Home / Career Guides / Chemical Engineer

Chemical Engineer Career Guide

What is a chemical engineer?

Chemical engineers are like wizards in the world of science! They mix chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems and make cool stuff like medicines, fuels, and food. They figure out how to make these things on a big scale, keep it safe, and not hurt the planet. They also make sure that factories work smoothly and come up with smart ways to handle waste.

Duties and responsibilities

  • Design and fix stuff: They design and improve systems and machinery that make chemicals or products in factories.
  • Keep an eye on things: Chemical engineers check on how well production is going and fix any problems.
  • Safety first: They make sure everything is done safely and doesn’t harm the environment.
  • Research and innovate: They research to create better ways of making products that are good for the environment.
  • Money matters: They help figure out how much it will cost to build and run chemical plants.

Work environment

Chemical engineers can work in offices, labs, or big industrial plants. Some might travel to different plants to help solve problems or check on things. The job can sometimes be demanding, needing the use of complex computer programs and a strong focus on safety due to the risky materials involved.

Typical work hours

Chemical engineers usually work full-time. Sometimes, they might need to work extra to finish projects or fix urgent problems. Depending on where they work, like in oil drilling, they might have to stay on-site for a while. But in roles like research, they might just work regular office hours.

How to become a chemical engineer

Want to mix magic with science and create awesome stuff? Here’s how you can become a chemical engineer:

Step 1: Get a degree

Start with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. You’ll learn all about chemistry, physics, and math—plus, how to turn these ideas into real-world solutions.

Step 2: Gain real experience

Grab every chance to intern or join co-op programs. You’ll get to work in labs and factories, learning by doing—like how to handle chemical reactions safely and design cool processes.

Step 3: Sharpen your problem-solving skills

Chemical engineers need to solve tough problems all the time. Get good at analyzing data and figuring things out. Tools like Excel or MATLAB can really help.

Step 4: Maybe study some more (optional)

If you want to go deeper, think about a master’s degree or even a Ph.D. It’s not a must, but it could help you specialize and get into cool research, like making materials smarter or inventing better ways to protect the environment.

Step 5: Work well with others

You’ll need to explain your ideas clearly and work as part of a team. So, good communication and getting along with others are super important.

Step 6: Get certified (optional)

Not necessary, but getting a professional certification, like a PE license, can make you stand out in the job market.

Step 7: Start applying

Now you’re ready! Tailor your resume and cover letter to show off what you’ve learned and done. Be ready to talk about your experience and skills in interviews.

Step 8: Keep learning (optional)

Stay sharp by attending workshops or online courses. Join groups like the American Institute of Chemical Engineers to connect with others and keep up with new stuff in your field.

Check out these cool courses to get even better:

How much do chemical engineers make?

Several factors can influence the salary of a chemical engineer. One of the most impactful is their level of education, particularly in chemical engineering or a closely related field. Those with advanced degrees, such as a master’s or doctorate, generally command higher salaries.

Highest paying industries

  • Oil and Gas Extraction: $133,010
  • Basic Chemical Manufacturing: $123,540
  • Synthetic Fibers and Filaments Manufacturing: $122,410
  • Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing: $120,270
  • Engineering Services: $119,770

Highest paying states

  • Alaska: $137,170
  • Texas: $135,380
  • New Mexico: $126,290
  • Louisiana: $124,700
  • Delaware: $122,990

Browse chemical engineer salary data by market

Types of chemical engineers

Chemical engineers wear many hats, depending on what they’re making or where they work. Here’s a look at some cool types of chemical engineers and what they do:

Process chemical engineer

These engineers are like the masterminds behind the scenes in factories that make things like plastics, food, and chemicals. They make sure everything runs smoothly, safely, and efficiently.

Product development chemical engineer

Imagine designing the next big skincare product or a new medicine. That’s what these engineers do—they create new products, often working in cool fields like pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

Biochemical engineer

These engineers mix biology with engineering to work on big challenges like making biofuels or figuring out genetic engineering. They’re often found in the pharma industry, making new medicines or in environmental science, helping solve problems like pollution.

Environmental chemical engineer

Environmental engineers are the planet’s protectors. They develop new ways to clean water, reduce air pollution, and make energy that doesn’t harm the earth.

Chemical process safety engineer

Safety first! These engineers make sure factories are safe places to work. They look at what could go wrong with chemical processes and make plans to prevent accidents.

Food process engineer

Have you ever wondered how your favorite snacks are made so tasty and safe? Food process engineers design the processes that make large-scale food production possible. They focus on making everything efficient and ensuring that the food we eat is safe.

Top skills for chemical engineers

Becoming a top-notch chemical engineer isn’t just about knowing a lot of science and math. Here are the key skills that can help you stand out:

  • Analytical skills: Chemical engineers need to be super sharp when it comes to analyzing how different chemicals interact and how processes work. They use these skills to figure out the best ways to make products or to improve how factories operate.
  • Problem-solving abilities: Every day might bring a new challenge, whether it’s fixing a problem in a production line or figuring out a cheaper and faster way to make a product. These engineers need to think on their feet and come up with solutions that are smart and doable.
  • Creativity: You might not think of engineering as a creative job, but they often need to think outside the box. They might design a totally new process for making a product, come up with a way to use waste materials, or invent a new kind of safety equipment.
  • Solid understanding of chemical processes: At the heart of it all is a deep knowledge of how chemicals react with each other and how physical forces like heat and pressure change those reactions. These engineers use this knowledge to design processes that are safe, efficient, and cost-effective.

Chemical engineer career path

Thinking about a career as a chemical engineer? It’s a field with lots of room to grow and move up. Here’s how the journey typically looks:

Start as a junior chemical engineer

When you first start out, you’ll likely be a junior chemical engineer or process engineer. You’ll get your hands dirty with process simulations, designing basic stuff, and making sure everything meets quality standards. You’ll learn a lot about how materials behave, how heat affects processes, and how chemicals react.

Move up to senior engineer

After you’ve got some experience and maybe some extra qualifications or special certifications, you can step up to become a senior engineer or lead process engineer. Now, you’re not just following orders—you’re making decisions, leading projects, and maybe managing a small team.

Advance to managerial roles

Next up could be a managerial role like plant manager or chemical engineering manager. Your job shifts more to managing people and projects. You’ll oversee budgets, keep projects on schedule, and make sure everything is done right and on time.

Reach for the top

For those who really want to climb high, you can aim for top spots like director of engineering or even chief technical officer (CTO). These big roles mean you need to understand not just engineering but also the business side of things. You’ll work closely with top executives and have a big say in the direction of your company.

Specialize or consult

There’s also the chance to specialize in areas like bioengineering, or you can go solo as a consultant. This can involve helping companies become more efficient or more green, or solving specific technical problems they might have.

The world of chemical engineering is always evolving, driven by new tech and the needs of society. Here’s what’s trending and what the future looks like for chemical engineers:

  • Sustainability and environment: There’s a big push to make everything more eco-friendly. They are at the forefront, developing things like renewable energy tech (think advanced batteries and biofuels) and finding ways to cut down on industrial emissions and waste.
  • Nanotechnology: Tiny tech, big impact! These engineers are working with materials at the nanoscale to create new solutions in medicine, electronics, and energy.
  • Biotechnology advances: With the rise of bioengineering and synthetic biology, there’s a growing need for those who can design processes that use biological agents. Whether it’s developing new medicines or creating sustainable materials, biotech is a hot area.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for chemical engineers are expected to grow by 14% through 2031. That’s much faster than average! This growth is mainly driven by the increasing demand for the products of various high-tech industries.

Chemical engineer career tips

Understand the basics

To be a great chemical engineer, you really need to know your stuff in chemistry, physics, and math. This knowledge helps you solve tough problems, come up with cool new ways to do things, and make smart choices at work.

Keep up with rules and safety

These engineers work in areas like drug making, energy, and manufacturing, which have a lot of rules. It’s important to stay in the loop about these to keep your projects safe and up to code.

Stay tech-savvy

Technology changes fast, and so does chemical engineering. Keep learning about new software and tech that make things more efficient and safe.

Solve problems like a pro

You’ll face tricky challenges, like improving a process or fixing equipment. Being good at analyzing problems and finding solutions is key.

Never stop learning

To move up in your career, you need to keep learning. This could mean reading up on the latest research, learning new tech stuff, or even going for higher degrees or special certifications.

Network, network, network

Join groups like the American Institute of Chemical Engineers or the American Chemical Society. Networking helps you find opportunities, learn from others, and advance your career.

Be a team player

You’ll often work in teams and sometimes need to explain complex things in simple terms. Good communication and teamwork skills are must-haves.

Think green

Focus on making processes that are less wasteful and more energy-efficient. Being good at this can save money, meet legal standards, and boost your company’s reputation.

Where the chemical engineer jobs are

Top companies

  • ExxonMobil
  • Pfizer
  • Dow
  • Procter & Gamble

Top states

  • Texas
  • California
  • New Jersey
  • Illinois
  • Ohio

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • Glassdoor
  • EngineerJobs
  • CareerBuilder


What educational background is typically expected of a chemical engineer?

A chemical engineer typically holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. This degree involves chemistry, physics, and engineering principles coursework. Many also pursue a master’s degree or Ph.D., mainly if they are interested in research or academic positions. PE certification may also be beneficial and is required for specific roles.

What are the key responsibilities of a chemical engineer?

A chemical engineer’s responsibilities often include designing, testing, and troubleshooting chemical manufacturing processes and equipment. They might develop safety procedures for handling dangerous chemicals, optimize production methods, and work on scaling laboratory processes for large-scale manufacturing. They also complete research to develop new manufacturing processes or products.

What skills are essential for a chemical engineer?

Chemical engineers need a strong math and science background, especially in the principles of chemistry, physics, and engineering. They also need strong problem-solving and analytical skills to troubleshoot and improve chemical processes. Good communication skills help when working in teams and explaining projects to non-engineers. Familiarity with computer modeling software and other technical tools is also often necessary.

What role does a chemical engineer play in product development?

In product development, a chemical engineer might complete research to create new materials or improve existing ones. They may also develop new processes to manufacture these products more efficiently and sustainably. This work often involves laboratory research, computer modeling, and testing and requires a deep understanding of chemical properties and reactions.

How does a chemical engineer contribute to sustainability and environmental protection?

Many work on developing cleaner, more sustainable chemical manufacturing processes. This can involve reducing waste, improving energy efficiency, or developing techniques that use renewable resources. Some chemical engineers also work in environmental remediation, developing methods to clean up pollution and contamination.

What role does safety play in the work of a chemical engineer?

Safety is crucial to their work because dangerous chemicals and processes are used. They must design safety procedures and protocols to protect workers and the environment. This can involve developing equipment with safety features, monitoring chemical processes for safety risks, and training other staff on safety procedures.

Does a chemical engineer need a strong understanding of economics and business?

While not their primary focus, understanding business and economic principles can benefit chemical engineers. This helps to understand the financial implications of different manufacturing processes, make decisions about scaling operations, and contribute to cost-saving or efficiency initiatives.

What role does a chemical engineer play in quality control?

Quality control initiatives include developing processes to test raw materials or finished products, monitoring manufacturing processes for variations affecting quality, and troubleshooting issues.

What kinds of industries employ chemical engineers?

Chemical and pharmaceutical industries employ engineers to develop and manufacture drugs, chemicals, and materials. Positions are also available in oil and gas, food and beverage, and consumer goods. Some choose to work in environmental remediation or consulting.

Do chemical engineers usually work in labs or office settings?

It is not uncommon to work across various environments, including labs, manufacturing plants, and offices. Lab work includes researching and developing new substances or processes. Roles in manufacturing plants include overseeing production processes and troubleshooting issues. Computer modeling is used in office settings to design and optimize chemical processes.