Frequently asked questions

1. What is chemical engineering?

Chemical engineering is all about change - chemical and biochemical engineers create and develop processes to make useful products from raw materials, in a cost effective and safe manner.

2. What does the work involve?

Chemical engineers are trained to apply fundamental engineering principles, maximise economic returns and reduce environmental impact. Chemical engineers need to work as part of a team and develop good communication skills. Strong problem solving and analytical skills are also a bonus.

3. What subjects should I take at school?

Maths and chemistry are usually essential. Either physics or biology are also useful additional subjects.

However, always check with the university you plan to apply to as all universities differ in their entry requirements.

4. What type of person makes a good chemical engineer?

Chemical engineering is ideally suited to students with ability in maths and chemistry, who enjoy problem solving and aspire to be successful.

5. How do I find out what degree courses are available?

Visit the chemical engineering websites of universities throughout the UK and Ireland using the links in our universities section.

6. How do you choose a chemical engineering degree with a good reputation?

All IChemE accredited courses have a good reputation because IChemE has very strict accreditation procedures to ensure universities maintain the highest standards.

7. What sort of jobs can I do with a chemical engineering degree?

The choice of work available is exceptionally wide. Chemical engineers work in large international companies, as well as smaller companies, in sectors as wide ranging as chemicals; oil & gas; pharmaceuticals; food and drink; biotechnology and water. They are also highly sought after in business and finance.

8. Will I have much contact with other people at work?

Yes, as a chemical engineer you often need to work as part of a team and rely on your social and communication skills.

9. What are the job prospects like?

A chemical engineering degree equips you with easily transferable skills. Graduates invariably take on considerable responsibility within a few years of graduation. For this reason, job prospects are excellent and often involve the chance to reach senior managerial positions at a young age.

10. What does a chemical engineer earn?

Chemical engineers are the best paid group of engineers and have the potential to earn more than doctors, lawyers and accountants. The average graduate starting salary is £29,500, AUD$ 69,000. (Source: IChemE Salary Survey 2014).

11. Can I use a degree in chemical engineering for employment outside the engineering sector?

Yes. An integral part of a chemical engineering degree is the development of interpersonal skills such as communication and teamwork. These, in addition to the numeracy, problem solving and management skills acquired, mean that chemical engineering graduates are highly sought after by a wide range of employers.

12. What is the difference between chemistry and chemical engineering?

Chemical engineers take chemists’ laboratory discoveries and figure out how to use them to make a useful product safely and cost-effectively on a large scale. For example chemists might develop a new drug, but the chemical engineer is responsible for designing a process to make millions of tablets of this drug which all contain exactly the right amount of drug, so that it is safe. They must also do this in the most cost-effective way to avoid waste and help their company make a profit.

13. What is the difference between biochemical and chemical engineering?

Chemical engineering is concerned with changing raw materials into useful products by designing processes which change their chemical or physical composition, structure or energy content.

Biochemical engineering is a branch of chemical engineering which is concerned with biological changes and is particularly important in the production of pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs and the treatment of waste.

14. What is the difference between chemical and process engineering?

Process engineering is essentially the application of chemical engineering principles to optimise the design, operation and control of chemical processes. Since this requires equipment design and selection, mechanical engineers may also be employed as process engineers.

15. Will I spend all my time studying technical subjects?

No. Chemical engineering courses include management topics and a wide range of transferable skills. These open up a range of employment opportunities.

16. How much chemistry does the course contain?

A good background understanding of chemistry is usually essential. Chemistry is taught as part of the degree in the early years.

17. Do I need to be good at maths and how much maths is involved?

Maths is an integral part of engineering. You will use the maths you are taught in the early part of the course throughout the rest of your studies.

18. Are there any courses that offer the chance of a year abroad or in industry?

Most universities offer sandwich courses giving the opportunity to spend time in industry getting relevant work experience, or studying at a university abroad.

19. What sorts of companies employ chemical engineers?

Sectors chemical engineers work in include:

  • Chemicals
  • Contracting
  • Oil and Gas
  • Consultancy
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Energy
  • Water
  • Food and Drink
  • Materials
  • Process and Equipment
  • Biotechnology
  • Business and Finance
  • Education

20. Are there opportunities to work internationally?

Yes – chemical engineering is a truly international profession providing many opportunities for worldwide travel.

21. Can students with a chemical engineering degree enter other fields of employment?

Yes! A degree in chemical engineering is a well respected degree that opens many career paths across industry, business and finance. Chemical engineering graduates are highly sought after as employers recognise that they have analytical and problem-solving skills that are second to none.

22. Who are IChemE?

The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) is the qualifying and professional body for chemical engineers. IChemE has continuously expanded since 1923 and currently has an international membership of over 30,000. IChemE is the only professional body licensed to award the qualification ‘Chartered Chemical Engineer’. Many chemical engineers regard becoming Chartered as an important milestone in their career.

23. What does an accredited course mean?

Accreditation by IChemE means that the course has been certified as fulfilling academic standards in education necessary for its graduates to gain professional recognition as Chartered Chemical Engineers after gaining appropriate industrial experience.

24. What is a Chartered Chemical Engineer?

A Chartered Chemical Engineer has been awarded Chartered status by IChemE. This is a professional qualification for a practicing chemical engineer which also conveys a status respected in society and is recognised by employers. 

25. How do you become Chartered?

Graduates of fully accredited courses in full-time employment, or pursuing a relevant postgraduate course, may be awarded the designatory letters ’AMIChemE’ as members of the Institution of Chemical Engineers. After a minimum of four years experience, the professional engineer seeks Chartered Chemical Engineer status.

26. What are the benefits of being Chartered?

This is a highly lucrative professional qualification which not only increases your earning potential, but is recognised - and sometimes sought after - by employers.

27. What help can IChemE offer?

IChemE offers a range of products and services to help members maintain an awareness of developments in their field and support their professional development. These include a monthly magazine, courses, training packages, conferences, seminars, books, journals and careers information.