Become a Chemical Process Engineer: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a chemical process engineer. Research the education requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in chemical engineering.

Should I Become a Chemical Process Engineer?

Chemical process engineers, also called process engineers, are chemical engineers who work on the creation and manufacturing of chemicals, such as pharmaceuticals. They take part in the research, development, testing and evaluation of the manufacturing process. They must work well with other members of development teams. Extensive travel to work sites and plants is often required. These workers often conduct their business in offices and labs.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree required; employers for some more advanced positions may prefer a graduate degree
Degree Field Chemical engineering
Licensing Professional Engineer (PE) designation sometimes required
Experience Many employers require experience; typically around 2-5 years
Key Skills Math skills, analytical skills, decision-making skills, teamwork; engineering software like SINET, SoftLab PHEdesign and The Energy Analyst, as well as CAD software; knowledge of tools such as catalytic reactors, chromatographic scanners and ultra-filtration equipment
Salary (May 2014) $103,590 per year (Mean annual salary for all chemical engineers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings (December 2012), O*Net OnLine.

Step 1: Attain a Bachelor's Degree in Chemical Engineering

Entry-level chemical engineering positions require a 4-year degree, normally in chemical engineering. This program, offered at a number of universities, focuses on the process by which chemicals are created. Coursework in a chemical engineering degree program may include science courses such as physics, chemistry and biology, as well as common engineering courses like chemical design. It also emphasizes an understanding of the use of chemical processes in real-world scenarios. Prospective chemical engineers also gain expertise in molecular transformations and chemical kinetics. Future chemical process engineers are also advised to enroll in a bachelor's degree program that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET).

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

Work experience is crucial for chemical process engineers. One way for an engineer to gain experience is to undertake an internship program while enrolled at a college or university, such as at a medical and chemical device development company. This can help students accrue on-the-job knowledge while simultaneously gaining an education. Many engineers begin employment under the supervision of more experienced peers. Additionally, employers may offer classroom or seminar training to their employees.

Step 3: Obtain License

Chemical engineers who serve the public are required to possess a license. One general qualification engineers can attain is the designation of Professional Engineer (PE). To become a PE, engineers must graduate from a 4-year undergraduate program, hold experience and pass a series of exams. In order to maintain the license, engineers must complete continuing education requirements.

Step 4: Consider Earning a Graduate Degree

Some employers may require their process engineers to gain advanced knowledge through a master's degree program in chemical engineering. A master's program concentrates on advanced applications of chemical engineering research and also often involves independent study. Typical coursework may include process dynamics, control theory, digital computation, transportation phenomena and chemical reaction engineering.

Additionally, chemical process engineers can earn a Ph.D. in chemical engineering to further demonstrate expertise in their field. A chemical engineering Ph.D. program requires the completion of a project or dissertation based on independent research that contributes significant new knowledge to the chemical engineering field. Often, an engineer who earns his or her Ph.D. works in a college or university teaching or researching.

Step 5: Advance to a Supervisory Role

With enough experience, chemical engineers may become supervisors in charge of their own teams. This usually requires a few years of work experience under the guidance of senior engineers.

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