|MadSci Network: Chemistry|
1. I have been a chemical engineer for about four and a half years, since graduating from college in December of 1996.
2. When I was in high school, I didn't have much of an idea what I wanted to do, but I thoroughly enjoyed my math and science classes. I considered various fields of science and several engineering disciplines, as well as medicine and a few subjects in the humanities. After considering the options available to me with each of these degrees, I found that a degree in chemical engineering would leave me more options than any of my other possibilities. I therefore entered college as a chemical engineering major.
3. I attended the Colorado School of Mines for four and a half years altogether, although that included one semester I took off to do a co- operative education assignment, which is a semester spent working in industry, after which you have to write a report detailing what you learned and how it fit in with your curriculum. (By the way, I highly recommend this experience to all engineering students.) All told, I spent eight semesters taking classes, although it is quite common today for engineering students to take 5 years or so to graduate from college.
4. I really enjoy working as an engineer. One engineer I worked with a couple years ago summed it up best when he said that the best thing about engineering is the toys. You get a chance to work on enormous projects, spending someone else's money to build something new.
5. Not exactly, but close. My chemical engineering curriculum tended to focus on petroleum refining, which does form a significant part of the chemical engineering world, but is by no means the only career path open to a chemical engineer. When I graduated, several of the industries which traditionally hired chemical engineers (including petroleum refining) were at the bottom of their business cycles and were therefore hiring fewer people than normal. Luckily, I was able to apply my skills in the oil and natural gas production business. I was a member of a large team which built the world's deepest offshore oil and natural gas production platform. After that project was completed, I moved to a small engineering consulting firm, where I have worked for several clients, including those in the oil production, petroleum refining, and semiconductor manufacturing industries.
6. See answer #5 above. The company I currently work for is called Anvil Corporation.
7. I work as a process engineer. This is a typical assignment for someone with a chemical engineering degree, and it is a job which is best described by stating what it is not. In the types of projects my company normally works on, there is usually one engineer (sometimes more) from each of several disciplines. An equipment engineer specifies any new equipment (pumps, compressors, separators, distillation columns, etc.) which needs to be bought. A piping engineer deals with similar issues for new or modified piping. An instrumentation and control systems engineer specifies all the instrumentation (temperature and pressure transmitters, composition analyzers, etc.) and control systems (programmable logic controllers or distributed control systems) which need to be installed. There are also engineers who deal with heating, ventilation, and fire protection, engineers who ensure environmental compliance, and engineers who design structural elements such as foundations, buildings, and access platforms. This is a long-winded way to describe what it is that process engineers do not do. Our job is to support all of the above disciplines, as well as the designers, who are people who take calculation results from the engineers and turn them in to completed piping, instrumentation, and structural designs. We do so by specifying all the "inside the pipe" elements necessary for the various parts of the design. This normally includes determination of fluid properties based on principles of fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, and heat transfer.
8. Not really. As with any field, the starting positions tend to be concentrated into just a few geographical areas, and if you don't like living in these places you're pretty much out of luck. But as you advance in your career, more jobs and more locations tend to open up for you.
9. See answer number 5 above. When I first graduated, I was lucky enough to be assigned to work on the world's deepest (at least for the moment) offshore oil and gas production platform. You can see a video of this project online here. I have since worked on many other projects, some large, some small, but none of them inspire the imagination as much as this one, which installed a large oil and gas processing plant 150 miles offshore in water almost a mile deep.
10. None that I'm aware of in the last few years. Probably the biggest advance in the process engineering field has been the development of process simulation packages. These are computer programs which allow you to simulate any chemical process, which allows you to quickly get the thermodynamic and fluid mechanical questions answered. They also allow you to try multiple cases relatively quickly. Thus, where before you would have used rules of thumb and simple analysis to design a facility, now you can try all kinds of contingency cases to ensure the design will cover all reasonable operating conditions.
11. I am a big proponent of "a better life through chemistry." There are dangerous chemicals out there, and there are things around which you need to be careful, but the vast majority of chemicals can be (and are) produced and used safely to society's great benefit.
You may also be interested in some information about chemical engineering found here, at the Chemical Engineer's Resource Page.
I hope this helps to answer your questions. Good luck in your classes.
Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Chemistry.