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PhD in Chemical Engineering: A Needed Job, A Solid Path

By Brendan Conway updated on Monday, January 28, 2013

Chemicals AND engineering? Good times!

Chemical engineering: the domain of the mad scientist, pouring chemicals from flask to flask, cackling madly to himself as he contemplates how he has now created a compound for eternal life!

Well, okay, not exactly.

Chemical engineering is, of course, the form of engineering that effectively mirrors chemistry, along with biology, microbiology, and biochemistry, out of the world of science and into the world of engineering.

The distinction between engineering and science is often debated, but here's a passable way to understand what this means: chemists are more focused on determining the principles of chemistry, the rules by which chemicals interact, the very nature of chemicals in the world. Someone with a PhD in chemical engineering is instead going to be interested in how to solve certain specific problems using the principles of chemistry and biology and so on.

PhD in chemical engineering: Employment prospects

Chemical engineering career prospects are, like career prospects for most engineering PhD programs, fairly good. There are a number of different processes that require the knowledge and skill of someone interested in chemical engineering, meaning there are plenty of jobs out there in the field. The design of new fuel cells, for example, is a prominent modern topic that would fall under the overall purview of chemical engineering.

Employment for a holder of a PhD in chemical engineering might also be focused on issues of large-scale manufacture which might involve the use of chemicals or chemical transformations. One might even find chemical engineering jobs in contributing to the functions of the national infrastructure by helping to design such things as waste disposal or treatment plants.

Process engineering
Someone with a PhD in chemical engineering might work as a process engineer. A process engineer is an individual who has a chemical engineering PhD and who works on designing and refining the processes of manufacture which might involve chemical or biological elements.

For example, someone with a chemical engineering PhD might become involved with the food industry in a process engineering position. He or she would likely help to design the process by which food might be sanitized.

Process engineering is an important part of any chemical engineering employment, particularly because of the economic factors involve. Someone with a PhD in chemical engineering should be well-prepared to deal with those issues of cost, as designing a process for a chemical engineering process is as much about doing so safely, effectively, and inventively as it is about doing it economically.

Other careers
Those seeking chemical engineering employment can work with items ranging from plug flow reactors to reverse osmosis separation equipment. Chemical engineering employment can also likely be found in many other fields, including aeronautical work (where the chemical engineer will likely be working on fuel), and medical fields, in which the chemical engineer can assist with such work as mapping the human genome.

Getting a PhD in chemical engineering

Chemical engineering stands out as one of the most versatile and wide-ranging forms of engineering extant today; this is especially true when compared against somewhat specialized forms of the engineering PhD, such as the PhD in Software Engineering or the PhD in Financial Engineering. This is great for anyone seeking chemical engineer employment, if you are the proud bearer of a PhD in chemical engineering, then you will be able to find chemical engineering employment with a more than adequate compensation package for yourself.

Getting a PhD in chemical engineering may not be the right choice for everyone, especially as many chemical engineers will only need a master's degree in the subject to obtain employment. But for those who would like to work on the academic side of chemical engineering, or for those who would like to work in particularly high-level or complex areas of chemical engineering, a PhD in chemical engineering is a good idea, and certain to provide a strong career path for years to come.

Prerequisites for a PhD in chemical engineering

Any student interested in getting a PhD in chemical engineering will need ample experience in the field before approaching the PhD program. A bachelor's degree, at the very least, is almost always going to be required. A master's degree (most likely a Master of Science, or MS degree) may also be commonly required. Many chemical engineering PhD programs allow those who are participating in Master of Science programs to move directly into the PhD programs without any gap.

Chemical Engineering Programs
About the Author

Brendan Conway is the Web Content Editor for Peterson's Interactive and is well-versed in the world of higher education and admissions. He is a graduate of Hamilton College, and has been working in admissions advice, test-prep advice, career planning advice, and similar fields for the majority of his career since graduation. Brendan endeavors to provide the most relevant, useful, and interesting information via Peterson's Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ feeds. Brendan enjoys lexicological oddities and voraciously reading in his free time.

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