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Overview - Preparation - Day in the Life - Earnings - Employment - Industries - Professional Development - Career Path Forecast - Professional Organizations - Profiles of Chemical Engineers - PowerPoint - Podcast

Day in the Life
Most 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:

Attorney
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 infringements.

Biomedical Specialist
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.

Computer 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.

Consultant
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 professional experience.

Process Design Engineer
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.

Environmental Engineer
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.

Technical Manager
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.

Business Coordinator
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.

Plant Process Engineer
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.

Process Safety Engineer
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.

Product Engineer
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 existing products.

Manufacturing Production Engineer
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.

Professor
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.

Project Engineer
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.

Project Manager
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.

Quality Control Engineer
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.

Regulatory Affairs Engineer
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.

Research 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.

Sales 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.

Technical Services Engineer
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.

Alternatives
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 computer programming.

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.
 


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