Crowd of people

What the public really think about chemical engineers… (Day 103)

Crowd of peopleI recently came across the Ipsos MORI 2014 Public Attitudes to Science study which focuses on public perceptions in the UK to science and engineering.

The survey did not test scientific knowledge but instead examined the social connections between people and science. This approach is useful as it offers an insight into how a person will respond to a specific issue, for example fracking.

There are lots of positives to draw from the Ipsos MORI report; for example 88 per cent of people surveyed think that engineers make a valuable contribution to society, 84 per cent of the people think that science is such a big part of our lives we should all take an interest in it and 55 per cent felt that the benefits of science outweighed the costs.

In Australia a CSIRO study found that 57 per cent of people surveyed had a broadly positive attitude towards science, but 60 per cent of people were more interested in technology than the science itself. However, 83 per cent of people agreed that science was very important to solving the problems facing society today.

One result I found quite shocking in the UK Ipsos MORI study was that 35 per cent of people surveyed felt that scientists adjusted their findings to get the answers they wanted.

One Direction Picturecredit: featureflash |
Global boy band sensation – One Direction
Picture Credit: Featureflash |

The Ipsos MORI report also investigated how people discuss and learn about science and engineering topics, and compared the level of online conversation about science with the level of conversation about the boy band One Direction. Discussions of science were relatively low in comparison, with One Direction drawing discussions numbering up to approximately 15K, and science discussions only numbering up to 1.5K.

However, the main opinion that stood out to me is that the public felt the need for scientists and engineers to be more visible, approachable and pro-active about talking about their research. 58 per cent of participants felt that scientists put too little effort into informing the public about their work.

I recently read this very interesting blog from engenius.i which suggests that people are not motivated by what or how something is done, but why.

Chemical engineers are very good at communicating numbers and facts (the what and the how), but rarely stop to explain, or in some cases even consider, why they do the work they do.

This excellent TED talk by Simon Sinek explains why we should be talking more about why:


Whilst some of us chemical engineers are very good at explaining our work, others struggle. This is something I have made my mission to correct as IChemE president, by using this blog. We need to focus on ensuring that everyone understands the why we do the work we do; that Chemical Engineering Matters.

We chemical engineers need to be clear in saying; “I am a chemical engineer to ensure that all homes have electricity”, “I am a chemical engineer so I can provide people with a clean water supply”, “I am a chemical engineer so I can stop climate change” or “I am a chemical engineer to ensure that everyone has safe food to eat”.

Why not get involved and tell why me you are a chemical engineer in our comments section below?

9 thoughts on “What the public really think about chemical engineers… (Day 103)”

  1. I’m a chemical engineer so I can help build habitable bubbles in space. For real.


  2. Geoff, if the replies to your blog are anything to go by then not many people are reading them.
    I have set myself the goal of reading and replying to every one of thembut I do think many other chemical engineers will be that determined.


  3. I am a Chemical Engineer to ensure new and existing medicines are safe and affordable for everyone, everywhere.

    Time to speak out, not just in!


  4. Well, one mentality that i’ve seen among people here in Mauritius is that they do not acknowledge Chem Eng. Because for them somebody who can work in a process plant IS a mechanical eng., somebody who can conduct energy audits IS an electrical eng., somebody who can implement renewable technologies IS a mechanical eng. There are myriads of examples like this. I guess people or even directors of companies do not know what actually a Chem Eng does. I’ll agree with you Sir! We, Chem Eng needs to raise our voice and explain to people what we actually do and why does it matters.

    I am a Chemical Engineer to create a sustainable future.


  5. Hi Geoff,

    My name is Jason Conway and am about to become a graduate chemical engineer.
    I am also a business consultant specifically focused on organisational culture, with a particular leaning toward connecting why companies operate to how they operate daily.
    I was wondering if you were interested in continuing this discussion further as I feel that we are very much on the same page, and it would be great to connect.

    Looking forward to hearing from you,



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