Happy ‘Boxing Day’ to you all!
During the seasonal holidays, I am re-posting some of the most popular blogs from the past six months.
In October, I highlighted how invisible our profession can be.
I guesstimate that there might be at least half a million chemical engineers dotted around the planet, yet we are hardly household names. Hopefully, today’s blog explains some of the reasons why.
Chemical engineers can be hard to identify, not just because most people aren’t clear about what chemical engineering actually is, but because chemical engineers rarely can be identified by the job title – chemical engineer!
To help dispel this confusion I have compiled a list of ten job titles that chemical engineers typically fill:
1. Process engineer
When I met up with chemical engineering colleagues they often describe themselves as process engineers. Process engineering occurs across the wide range of chemical engineering sectors, but a process engineer will typically work to design engineering packages, develop new ideas and processes, and monitor and maintain plant systems.
2. Fire and explosions engineer
Chemical engineers are extremely focused on improving and maintaining process safety. The ability to design and implement fire and explosion protection systems is imperative in ensuring public and industrial safety. A fire and explosions engineer will work to prevent, control and mitigate the effects of fire and explosions, for example in the oil and gas industry.
3. Biochemical engineer
Biochemical and chemical engineering are part of the same family. Biochemical engineering is a rapidly developing and growing research area, which is being seen as being increasingly important. Biochemical engineers are responsible for tackling many of the World’s problems such as stem cell therapy to cure illnesses and biofuels made from algae to provide more sustainable energy sources. They do this by translating life science discoveries into materials and processes that contribute to our wellbeing.
4. Blast furnace supervisor
Chemical engineers who work as blast furnace supervisors are responsible for the development and application of new technologies, processes and design improvements to furnace operations. Furnace engineers are responsible for leading equipment installations and major repairs for plants. To work in this position you need to be detail orientated to ensure project success.
5. Food hygiene engineer
I came across this title from a friend who works in the food and drink industry, and it is a key job filled by chemical engineers – especially in the wake of recent crises in the food industry. There are many chemical engineers working in the food industry, but there are very few that are actually called chemical engineers, I think because the public are put off by the idea of chemicals and food together. But this is a shame as these Food hygiene engineers work to ensure that the food we eat is safe and free from contaminants.
6. Pharmaceutical engineer
The pharmaceuticals industry is reliant on chemical engineers to help develop and manufacture new products and processes. Without pharmaceutical engineers it would be impossible to have successful development and large-scale production of many life saving products. The ability to apply chemical engineering practises to drug production not only makes the process more efficient but saves money thus producing lower cost pharmaceuticals.
7. Continuous improvement engineer
I think most chemical engineers would consider themselves to be continuous improvement engineers! However, some of us specialise in being able to innovate and consistently improve overall efficiency of a process. To fill this role you need to excel at identifying problems and solutions as well as spotting issues before they happen.
8. Thermo-fluid engineer
A Thermo-fluid engineer must have specialist knowledge of thermodynamics and be able to draw on the basic sciences of fluid mechanics, complex fluids, biomechanics, heat transfer and energy studies. Thermo-fluid engineers can work to analyse the ways in which particles interact and use this to improve processes like low-carbon energy production.
9. Design authority
A Design authority is a person (or group of people) who know how a project must proceed. They have the vision. Design authority engineers also have the power to make binding decisions. To do this job you need to have a high level of professional knowledge and the chemical engineering skills to make the best choices. As a design authority you have the power to settle discussions and implement choices on a daily basis.
This is perhaps the easiest job title for me to write about, as it is my job! Being a Professor is about not only being a teacher but a researcher as well. Although the systems for Professorship vary internationally, in most Commonwealth nations promotion to Professorship is reserved for the most senior of academics at a university.
After completing a PhD an academic will generally become a Post-Doctoral Researcher (or Post-Doc), after which we tend to specialise and become Teaching Fellows (Lecturers) or Research Fellows (but sometimes both!). Following this we become Readers and then Professors.
Understanding the academic hierarchical structure is difficult due to the variations not only between countries, but institutions. For example the US systems is very different to the UK system where academics become Research Professors, then Assistant Professors, then Associate Professors, before finally becoming full Professors!
To become a chemical engineering Professor in any country you need to work to become an expert in your field and develop a range of skills.
This list makes it clear how diverse a career chemical engineering is. Studying chemical engineering can lead to a huge variety of possible jobs which surely must add to the attraction of the field.