Engineer - Chemical: Educational Requirements for Entering the Field of Chemical Engineering
Chemical engineers use their knowledge of chemistry and math to make common, everyday products. The curricula for chemical engineering programs involve many laboratory sessions in engineering, physics and chemistry courses.
Educational Requirements for Chemical Engineers
Chemical engineers will need a bachelor's degree from an accredited program to gain entry into the profession. In order to become licensed, individuals must gain work experience and pass additional exams. For some positions, a graduate degree in chemical engineering may be required.
Bachelor's Degree Overview
Most chemical engineering jobs require a minimum of a bachelor's degree. The non-engineering requirements include extensive chemistry courses and labs, such as analytical, organic and physical chemistry. Other non-engineering requirements include sequences in calculus and physics. The engineering portion includes coursework and labs in chemical processes, transport and reactions.
Students may prefer programs accredited by ABET, Inc. (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology), which accredits more than 100 chemical engineering programs. Accreditation by ABET demonstrates the school adheres to a set of academic principles and teaches its students a core set of industry-required skills. Accreditation is usually required by many graduate schools and licensing boards.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all 50 states require engineers who offer their services directly to the public to be licensed (www.bls.gov). Engineers must pass two exams to become licensed, which are administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). Engineering students near graduation may sit for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. Individuals who pass the FE exam must work for four years before they can sit for the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. According to the NCEES, the PE is typically the final step in becoming licensed (www.ncees.org).
Graduate Degree Options
Although most chemical engineering positions only require a bachelor's degree, some positions may require graduate degrees. And, those with advanced training may be better positioned for leadership or management opportunities. Most schools offer master's and doctorate degrees in chemical engineering.
Master's candidates may have a chemical engineering background, or they could be entering the chemical engineering field from a different discipline. These programs typically require advanced coursework and may include a thesis requirement. Most master's degrees can be completed in 1-2 years, depending on the student's undergraduate experience.
Doctorate programs prepare chemical engineers to teach at the university level or lead research projects. Some graduate schools may accept doctoral candidates who only have a bachelor's degree, while others may require applicants to hold master's degrees. Doctoral students typically study for 5-6 years, and this time is divided between coursework and research. Before the degree is conferred, students may need to pass examinations as well as write and defend a dissertation.
Chemical Engineer Career Overview
According to the BLS, chemical engineers use their knowledge of chemical principles and interactions to create products and chemicals. These engineers may devise manufacturing processes, conduct research to solve scientific problems and could be responsible for safety issues, such as by-products that are left over from manufacturing or research.
Chemical engineers are employed by many industries, such as pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and research. According to O*Net Online, chemical engineers are instrumental in the development of everyday products, such as gasoline, plastics and paper (www.onetonline.org).
Career Outlook and Salary Information
The BLS predicted that chemical engineers would see a two percent employment decline in the 2008-2018 decade due to reductions in the manufacturing sector. However, other areas of chemical engineering may see growth. According to the BLS, the 2010 median annual salary of a chemical engineer was $94,590 while the bottom ten percent earned $56,520 and the top tem percent earned $139,670.
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