Laura McArthur

Laura McArthur

Name: Laura McArthur

Job title: Process engineer

Company: Foster Wheeler

Country: UK
Scottish Highers: Biology, chemistry, English, French, Italian, maths and physics
University: University of Strathclyde

I enjoyed science at school and by the time I reached 16 or 17-years-old I knew that I was keen on taking the engineering route. I wanted to study a university course that would keep my options open and it was my chemistry teacher who first introduced me to chemical engineering.

I looked at several university prospectuses and chemical engineering appealed to me because it covered such a diverse range of subjects.

Studying at Strathclyde

I studied chemical engineering at the University of Strathclyde , UK. It’s a longer course than most – five years – partly because the first year is very much about covering all of the basics and focuses heavily on chemistry and maths.

I was lucky enough to spend some time in Italy during my course, where I helped PhD students for three months on lab work. I also carried out a summer placement with AstraZeneca at the end of my third year, where I got first-hand experience of life in the pharmaceuticals industry and a further industrial placement with Atkins during my fifth year where I experienced the contracting industry for the first time.

The modules I enjoyed most at university were probably those that taught me about areas that most people don’t associate with chemical engineering – food processing, membranes and plastics.

Applying for jobs

Ahead of my final year at university, I started to apply for jobs and focused on the contracting sector. Contracting appealed to me because it was the chance to work on lots of projects in lots of different industries. I thought that would give me the opportunity to develop my skills more widely without becoming too specialist in any one area.

I took a job at
Foster Wheeler in 2008. It was a big leap for me because it was my first long-term move down south and it was daunting starting my first graduate job. The fact that I joined at the same time as forty other new graduates helped a lot.

I started out in the instruments department, where I created a database to track the progress of all the instrumentation, valves and indicators required for an LNG facility.

Then I moved onto process systems and was developing drawings for a refinery revamp project, making sure that changes were properly recorded and incorporated. Revamp projects like this really make you think about how the changes being made will impact on the plant as a whole. Looking after the drawings was a good chance to get a better understanding of how all the different disciplines work together on a project.

Seeing the world!

Like many other chemical engineers, I’ve been able to work abroad at this relatively early stage in my career. I went to Singapore recently to work on the final construction phase of a plant and my job was to ‘walk the drawings’, making sure that all of the different components of the actual plant properly matched the designs.

This is a great place to work for a chemical engineer that wants to get a broad range of knowledge and experience. If you like variety and working in a fast-paced and challenging environment, it’s a really good company to work for.

It’s not east to understand what chemical engineering is until you really start studying it and doing it. Use the resources here on and try to talk to chemical engineers. If you can get a work placement or some sort of industry experience, that will also help you better understand what chemical engineering is all about.