Day in the Life
engineers work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial plants.
Others may spend time outdoors at construction sites and oil and gas
exploration and production sites, where they monitor or direct
operations or solve onsite problems. Some engineers travel extensively
to plants or worksites.
Many engineers work a standard 40-hour week. At times, deadlines or
design standards may bring extra pressure to a job, requiring engineers
to work longer hours.
Although your career will evolve over the years, the first choices you
make are significant. It's difficult to approach decisions about your
future without adequate information. All chemical engineers do not wear
hard hats, nor do they work solely in chemical plants. Spend some time
exploring the many possibilities available to chemical engineers.
Although the specific responsibilities of chemical engineers vary among
industries -- and even within companies -- it's possible to categorize
them in general terms. Titles such as "Process Engineer" and "Design
Engineer" describe positions in most industries, whatever type of work,
process, equipment, or product is involved. Typical functions include:
Specializes in intellectual property law, patent law, technology transfer,
environmental compliance, and safety issues. Patent attorneys obtain
patents for clients and monitor the marketplace for possible patent
Works alongside physicians to develop systems that track critical chemical
processes in the body. Biomedical specialists may be involved in the
design of artificial organs, such as hearts and lungs.
Applications and Technology Engineer
Designs instrumentation and programs systems to control certain processes.
Automation engineers may develop ways to monitor a series of interactive
steps in chemical, petroleum, or biotechnology facilities.
Works for many different customers and brings specialized knowledge to
individual projects. Consultants in a construction company may work with
teams of engineers to design and construct an expansion for a
pharmaceutical company. Most consultants have several years of
Designs manufacturing facilities and the equipment and materials used
inside. Process design engineers work with teams of engineers to develop
new or improved processes to meet a company's production needs.
Develops techniques to recover usable materials, and reduce waste created
during manufacture of a product. Environmental engineers design air
pollution control and wastewater treatment systems, waste storage and
treatment facilities, and soil and groundwater clean-up systems. They also
may be responsible for monitoring all systems in a facility for compliance
with environmental regulations.
Responsible for the engineering staff and programs at a facility. Manages
people, research programs, and daily operations of the engineering
functions. Technical managers may oversee R&D. With plant managers, they
may plan and implement the funding and expansion programs necessary to
develop a new product.
Develops budgets and capital projections for a facility or process.
Business coordinators work closely with production and design team members
to determine the exact needs of a new process, then plan the capital needs
necessary to implement the program.
Provides technical support to staff and troubleshoots processes in a
production facility to keep a plant running efficiently. Plant process
engineers work closely with equipment operators to get feedback on the
operations of each process and determine how to avoid shut-downs. They may
also be involved with design work for improving methods of production.
Designs and maintains plants and processes that are safer for workers and
communities. Process safety engineers may conduct safety analyses of new
and existing equipment, and train employees on how to operate a new piece
of equipment safely.
Follows the production cycle of a particular product to ensure it is
meeting specification. Product engineers may work with marketing and R&D
to ensure that a product will meet the needs of customers, then see the
product through production. They may work on new products or variations of
Responsible for the day-to-day operation of a specific manufacturing
process. Manufacturing production engineers work directly with operators
to ensure that a particular product is made according to specifications.
Instructs students and conducts research. Professors may teach several
classes in chemical engineering, be members of university committees, and
conduct research using government, corporate, or private funding.
Oversees the design and construction of specific processes in a facility.
After construction, they may assist in equipment testing, operator
training, and plant start-up.
Oversees the overall design and construction of a facility, then manages
ongoing operations. Project managers may manage a group of project
engineers during the design and construction of a new facility.
Monitors the manufacture of product to ensure that quality standards are
maintained. Quality control engineers may bring samples of a product in
from a field test, or from a normal application, and test them to
determine how specific properties -- such as strength, color, and
weatherability -- change over time.
Researches, develops, and monitors policies and procedures to ensure the
proper handling of chemicals and chemical components. Chemical engineers
in regulatory affairs may be government employees who study the
environmental impact of a new chemical, then recommend appropriate
guidelines for the chemical's use.
and Development Engineer
Seeks out new and more efficient ways of using and producing existing
products. Explores and develops new processes and products and determines
their usefulness and applicability. Chemical engineers working in R&D may
work with chemists and other engineers to develop a new process or new
product that will better meet customer needs.
and Marketing Engineer
Assists customers in solving production and process problems by providing
products and services to meet their specific needs. Chemical engineers in
sales use their technical knowledge to sell chemicals, equipment, and
other products, and provide follow-up services and training, where needed.
Works with customers, usually on-site, to solve production problems caused
by a process or machine. Chemical engineers working in technical services
may represent the manufacturer of a machine to determine why it is not
performing as designed. They often must understand the other steps in the
production process to determine if there is a breakdown in another area.
Because of their training and skills, chemical engineers make strong
candidates for jobs not traditionally associated with chemical
engineering: sales, technical writing, law, insurance, real estate,
publishing, finance, technical services, and government. Even within
the "typical" industries, many engineers are surprised (and often pleased)
to learn that their responsibilities regularly include management,
marketing, packaging, distribution, strategic planning, training, and
Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department
of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics
and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.