knowledge to running and assembling unit operations/instrumentation, using scientific software, teamwork, and report writing and presentation, to name a few.
What key modules can students expect to cover in their first year?
Core subjects such as Thermodynamics, Fluid Mechanics, or Heat Transfer. There are also plenty of opportunities to run experiments involving fluid flow or heat transfer.
What kind of careers do students typically go into after they graduate?
They usually take a role as a process engineer in the petrochemical, pharmaceutical or food sector. Among possible employers are the largest petrochemical companies; however, there are also plenty of opportunities on offer at the interface with biology – particularly working in the biopharmaceutical sector.