A-levels: Chemistry, maths and physics
University: University of Nottingham, UK.
I didn’t really come across chemical engineering until I was studying towards my A-levels. I knew that I wanted to do something science or engineering based at university but I wasn’t really sure what. I remember thinking about physics and maths, along with other engineering disciplines.
My A-levels were physics, chemistry and maths. They were my favourite subjects and I enjoyed them.
My form tutor was a chemistry teacher and he introduced me to chemical engineering. Up until then I hadn’t even considered chemical engineering as a possibility.
Keeping my options open
One of the main reasons I chose chemical engineering was that, at the time of completing my university application, I still really didn’t know what I wanted to do career-wise. In that sense, chemical engineering is ideal because it is such a diverse degree course that can take you in so many different directions. And even if I’d have had enough of chemical engineering by the time my course was over, the degree is respected so widely that I would have been able to switch into a different sector altogether.
I ended up studying chemical engineering at the University of Nottingham, UK. The first year was a broad introductory year and gave me an idea about all of the topics that I’d be studying in more detail later on.
I really enjoyed the practical work and doing research in the labs. I found learning about process control really difficult but I stuck with it and got there in the end.
The best part was probably the design project at the end of the course which really brings together everything that I had already been learning about. There is no doubt that a chemical engineering degree is challenging but it’s still good fun.
At the end of my third year I did a summer internship at BP and got a better idea about what it is really like to be a chemical engineer. I spent my time trouble-shooting and problem solving on plants and that was really enjoyable.
Taking time out
At the end of my studies I decided to take a year out and go travelling. I still wanted to come back to the UK and become a chemical engineer though and sure enough, I joined Johnson Matthey in 2006.
Working in industry is very different to university. My degree gave me the fundamentals, but by working here I have been able to mould those skills and apply them to my work. There’s also lots of on-the-job learning and training to be done and that will be the same wherever you work.
I work on multiple projects during the course of a working week so there’s plenty of variety and it’s always busy. Chemical engineers get good travel opportunities too – last month I spent time in both China and Brazil for work.
I think the important thing to remember about chemical engineering as a degree choice is that it keeps your options open. If you get to the end of the course and want to do something else, you can. But if you enjoy what you do like I did and decide that chemical engineering is the right career path for you, having a degree in it is the only way to go.