Monika Chauhan

Monika Chauhan

Name: Monika Chauhan

Job title: Process Engineer

Company: KBR

Country: UK
A-levels: Chemistry, maths, physics
University: University College London, UK

I enjoyed science as a youngster and had my eye on a career in medicine. I think it was the thought of studying for six years at university that put me off going down that route.

The careers advisor at my school made me aware of chemical engineering and I’ll never forget the example he gave me of what I might do with a chemical engineering degree – he told me I could work in a factory. He didn’t really sell it to me!

An introduction to chemical engineering

My dad was also interested in engineering but he didn’t have any sort of background in the subject.  I was made aware of what chemical engineering is all about through an industry course I went on at University College London (UCL). 

Chemical engineering appealed to me because it didn’t tie me down to one particular career path. I remember one of the speakers at the UCL course talking to me about the different areas in which chemical engineers are employed, the good salaries and how it was a very highly-regarded degree choice by employers.

I ended up back at UCL to study chemical engineering. One of my first modules was biochemistry. I didn’t really enjoy it but it was still really useful because it helped me determine what route I didn’t want to go down.

A summer in healthcare

My course didn’t include an industry placement so I simply arranged a summer placement for myself at the end of my second year.  I worked at Reckitt Benckiser on healthcare products which involved 13 weeks of laboratory work and report writing.

Again, it was a great learning experience and helped me think more about the areas that did and didn’t appeal to me.

As I entered my final year at university, I started to think about my career options more carefully. I knew that I wanted to work in contracting by this point and I was also keen to stay in London. I used whynotchemeng.com to identify companies that I might be able to work for and KBR was one of them. I applied to join the company as part of its graduate scheme and everything moved really quickly and I had my job offer before my final exams.

Job interviews are always pressurised to some extent but from my own experience, and from what other people have told me, the process here was a little more relaxed and informal. On my interview day, I remember having 3 different interviews which was daunting but I was offered a job and started in September 2008.

Getting a feel for the job

I initially worked in the process technology group working on a small study looking at carbon capture. Fairly soon after that I moved on to an LNG HAZOP, scribing first and then helping to prepare and write the safety report. It was a good way of starting with the company and I got to understand how KBR meetings work, the detailed process design and lots of other things about the world of work.

Working for a contractor means that everyone’s graduate training scheme will be slightly different because it depends on what projects are under way.  You do get a taster for lots of different areas of the business though and you often begin to specialise.

I was given the opportunity to work in Belgium for an Ammonia Plant Safety review. This was a new area for me and I enjoyed my time abroad and the technology involved in this process. Since then I have worked on the process design of several ammonia projects. 

If you’re thinking about studying chemical engineering at university, get some work experience if you can so you know as much about it as possible. You should also try to talk to chemical engineers so you can really get a feel for what it’s like to be one.