How to Become a Chemical Engineer


Those who become chemical engineers are emotionally stable, as this is required to complete short and long-term tasks. They must also have an aptitude in a variety of academic areas, such as chemistry, physics and engineering.


Chemical engineers must learn the broad concepts of chemical engineering, and be able to apply those concepts to specific production problems. They must be interested in solving complex production-related problems and be able to visualize complex processes and equipment functions.


Chemical engineers must be comfortable working in a laboratory or processing plant setting, and must be able to effectively communicate their findings and opinions to others.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a chemical engineer. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!


Education Needed to Become a Chemical Engineer

To get an entry-level job as a chemical engineer, you typically need to complete a bachelor of engineering degree in chemical engineering. Such programs usually take 4 or 5 years to complete and include classroom, laboratory, and field studies. If you wish to eventually work as a consultant, a professor, or a researcher, you typically need a graduate degree (Master’s or Ph.D.) in chemical engineering. 


Academic areas such as thermodynamics, process control, and chemical engineering design courses will be essential for a future career in this field. Many programs also require students to complete an internship or co-op work placement term in order to qualify for graduation. If you are not required to pursue such opportunities, you should anyways; landing an internship is key to securing the most lucrative job offer upon graduation.





General Job Description

Chemical engineers are responsible for determining how to best apply the discoveries of chemists to functional, large-scale industrial systems. They are also responsible for conducting and applying research concerning the conversion of raw materials into a wide range of end products.


Depending on where they work and the responsibilities of their job, chemical engineers may apply their skills and knowledge to such functions as:


• Researching new products from trial through to commercialization

• Design and develop specialized equipment used in the production of goods

• Managing scale-up processes from plant to full industrial-scale manufacturing

• Improving product lines

• Modifying the processing plant that produces the products

• Designing new production facilities 


Typical Duties of the Job

• Develop and optimize production processes

• Manage chemical, biochemical, pharmaceutical and materials processing plants

• Troubleshoot problems within industrial process plants

• Design, test and operate quality and environmental control systems

• Select the most suitable instruments for measuring pressure, temperature, flow rate and composition

• Design and develop new equipment to improve the processes involved in converting raw materials into products

• Ensure the plant and plant personnel operate in a safe and efficient manner

• Identify cost effective options for production by conducting economic evaluations



Who Employs Chemical Engineers?

Chemical engineers work for organizations that use a process of conversion for turning raw materials into end products (for example, in pulp and paper manufacturing, petroleum refining, oil sands extraction, polymer processing, metal extraction and refining, food processing, adhesives and coatings production). Colleges and universities also hire them to teach the next generation of chemical engineers.


Organizations that employ chemical engineers typically include:


• Oil, gas and mining companies

• Green technology companies

• Instrumentation and control companies

• Engineering design companies

• Engineering consulting companies

• Manufacturing companies

• Environmental engineering companies

• Electronic research and development centres

• Plastics processing companies

• Food and drink producing and packaging companies

• Colleges and universities



Career Advancement Possibilities

Many chemical engineers begin as junior-level engineers that work in process development. During this time they usually work on diverse assignments under the supervision of a more experienced chemical engineer; allowing them to gain experience and learn company procedures. Once a junior-level engineer has acquired a sufficient amount of experience, they may become a senior-level engineer, which typically involves an increase in their level of pay and responsibility.


Senior-level chemical engineers that acquire a significant amount of experience may progress into production management positions, and oversee a single production unit or product. From there they may progress to operations management positions and become responsible for large industrial complexes. With enough experience and/or education, they might choose to work in consulting, either with a firm or on their own as a self-employed contractor. 


Salary Level Typical to This Field

The salary level of chemical engineers can vary based on factors such as their level of education, their level of experience, what company they work for, the specific responsibilities of their job, and many others.


Chemical Engineer Salary - Canada (Alberta): According to the 2018 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Chemical Engineers occupational group earn an average wage of between $107,372 per year. Unfortunately, no statistics were available from reputable sources for other provinces. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories at the time of writing (July 1, 2019).


Chemical Engineer Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of workers in the Chemical Engineers occupational group is $104,910 per year. The lowest 10% of salaries in this group are below $64,890 per year, and the highest 10% are above $169,770.




Personal Traits Needed

To be effective in this career, you need to posses certain personality traits. These traits will allow you to maintain interest in your work and a positive attitude, as well as help you endure the highs and lows of this career. These traits include:


• The ability to think analytically and solve problems

• An aptitude for mathematics, physics and chemistry

• The ability to visualize complex processes and equipment

• Excellent oral and written communication skills

• A willingness to engage in life-long learning

• The ability to work effectively with or lead groups of people from various disciplines

• Enjoy being innovative

• Emotional Stability

• Enjoy conducting precise work

• Able to direct the work of others 


Work Environment Typical to This Profession

Work Setting: Chemical engineers typically work either in an office or a laboratory setting. They may also spend time on site in order to conduct such duties as monitoring or directing operations, or to solve certain onsite problems. Site work may include working in industrial plants, refineries, and other locations.


Work Hours: Chemical engineers often work normal weekday working hours, although they may be required to work into evenings and weekends in order to travel to a work site, or to complete certain work duties. Jobs in processing and manufacturing may involve shift work, including regularly working evenings and weekends.


Work Environment: Chemical engineers that work in production may face a few hazards while performing the duties of their job, such as coming in contact with dangerous machinery and hazardous chemicals. Safety is however, a high priority in chemical and nuclear-based industries, and there are typically safety measures in place that will greatly reduce the chances of work-related accidents for chemical engineers. The work of chemical engineers can also be very stressful, especially when processes and equipment do not work as planned. 



Actual Job Postings

Our job board below has "chemical engineer" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.




Similar Occupations in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to chemical engineer, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Agricultural Engineer



Industrial Chemist

Materials Scientist



References for This Career Guide

Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career in this field.


Occupations in Alberta:Chemical Engineer.” (March 22, 2018). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 2, 2019.

Community and Social Service:Chemical Engineers.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 2, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Chemical Engineer

The 'Relevant Fields of Study' section below shows fields of study that can set an excellent foundation for this career. You can search for scholarships matched to those fields of study on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a chemical engineer. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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