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?

Most universities will have pre-requisite subjects (check with the individual university websites if these requirements apply) that students should have studied in their final year at secondary school. For most courses, maths is essential and chemistry is strongly recommended. Physics or biology are also useful additional subjects.

4. What ranking do I need on leaving school to apply for a chemical engineering degree course?

Entrance requirements to specific courses are set by the individual universities.

The universities make offers to Australian Year 12 students based predominantly on their higher education ranking score achieved after standardisation through examinations of Year 12 scores.

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

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

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

Visit the chemical engineering websites of universities throughout Australia using the links in our Universities section.

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

Any IChemE accredited course has a good reputation because IChemE has very strict accreditation procedures to ensure universities maintain the highest standards.

8. What components make up a chemical engineering degree?

Courses are comprised of a number components including lectures, seminars, tutorials, laboratory experiments, design projects and research projects.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. What does a chemical engineer earn?

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

13. 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.

14. 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 ingredients, 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.

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. Are all courses the same at university?

Apart from the compulsory ‘core’ subjects which are usually studied in the earlier years, there are a broad range of optional subjects. In addition to ‘straight’ chemical engineering or biochemical engineering, there are some courses that combine both of these, and yet others which include other combinations such as food engineering, environmental engineering or non-engineering options such as a foreign language.

Combined or double degree courses allow you to obtain formal qualifications in chemical engineering and also some other discipline, e.g. science, arts, economics, law etc. These courses take longer to complete than a 'straight' chemical engineering course. 

18. What does the course involve?

Courses are well structured with a balance of lectures, laboratory work, computing, tutorials and other sessions, such as design and research work. An important part of the course is the design project, which consists of small groups of students working in teams to solve a practical process engineering problem.

19. 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.

20. How will the course be taught?

The course is taught by qualified professionals in lecture theatres, small tutorial rooms and in the laboratory. There are also invited guest lecturers and site visits.

21. How much chemistry does the course contain?

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

22. 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.

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

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

24. Are there further study opportunities after university?

There are opportunities for post-graduate study. Opportunities vary depending on the university. Find out more by visiting the chemical engineering department website at your university of choice.

25. What sorts of companies employ chemical engineers?

Sectors chemical engineers work in include:

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

26. Is work experience available and how do I find out about it?

Many companies offer work experience placements some as short as one week, others lasting 6 months or even a year. To find out more visit the website of the company you are interested in or write to them directly.

27. Are there any bursaries, grants or sponsorship awards for chemical engineering?

A number of companies and organisations offer schemes to financially assist chemical engineering students, though demand is high so competition for places is fierce. Contact your university of choice to find out more as many companies have particular sponsorship opportunities linked to specific university departments.

28. Are there opportunities to work outside of Australia?

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

29. 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.

30. 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.

31. 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.

32. 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. 

33. 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.

34. 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.

35. 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.