International Study Centre

How to become a chemical engineer

Posted 14 September 2020
Engineering students on project site

There are many types of engineering, and the skills involved with this discipline are highly sought after in today’s job market. As a practical profession, training in this field can lead to employment in many kinds of industry. Of all the different types of engineering, chemical engineering is one of the most complex and progressive, due to the scientific impact it has on everyday human life.

What does a chemical engineer do?

Chemical engineers are specifically concerned with the development of raw materials and working on transforming them into useful forms or products. This type of work uses principles of chemistry, physics, mathematics and biology to efficiently use, design and transport energy and materials. These engineers are often responsible for the early stages of product formulation, with some of their work contributing to products that are eventually marketed and sold under household brand names. They work in a variety of industries, including energy, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and others, and will often work alongside other types of engineers and chemists. Modern chemical engineering is pioneering work that takes place in valuable areas such as nanotechnology and biomedics, with a focus on creating new types of materials.

As a chemical engineer, it is important to understand how to best use and alter materials while also carefully considering health and safety and project costs. On top of their production duties, this type of engineer can also be involved in many aspects of chemical plant design, a job which includes hazard assessments, process design, analysis and project management.

Why choose a career in chemical engineering?

If you are interested in chemistry and mathematics, and feel engineering would suit you, here are five reasons to choose a career in chemical engineering:

  1. Jobs in chemical engineering are widely available and generally well-paid, with salaries ranging from £28,000 for new starters to around £78,500 for well-educated, chartered engineers with good experience in the UK (Prospects, 2020)
  2. There are always opportunities to gain more qualifications throughout this type of career
  3. You will continue to learn practical life skills through this work
  4. Travel and overseas work can often be expected, depending on the company you work for
  5. The work you’ll do is varied, and you will be exposed to many types of industry

What qualifications do you need to become a chemical engineer?

If you feel chemical engineering is an industry that would suit you, you will need to consider what qualifications are needed to become a successful candidate for this type of job. Chemical engineers generally need well-graded A Level qualifications (or the regional equivalent) in relevant subjects such as Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. An undergraduate degree specialising in chemical, process or biochemical engineering is also required, and possibly even a postgraduate degree, depending on the specific role or employer. Many related degrees offer work placement opportunities in which you can pursue a relevant position of your choice. These work placements are designed to give you valuable insight into the working world and are a great way to experience your dream career first-hand. Candidates with work experience are also often favoured by employers.

What skills are needed to become a chemical engineer?

A career in chemical engineering is best suited to someone who is a confident communicator with good problem solving skills. These engineers often work in teams and benefit from being able to take a methodical approach to tasks. A successful chemical engineer is often an analytical problem solver with the ability to be creative and innovative. Strong IT skills are also useful to have in this profession, as you will need to work with computers and technology daily.

Further in the future of this career, chemical engineers will often be at the head of projects, so it is useful to be able to motivate and lead teams of people, though this is a skill that can be developed over time in the job. Exposure to the many types of industry these engineers work in also hones a keen commercial and business sense, but this is good to be aware of from the beginning of your career, as it will improve chances of progression.

Work environment and related industries

In a career in chemical engineering, you can expect to work in a lab or office space, depending on the company you work for. It is also likely you may undertake development work, which would initially take place in a lab, before progressing to a processing plant or construction site in later stages of the project.

How to study chemical engineering in the UK

To gain the university qualifications mentioned above, you can study a degree abroad. Studying in the UK is an exciting, broadening experience that can lead to a number of job opportunities and widen your professional network. The University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland is an outstanding university that offers acclaimed degrees in chemical engineering for both undergraduate- and postgraduate-level students. Additionally, Strathclyde was ranked 5th in the UK by The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020.

If you wish to do a degree in chemical engineering at the University of Strathclyde but don’t know where to start, you can:

  • Read about the International Study Centre and find out how we can support you in your journey to become a chemical engineer
  • Discover our Undergraduate Foundation Programme in Engineering and Sciences, designed to prepare international students to study a range of undergraduate degrees including BEng Chemical Engineering, and our Pre-Masters Programme in Engineering and Sciences, designed for students who want to prepare to study a postgraduate degree like MSc Advanced Chemical & Process Engineering
  • Check our entry requirements to find out what you’ll need to apply
  • Study with us to hone your English language and academic skills to the required level
  • Achieve the grades you need to study the degree of your choice and progress to the University of Strathclyde


How long does it take to become a chemical engineer?

Studying for a career in this field usually takes around 3-4 years of university education, depending on whether or not you choose to do a year-long work placement during your degree or preparational foundation year before you start. This does not include the time needed for further studies, such as an optional postgraduate degree or qualifying for chartered engineering status, which can take an additional year or two.

Find out more about starting your studies or check the latest COVID-19 information.