For the third instalment in our blog and video series, Your career in chemical engineering, we chatted to experienced engineers Sam Grayson, Sarah Morris, and Dhammy Parameswaran for more on their experiences in risk management, water, and pharmaceuticals, respectively.
They share the day-to-day challenges they face and how they obtained their roles. Plus, they provide practical tips for graduates applying for jobs in the video below.
Securing the right role
Sam became intrigued by risk management and process safety learning about incidents and procedures during his chemical engineering bachelor’s degree at Monash University, Australia and his three-month vacation work with GSK. At the healthcare company he recognised they had a strong focus on safety and emergency response procedures and enjoyed participating in their annual safety day where these aspects are highlighted.
“That’s something I’ll always remember,” said Sam. “As I finished my degree, I particularly enjoyed learning about historical safety events that occurred in industry, the consequences and causes of those, and ways in which they could have been prevented. I was particularly interested in learning more and helping others to hopefully one day prevent incidents occurring at their sites.”
When a Risk Engineer role came up at R4Risk he grabbed the chance to apply. Five years on he continues to thoroughly enjoy supporting clients in pharmaceuticals, food, and petrochemicals with their risk management needs using a range of audit and analysis skills learned at university, including fire safety studies, quantitative risk assessments, consequence modelling, and hazardous area classification.
Sarah’s journey to being a chemical engineer began with her undergraduate degree in chemistry at Cardiff University. During her industrial placement year with Dow Chemical Company, she was fascinated by the thought-process and methods of chemical engineers she was working with, while learning about the products they had designed.
“When I spoke to them I was really intrigued by how their minds worked. I really enjoyed their thought process of using maths and science together, whereas I felt I was using mostly the science side,” she said.
“I thought, I quite like the way they’re thinking; I could do that! So, after my degree, I did a Master’s degree in chemical engineering at Swansea University and I haven’t looked back since!”
She gained a Graduate Process Engineer role at Arup’s water department in Cardiff, supporting Dwr Cymru Welsh Water and also undertook a secondment at Arup’s Leeds office assisting projects for Yorkshire Water. Two years of experience later, she was promoted to a Process Engineer.
She loves the variety of her job. One day she could be working on detailed design and optimisation of sites, the next, sampling and analysing sewage in wastewater.
It was during her A Levels in London, UK, that Dhammy decided to pursue her strong aptitude for science. She knew it was the subject for her career, but was less keen on a job in medicine, such as a doctor, which is what she was advised was the only route to go down.
This pushed her to research and explore more options, which is when she found a Welcome Trust exhibition in the city that introduced her “to the world of biochemical engineering”. With University College London just round the corner from her home, she signed up for a bachelor’s degree in biochemical engineering and has “never looked back”.
Keen to develop her skills and get a foot in the door with worldwide pharmaceuticals company Eli Lilly, she applied for a placement. Rejected but not disheartened, she gained further experience with a summer internship at MedImmune in Cambridge working on nanofiltration optimisation, and then a year-long industrial placement at biotechnology firm Fujifilm Diosynth Technologies as a research scientist in downstream processing. After completing her degree, she finally secured her dream role as a graduate role as a Bioprocess Engineer at Eli Lilly in Cork, Ireland.
Over the past five years at Eli Lilly, she has worked with various colleagues across the company, including in manufacturing, quality assurance and the process scientist team, working to create medicines for diabetic and Alzheimer’s patients, such as Trulicity and the scale up and technology transfer of Donnanemab between Eli Lilly’s worldwide sites. Her focus is ensuring the batches are made and delivered to hospitals and surgeries on time, meet the quality standard, and that all documentation aligns with the products and the equipment performance and capability standards.
“Biochemical engineering is my way of giving back to patients, making the world a better place and I’ve never regretted it,” she said.
Continuous learning and development
Whether you’re looking to gain your first job after your studies, or considering changing taking up a new role or responsibility, there will always be opportunity to learn and challenges to overcome while developing your skills as an engineer.
Dhammy said no two days are ever the same as a chemical engineer. She added: “No matter how long you’ve worked in that specific manufacturing facility, on that asset or equipment, you will always face new challenges. You’ll have to approach things with a different perspective and probably reach out to colleagues you’ve never worked with before.
“That is a great challenge to have as it forces me to grow and become a successful biochemical engineer.”
Balancing innovation and cost is a challenge Sarah is continuing to develop.
“Innovative solutions can be more expensive compared to conventional solutions, so we’re trying to push innovation while thinking about the cost and getting the best for the client,” she said.
And for Sam? “What challenges me most is interfacing with the client,” he said.
“As a consultant I have to communicate with clients from different backgrounds, different companies and at different seniority levels, including those from engineering and non-engineering backgrounds. So, it’s about communicating what I do to them in a way they can understand it and can get value out of.”
Sam remains open-minded and optimistic about his career journey.
“Safety and risk are required everywhere, so I think my career outlook is very open and there are pathways in many different directions,” he said. “I’ve recently become a Senior Risk Engineer, so there’s many more skills to learn and a lot to look forward to!”
Meanwhile, Sarah aims to get Chartered, become a senior engineer, boost her experience and network with clients, as well as become more influential in the company and sector.
Dhammy aims to continue driving solutions in healthcare and has recently taken a new step gaining a new role as Senior Scientist at ViroCell in London, which manufactures viral vectors and gene-modified cells to enable novel cell and gene therapies to enter clinical trials.
For those seeking new roles, particularly graduates seeking their first, Dhammy urges you to “keep an open mind” while preparing applications. She added: “Remember, chemical engineering is all about problem-solving, thinking on the spot and having a holistic approach with embedded safety principles. But don’t forget about creativity too, because we always strive for innovation.”
Watch this video to learn more from Sam, Sarah, and Dhammy on what they enjoy about their roles, how IChemE has supported their career aspirations and their advice on preparing applications for students seeking graduate roles.
Look out for our other blogs in the Your career in chemical engineering series on our blog’s homepage and see the full video playlist on our YouTube channel.
For more career resources at an early career level or to help with skills transition and professional development, visit www.icheme.org/career.