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Posted: 4/5/2006 8:28:00 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 4/5/2006 8:29:26 PM EDT by CK1]
I'm close to finishing my second year and I'm deeply dissatisfied with the current curriculum in chemical engineering. Currently, it seems that chemical engineering involves me sitting my ass behind a desk working out enthalpies and mass balances. Did I mention, I despise thermo?

"Hey Joe, if we install this component on the unit outlet and bypass 50l/sec of species A, how much heat do we need to remove to avoid a nasty explosion?"

Now, when I chose chemical engineering, I wanted to be the guy putting chemical reactors together, installing the transfer systems, and mucking around with their guts rooting out problems on the refinery floor. I was never made for a desk job and I'm really starting to worry that chemical engineering was the wrong pick.

Past experiences and employment that I enjoyed include live performance audio and lighting, EMT, HVAC repair, heater repair, some electrical and A/V installation, and vehicle maintenance. There is also my love of history, firearms, and much else that is mechanical. I really enjoy working with my hands and I don't feel quite right if I've still got clean fingernails at the end of the day.

I plan to talk to upperclassmen in the CHME program and I'll talk to a professor with whom I feel comfortable. I'm asking for you veterans in the field to offer me yours experiences and with the job and relate the working conditions and general gist of their days. Do you guys do crazy mathematical transformations and tricky magical chairs with fundamental property relations everyday? Did you find that your college degree in CHME was particularly relevant to your job now? My mother related her own experience where she felt that she used about 25% of her medical technologist degree on the job, the rest was learn-as-you-go.

I would absolutely hate to wake up in the morning only to chew over Gibbs-Duhem relations and activity coefficients while eating breakfast.

Sorry if I come across whining, I just want to avoid a lot of possible regret down the line. Thanks all.
Link Posted: 4/5/2006 9:09:50 PM EDT
I am not a chemical engineer, but I have an MS in Forest Products and a BS in forestry with a chemistry emphasis.

Currently, my "title" is Biological/Physical Scientist and I try to do my part to help my employer avoid running afoul of federal and state environmental regulation.

You do not have to wind up working strictly as a ChE. We have a kid with a BS in ChE working with the rest of us as enivronmental scientists/engineers for a federal agency. There's a fair amount of contract management, proofing and making sure that the i's are dotted. We do not do a lot of hands on work though.

I think to some degree your level of hands on participation will depend on what sort of company you work for. If you work for a smaller company, I could see how you might have quite a breadth of duties/challenges some of which would be more hands on/implementation than design. A larger company, might afford more opportunity to specialize in number crunching.

What you want to do as an undergrad is get some exposure, any exposure to different work environments. Right now, you should be lined out on summer internships or some sort of production/process related employment. If not, there is always next summer, but start looking early.

Whatever you wind up doing, continually look for ways to improve situations, and don't get too fat dumb and happy.

I think that you are going to have a whole boatload of options, and not all of them will be calculating the sterilization times for CFSTRs.

Good luck
Link Posted: 4/5/2006 9:55:52 PM EDT
Stay in the program, get the degree, get a non-desk job. Don't bother with the upperclassmen, don't bother with the profs who've never worked outside academia. Get an intership, or co-op if your school does that program.

Don't worry about sitting behind a desk doing academic work for the next 40 yrs - there are an astounding number of other positions out there. More than you can imagine right now, trust me.

The competition for new grads is fierce right now - I'm having trouble filling openings for a Field Process Engineer (very hands on, stable industry, travel, Chemical or Environmental with 0-5yrs exp).


Link Posted: 4/6/2006 10:08:38 AM EDT
Bump for the day crew.
Link Posted: 4/6/2006 10:15:54 AM EDT
If chemical engineering undergraduate work is anything like mechanical engineering undergrad it will not get really interesting until your third year. Keep at it and it may just get better.
Link Posted: 4/6/2006 10:47:45 AM EDT

Originally Posted By JasonD:
If chemical engineering undergraduate work is anything like mechanical engineering undergrad it will not get really interesting until your third year. Keep at it and it may just get better.




Jason nailed it. Things don't get interesting until the third year. After school, some of us got desk jobs, some of us (like me) didn't.

Get an internship this summer, and you'll see.
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