A day in the life of a professor (Day 274)

Geoff Maitland IChemE PresidentI’ve been blogging continuously for 270 days now and I’m beginning to notice a few trends amongst my followers. Many readers are extremely interested in what chemical engineers do and where our profession can take us.

I’ve shared other people’s chemical engineering good news stories and talked about their work and their careers.  But I’ve not talked about myself all that much. Unless your were present at the 2014 annual general meeting that is, where I highlighted some aspects of my career to date in my presidential address, a recording of which is available to watch here.

brithday cakeBut it’s my birthday today – and given that birthdays are all about the birthday boy or girl –  I trust you’ll allow me to offer a brief insight into my own career. So this posting describes a typical day in the life of yours truly and one that happened last week. The exploits of a professor of energy engineering at Imperial College London and IChemE president.

Continue reading A day in the life of a professor (Day 274)

Work hard, play hard (Day 269)

IChemE foam finger bus55 years ago, a chemical engineering professor with a passion for sport and a strong sense of fun initiated an annual football game between the chemical engineering departments at Birmingham and Manchester Universities in the UK.

That professor’s name was Frank Morton, and he had strong connections with both departments having taught in Birmingham where he rose to professor, before moving to Manchester as the first head of chemical engineering at the new Manchester College of Technology in 1956.

And his passion for fun lives on in the annual Frank Morton Sports Day

Frank was a firm believer in the principle that chemical engineering students should work hard and play hard. This year’s participants certainly didn’t let him down.

The 2015 Frank Morton Sports Day took place at Frank’s old stamping ground in Birmingham earlier this week, and had he been there to witness the event, I’m sure that he would have had a huge smile on his face.

Continue reading Work hard, play hard (Day 269)

How can we encourage more students to study chemical engineering? (Day 257)

I recently came across an article featured in the Guardian online, eight ways to encourage more students to study engineering, which proved to be a rather interesting read.

The article outlines potential solutions to the engineering skills shortage faced in the UK and the rest of the world. And I have to say that I agree with their suggestions – put together by academic and policy experts.

Classroom scienceHowever, I have to commend the chemical engineering community for already having taken action to increase student numbers. For example, in the UK student numbers have been increasing year on year. In fact, over the last five years there has been a 97 per cent increase in the numbers of students starting a chemical engineering degree course – that’s nearly double!

But we still need to do more to bridge this skills gap.

Continue reading How can we encourage more students to study chemical engineering? (Day 257)

What’s it like to be a third year student? (Day 255)

Hello and welcome to Day 255 of my IChemE presidency. Some of you may know that I occasionally feature guests in my blog to share their own thoughts and passion about the chemical engineering profession.

I’ve featured professionals starting a chemical engineering career in academia, a day in the life of a chemical engineering graduate,  and even the journey from process engineer to IChemE’s technical vice president in the form of Ed Daniels.

Today, undergraduate Reshma Varghese, a third year student at the University of Surrey in the UK, shares some of her experiences of one of the courses accredited by IChemE.

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Reshma VargheseName: Reshma Varghese
Job: Student
Course: MEng in Chemical Engineering
Graduated: 3rd year
University: University of Surrey, UK
Salary: n/a

 

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I’m currently in my third year of an MEng in Chemical Engineering at Surrey. The programme covers all the key issues addressed by the modern engineering sector, and the structure of the course is well spread out, so it’s not overwhelming when you first start.

Continue reading What’s it like to be a third year student? (Day 255)

Making sense of all the facts (Day 249)

FactsI have spoken before about the importance of making sure that we get our chemical engineering voice heard, but I am often shocked when I read stories in the media (particularly those on social media) that have no basis in reality.

It seems to have become the norm for many stories to be perpetuated without even having their basic facts checked.

I have been a close follower of the work of Sense About Science for a while now and was pleased to see the launch of Fact Check Central as a medium people can use to read, search and share fact checking blogs.

Continue reading Making sense of all the facts (Day 249)

Chemical engineering research matters (Day 245)

As an academic, I know that chemical engineering matters in the research space. And IChemE recognises the importance of forums and meetings where chemical engineering researchers can share their work with their peers.

One such important UK research meeting for chemical engineers is the annual ChemEngDayUK conference.

ChemEngDayUK 2015
ChemEngDayUK 2015

This event brings together researchers, engineers and scientists from chemical engineering departments across the UK to showcase their latest technological advances and research to leading experts within the field.

There is also specific emphasis placed on collaboration between academia and industry.

In 2015, the third annual ChemEngDayUK conference will hosted by the chemical and biological engineering department at the University of Sheffield.

Continue reading Chemical engineering research matters (Day 245)

Gaming to teach about air pollution (Day 244)

Air quality is something that teenagers and school children probably spend little time thinking about. In the area of Wasatch Front, Utah, US, this issue is particularly important due to weather inversion.

Weather or temperature inversions occur when there is an increase in temperature with height. This means that an inversion can trap pollutants below it causing higher pollution levels.

(L-R): Professor Roger Altizer and Kerry Kelly. Image courtesy of University of Utah College of Engineering
(L-R): Professor Roger Altizer and Kerry Kelly. Image courtesy of University of Utah College of Engineering

Educating young children about air quality and how the decisions we make as an individual and as a society affect pollution can be a challenge, so a chemical engineering research associate at the University of Utah, Kerry Kelly, came up with a video game idea to do just that.

Kelly wanted school students to start thinking critically about air quality, so working with Roger Altizer, a professor at the University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts and Engineering video game program, the web-based game “Bad Air Day: Play It Like UCAIR” was created.

Continue reading Gaming to teach about air pollution (Day 244)

Best blogs of 2014: A day in the life of a chemical engineering graduate (Day 219)

Graduation hatsHello and happy New Year everyone (if you are a follower of the Gregorian calendar).

This is the last of my seasonal review of the most popular blogs from 2014, and we’ll start again from tomorrow with some new stories showcasing our great profession.

At the start of 2015, I’m sure some of you are thinking about the future. Today’s ‘guest blog’ may help some of our younger readers who are still thinking about which career to pursue.

It’s a unique insight into a typical day of a chemical engineer just starting out in their working life. Thanks again for reading.

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Stepping into the world of work from university can be scary because it’s unknown, unfamiliar and it comes with responsibility. But it’s the start of an exciting chapter, full of opportunities and meeting new people.

So it would be great for students to know a little more about what it’s like to start a chemical engineering graduate job and what the journey was like to get there.

As IChemE president, I get to interact and talk to chemical engineers, all at different stages of their careers. With applications to study chemical engineering increasing year by year, I thought it would be great to blog about what it’s like to be a graduate just starting out.

The individual in question is a graduate safety engineer working for an engineering consultancy and has been in post for about two months – so I will pass the reigns over to them and let them explain, via this mystery guest blog, what it’s like to be a chemical engineering graduate.

Continue reading Best blogs of 2014: A day in the life of a chemical engineering graduate (Day 219)

Best blogs of 2014: What made you become a chemical engineer? (Day 218)

PotteryHello everyone. During the seasonal holidays, I am re-posting some of the most popular blogs from the past six months.

Here’s one of my early blogs that talked about how my own career was shaped by my childhood. It would be great to hear some of your stories about how you became interested in this great profession of ours.

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I was born in Stoke-on-Trent in the 1940s where my father worked for Podmore and Sons, which made and processed raw materials like clays and glazes for the pottery industry.

My father’s connection to Podmore and Sons opened a door to some summer vacation work and it became my first exposure to both industrial chemistry and engineering. The rest is history.

Today, many people are undoubtedly attracted by the excellent pay, travel and simple job satisfaction from working in some of the fascinating and important industries which form the building blocks of the modern world.

Continue reading Best blogs of 2014: What made you become a chemical engineer? (Day 218)

Best blogs of 2014: Ten skills chemical engineers should be talking about (Day 216)

SkillsHello everyone. During the seasonal holidays, I am re-posting some of the most popular blogs from the past six months.

For such a demanding profession our skill-sets are diverse and require continuous professional development. In today’s blog – originally posted in September 2014 – I talk about some of the skills we use regularly, but are less well-known.

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Within our profession, it is easy to find lists of the skills chemical engineers ‘should’ have: we are solution focused; we are good with numbers; we are practical.

However, none of these skills sound very exciting.

Interestingly, it is the ‘skills’ which we aren’t so good at and stereotypical engineering ‘memes’ which, arguably, we are more famous for.

I think we need to set the record straight and create an image of our skills which better reflects what we do in the twenty-first century.

Even our employers have a role – they are the ones with the power to present a picture of the modern engineer through their job specifications and approach to recruitment advertising.

So, here it is – a list of ten skills and values I know chemical engineers (and other scientists and engineers) have that we should be shouting about.

Continue reading Best blogs of 2014: Ten skills chemical engineers should be talking about (Day 216)

Best blogs of 2014: Ten job titles of chemical engineers… and what they actually mean (Day 213)

Great jobHappy ‘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.

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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:

Continue reading Best blogs of 2014: Ten job titles of chemical engineers… and what they actually mean (Day 213)

In the spotlight (Day 204)

As we approach the year end, lots of chemical engineers around the world are picking up their accolades for a year of hard work.

I’ve selected two stories for today’s blog from Malaysia and New Zealand – countries with very active and enthusiastic IChemE members.

Curtin University - design award
Curtin Sarawak chemical engineering students awarded at Design Project Award ceremony. Image courtesy of Curtin University

On 2 December in Miri, Malaysia, ten projects were showcased by final-year chemical engineering students of Curtin University, Sarawak Malaysia at their annual Design Project Award presentation ceremony.

Congratulations to Team ‘Innovazione’ who claimed the Best Design Project Award for its project: ‘Design of an offshore prelude floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG)’.

Continue reading In the spotlight (Day 204)

Starting a chemical engineering career in academia (Day 190)

Research is an important part of chemical engineering, and chemical engineers going on to further study and completing a PhD make up part of that picture. The importance of chemical engineering research in being at the forefront of tackling many of the world’s tough challenges is also emphasised in IChemE’s technical strategy, Chemical Engineering Matters.

Graduate destinations data from Higher Educations Statistics Agency
Graduate destinations data from Higher Educations Statistics Agency

In the UK, it is encouraging to see that more graduates are going on to further study within chemical engineering (see graph) than the other engineering disciplines.

So, what is is like to go into further study and start a career in academia nowadays?

I can certainly tell you what it was like back in the 1970s when I started, but I think that it’s probably for the best that I hand the reigns over to a chemical engineer completing their PhD in the present day for today’s guest blog.

Continue reading Starting a chemical engineering career in academia (Day 190)

It’s all about people and skills (Day 189)

As our population grows and the challenges facing humanity, and the planet, become more acute, who will be able to provide the answers?

Will it be politicians, accountants, teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers or other professions we rely upon to make the world function efficiently?

The quick answer is that all professions will have a role, but, in my opinion, the solutions and catalysts for change will come from the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) community. I believe this will be the case whichever country you live in.

University students
A fifth of the UK workforce is likely to be employed in the science, technology, engineering and maths community by 2030.

So what are the challenges – even before we get to issues like global health, ageing populations, food and water security, achieving low carbon economies, and much more?

Continue reading It’s all about people and skills (Day 189)

Ten differences between process safety and occupational safety (Day 166)

Work safetyOne of the most important roles that chemical engineers can play is improving safety.

A good example of this is the IChemE Safety Centre (ISC) which sets up a new impetus and framework for process safety.

Despite the good work of chemical engineers in mitigating dangerous events, they still occur.

Often the reason given for these incidents is a lack of understanding of what process safety is and how it differs from occupational safety.

For example people often use this to explain why the BP Texas City refinery explosion and fire, which sadly killed 15 people and injured 180 more, occurred. It has been suggested that there was too great a focus on reducing the high number of occupational safety incidents, rather than the more infrequent but much more serious process safety incidents.

I have put together this list of ten differences between process and occupational (personal) safety to help dispel this (however it should be noted that this list is my opinion and there is a lot of overlap between process and occupational safety – hence the confusion!):

Continue reading Ten differences between process safety and occupational safety (Day 166)

Foundations for the future – the STEM pipeline (Day 159)

Classroom science
The Australian Government will invest $12 million to improve the focus (STEM) subjects in primary and secondary schools.

Routinely there are calls and initiatives to boost the number of school pupils who pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in school and beyond.

In the UK there are different campaigns from Government, industry, charitable organisations and professional bodies. Many of you will have heard about IChemE’s whynotchemeng initiative.

It’s useful to remind ourselves that there are challenges and strategies in place in other areas of the world too.

This month, the Australian government announced an AUS$12 million investment in school STEM subjects. There is a realisation that the STEM skillset is essential to national and international economic growth and competitiveness.

Continue reading Foundations for the future – the STEM pipeline (Day 159)

A day in the life of a chemical engineering graduate (Day 155)

Graduation hatsWith the autumn semester of the academic year well under way in the UK, final year chemical engineering students will be starting to think about their next step – applying for a graduate job.

Stepping into the world of work from university can be scary because it’s unknown, unfamiliar and it comes with responsibility. But it’s the start of an exciting chapter, full of opportunities and meeting new people.

So it would be great for students to know a little more about what it’s like to start a chemical engineering graduate job and what the journey was like to get there.

As IChemE president, I get to interact and talk to chemical engineers, all at different stages of their careers. With applications to study chemical engineering increasing year by year, I thought it would be great to blog about what it’s like to be a graduate just starting out.

The individual in question is a graduate safety engineer working for an engineering consultancy and has been in post for about two months – so I will pass the reigns over to them and let them explain, via this mystery guest blog, what it’s like to be a chemical engineering graduate.

Continue reading A day in the life of a chemical engineering graduate (Day 155)

Minted into IChemE history (Day 146)

IChemE Logo - advancing chemical engineering worldwide

‘Advancing chemical engineering worldwide’ is a phrase you may be aware of. It’s the reason why IChemE exists and it has pride of place next to our logo.

The way we advance chemical engineering is largely due to the energy, expertise and enthusiasm of our 40,000 plus members. They are the ‘brains’ behind our success, and the same could be said of any professional body.

And how IChemE recognises the achievements of individuals who have really pushed the ‘envelope’ and boundaries of the profession is very important to us.

It’s the reason why we manage and grant over 25 medals and prizes in any given year (not including the many other awards ceremonies and accolades we co-ordinate).

IChemE’s medals and prizes offer a celebratory win-win. They are named after some incredible chemical engineers and it means we don’t forget their contribution. They also celebrate the achievements of the present – to advance chemical engineering worldwide.

Continue reading Minted into IChemE history (Day 146)

Ten job titles of chemical engineers… and what they actually mean (Day 129)

Great JobChemical 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.

Continue reading Ten job titles of chemical engineers… and what they actually mean (Day 129)

Ten skills chemical engineers should be talking about (Day 114)

SkillsWithin our profession, it is easy to find lists of the skills chemical engineers ‘should’ have: we are solution focused; we are good with numbers; we are practical.

However, none of these skills sound very exciting.

Interestingly, it is the ‘skills’ which we aren’t so good at and stereotypical engineering ‘memes’ which, arguably, we are more famous for.

I think we need to set the record straight and create an image of our skills which better reflects what we do in the twenty-first century.

Even our employers have a role – they are the ones with the power to present a picture of the modern engineer through their job specifications and approach to recruitment advertising.

So, here it is – a list of ten skills and values I know chemical engineers (and other scientists and engineers) have that we should be shouting about.

Continue reading Ten skills chemical engineers should be talking about (Day 114)

The environmentally-friendly roof (Day 113)

Grass roofed buildingI’ve always been intrigued by buildings with ‘living’ or ‘green roofs’. It’s easy to forget they are not a modern invention. Places like Skara Brae Prehistoric Village in Scotland date back more than 5,000 years and have distinctive roofs using the benefits provided by nature.

Green roofs today are sold on the back of their environmental and economic benefits such as insulation and cooling properties, ability to significantly reduce rainwater run-off from roofs, and their value in promoting biodiversity and habitat in built-up areas. They look very impressive and distinctive too.

I think they are a useful reminder that buildings need to connect more with their environment for good reasons like reducing heating costs and greenhouse gas emissions. In the UK, around 13 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions come from the residential sector.

Continue reading The environmentally-friendly roof (Day 113)

Five things you need to know about journal Impact Factors (Day 88)

Pencil writing impactI have made it my quest throughout my presidency to shine a light on chemical engineering.

So it made me very proud to see the latest Impact Factors for IChemE’s journals.

Not only have the Impact Factors of IChemE’s three leading journals trebled since 2003 but Food and Bioproducts Processing (FBP) also recorded an annual increase in Impact Factor of 23 per cent.

These improvements in journal Impact Factors follow the high quality research work being performed by chemical engineers.

However most people don’t understand what Impact Factors are, how they should be used, nor how they are calculated.

Here are five simple ways to use and understand Impact Factors:

Continue reading Five things you need to know about journal Impact Factors (Day 88)

A new Golden Age for chemical engineering (Day 82)

Gas RigA Golden Age is a concept that implies a period of great advancement and outstanding achievement for a civilisation or topic. This concept can be applied to chemical engineering.

Although chemical engineering is a relatively new profession, it could be said that it has already gone through two such periods of change and has now entered a third Golden Age of practice, thought and impact. With many great opportunities and challenges that accompany it.

Continue reading A new Golden Age for chemical engineering (Day 82)

A global ring of safety (Day 80)

Step by step, day by day, country by country, something special is happening in the world of process safety. In chemical engineering hubs around the world, process safety is being taken to new levels led by a network of IChemE members.

There are now nearly 70 chemical engineers enrolled or registered as Professional Process Safety Engineers based at strategic locations on five continents.

They are the vanguard and champions of a long-term IChemE initiative to improve safety and give greater recognition to one of the most important – if the not the most important – discipline in the chemical engineering profession.

Locations of Professional Process Safety Engineers
IChemE’s Professional Process Safety Engineers are now located on five continents

Continue reading A global ring of safety (Day 80)

Ten differences between chemistry and chemical engineering (Day 66)

Element cubesWhen I talk about my work I find the common problem that people do not understand the difference between chemists and chemical engineers.

Both fields are becoming increasingly important and deserve greater public recognition, but they are distinct.

Although I now work as a chemical engineer I originally studied chemistry, and so feel I should be well placed to highlight the key differences and dispel common misconceptions.

However, this list is in no way definitive and there are huge overlaps in the work of chemists and chemical engineers.

Here are ten differences between chemists and chemical engineers:

Continue reading Ten differences between chemistry and chemical engineering (Day 66)

The rise, rise and rise of chemical engineering (Day 54)

UndergraduatesThe organisation responsible for managing applications to higher education courses in the UK – UCAS – published their annual data tables this week. Their top-line data, by the deadline of 30 June 2014, showed a total of 659,030 applications, an increase of four per cent compared to the same point last year.

It’s an encouraging set of statistics following the decline in 2012 of eight per cent caused by the introduction of higher tuition fees in some parts of the UK.

Continue reading The rise, rise and rise of chemical engineering (Day 54)

Ask the President (Day 43)

Geoff Maitland IChemE PresidentAccountability, openness and transparency. Three important words in the governance of any charitable and membership organisation like IChemE.

IChemE also has a wealth of knowledge and history acquired since we were established in 1922, and an active membership eager to share their experiences and expertise to advance the profession.

As your President, I also want to be accountable and share my knowledge where I can. So, throughout my presidency, there is an open invitation to send in your reasonable questions and thoughts on issues relating to our technical policy – Chemical Engineering Matters. Every now and again, we’ll publish the answers starting with today.

Continue reading Ask the President (Day 43)

Educating a safety culture (Day 26)

Burning buildingImprovements in process safety education should never stand still, so it was good to hear from one of IChemE’s members based in the US this week, Deborah Grubbe, who contacted me about the development of some new technical software called The PSM eBook.

The eBook was commissioned by the chemical engineering team at Purdue University in the US. They decided to introduce process safety management more formally into the undergraduate curriculum.

Continue reading Educating a safety culture (Day 26)

Getting your hands dirty (Day 25)

The Big Rig
The Big Rig – Lakes College West Cumbria

Earlier this year, IChemE was disappointed by the decision of  the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) to remove the examination and grading of practicals from science A levels.

A levels and AS qualifications in England are currently assessed using a combination of written examinations – marked by independent exam boards – plus written and other assessments, such as laboratory tasks, marked by teachers.

Continue reading Getting your hands dirty (Day 25)

Every profession needs their champions (Day 23)

Albert Einstein
Science icon – Albert Einstein (Bokic Bojan – Shutterstock.com)

Patrons, envoys, role models, ambassadors, champions. Call them what you want, but symbolic leaders are valuable in all walks of life. Should professions be any different? And have you ever considered who are the champions for the chemical engineering profession?

A few years ago tce magazine wrote a fantastic series of articles about chemical engineers who changed the world. Starting with pioneers like Johann Glauber in the 1600s, tce gradually worked their way through people like George E Davis, Fritz Haber & Carl Bosch, Victor Mills, Trevor Kletz and Yoshio Nishi.

Continue reading Every profession needs their champions (Day 23)

Where are you now? (Day 19)

MembraneI’m sure, like me, you meet and work with a great deal of people. But time never stands still and rarely do people. However, writing my blog over these first few weeks has made me realise the power of social media to connect and re-connect with people.

It’s also a chance to find out how organisations like IChemE have influenced the life and careers of its members, and many other people we try to help.

Continue reading Where are you now? (Day 19)