# Engineering Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 big engineering branches?

1. Mar 27, 2010

### Mathnomalous

Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

It seems to me chemical engineering is not as popular as the other 3 "big" engineering branches (civil, mechanical, electrical). If true, what's the reason for this? Lower demand? More challenging? Less glamorous?

2. Mar 27, 2010

### fasterthanjoao

Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

I'm not sure. I would make a guess that chemical engineering doesn't get the kind of exposure that other types of engineering do - I work at a very engineering focussed institution and our chemical department is far smaller than the others too. It's also possible that, out of high school, mechanical etc engineering seem like more approachable choices. Those who eventually end up in chemical engineering might begin in chemistry or chemical physics.

3. Mar 27, 2010

### turbo

Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

It might also depend on your location. Here in Maine, Chemical engineering was quite popular because there were lots of pulp and paper mills around.

4. Mar 27, 2010

### czelaya

Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

I'm not a chemical engineer but a graduate student in chemical physics and theoretical chemistry. One factor that I've noticed is how many more chemical engineers I see in the materials science. Chemical engineering, solid state chemistry, biochemical engineering, electrochemistry, physical chemistry, materials engineering, and so forth are becoming much overlapped. For instance, my graduate committee is composed of a chemical physicist, physical chemist, theoretical chemist, chemical engineer, and a medicinal chemist. The faculty in our department is even more diverse.

5. Mar 27, 2010

### Mathnomalous

Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

Overlap and location. I didn't think of that. My concern is that those positions are "fixed" or limited; similar to what the nuclear industry seems to me. Then again, I don't fully understand how all that works out in the end.

6. Mar 27, 2010

### mgb_phys

Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

Chem eng is often in the chemistry dept rather than the eng dept.
It always used to be popular on the basis that it had the highest average starting salary of any course, and they used to plug this remorselessly.

(of course it's a bit of fib in that lawyers and medics end up with more money in the long run, but chem eng have a 100% employment rate at graduation and don't do years of underpaid training position)

7. Mar 27, 2010

### Mathnomalous

Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

What are the main factors behind the high average starting salary? Is it because it is that valuable to employers, many people find it very challenging/boring, or some form of combination?

The appeal is has for me is that I know 2 electrical engineers and 1 mechanical engineer that are severely underemployed; obviously, the sample is too small but nonetheless I let it affect me. Another issue is that I have many friends that are engineers (industrial, electrical, civil, etc.) and I have a need to be unlike them (the same reason why I'm not attracted to medicine or law, I have way too many friends that are doctors and lawyers).

Yes, it's a matter of personal pride and arrogance.

8. Mar 27, 2010

### mgb_phys

Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

No it's really a bit of a con.

Almost 100% of chem eng grads start a job with an chemistry engineering company the day after graduation, these jobs pay a reasonable professional salary - simply because the supply of grads is limited. Other engineering branches have a higher proportion of people who go into other jobs at graduation and so don't all earn engineer salaries from day 1.

Ultimately very highly paid professions like accountant, lawyer, medics etc spend a few years doing articles, interning, training etc where they are either unpaid or minimally paid, so if you consider graduate starting salary rather than lifetime they look bad.
While a large percentage of say English grads will be unemployed, travelling or doing low paid/low skilled temporary jobs.

What the stats don't show is that in 10years many of the chem-eng will still be doing pretty much the same job for pretty much the same salary. That is also true of most technical professions of course.

9. Mar 27, 2010

### Mathnomalous

Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

That makes things clearer. Why is the supply of grads limited? I think it's interesting that the high starting salary does not attract more people towards chem engineering or that the industry would be clamoring for more of them in order to lower salaries (just like Bill Gates "clamoring" for more computer scientists in order to drive down salaries).

There has to be something about chem. engineering that does not attract as many people as civil, mechanical, and electrical do.

10. Mar 27, 2010

### mgb_phys

Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

You have to be able to do chemistry as well?

In most european countries (but probably not china) colleges are closing their chemistry depts because of cost and falling student numbers. The same thing is happening to engineering - chem-eng gets hit from both sides.

The field definitely has an image problem, in high school we went on a tour of chemical plants - smelly dirty, dangerous place with 60s style office buildings. Now compare that with comp-eng offering course on games develpment or iPhones or mech-eng projects on autonomous vehicles or aerospace.
Here in Canada the mining industries are trying to solve the same problem getting people into mining engineering, they are wine-ing and dining graduates in the same way that merchant banks used to go after people in the 90s.

It's also a field that is very cyclic, any student with any brains will look at the rise and fall of oil and the hiring/firing in the chemistry industry. There is also, I think, a belief that it pigeon holes you more than other eng disciplines.

11. Mar 27, 2010

### Mathnomalous

Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

Ah, I didn't think chemistry would be such a dealbreaker. Many web articles and dept. websites I have visited always sell the idea that chemical engineering is "central", "universal", or something similar. I also got the (erroneous?) idea that the field pigeon holes you into the chemical manufacturing industry. Contrast that to a mechanical engineer being able to work on steam turbines, wind farms, robotics, etc. or an electrical engineer being able to work on telecommunications, power generation, etc.

Well, I definitely need to reconsider the options available.

12. Mar 27, 2010

### kote

Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

Chemical engineering also isn't offered at as many schools. The big engineering schools will offer chemical engineering, but not smaller or less developed departments. The demographics make the average starting salary look relatively high... in addition to what's mentioned about most grads taking the same jobs. I wasn't a big fan of my rotation at a chemical plant in the bayou in southeast Texas. They also need to pay you a little bit more to work at places like that.

As for long term compensation, with any standard engineering degree, if you do the right research and networking you can get a job in finance or pretty much anything else. Operations is also a natural field for engineers, and many ops jobs require an engineering degree. Business schools love engineers too, and you can use business school to switch to a profession with better raises if you want. Top consulting companies also specifically recruit engineers. See http://www.bcg.com/careers/is_bcg_for_me/backgrounds/engineers/default.aspx [Broken].

The couple thousand dollar maximum difference between starting salaries for different flavors of engineering really isn't enough to be meaningful.

Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
13. Mar 28, 2010

### Sprinkle159

Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

Hey, this might help. "Chemical engineers are expected to have an employment decline of 2 percent over the projections decade. "(http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos027.htm)

This -2% growth rate might go a little way in explaining the lack of current popularity.

Note: civil is projected to grow by 24%, electrical 1%, and mechanical 6%.
P.S. I'm a still an undergrad so take this information with a big grain of salt.

Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
14. Mar 28, 2010

### story645

Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

Chemical Engineering (and BME) are the departments where the majority is female; take that as you will.

I agree with the other posters that it's probably partially 'cause ChemE doesn't involve building things, and the usual reason I here for going into some engineering field is "I want to build [blank]".

15. Mar 30, 2010

### Rahul123

Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

It’s not like that, every field has its own value. For your reference, according to a recent survey from National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), Chemical Engineering has got second position in a list of Top-Paid Bachelor’s Degrees-2010. Check this link: http://www.scholarshiplink.com/student-aid/scholarships/best-paying-degree-2010/ [Broken].
And as you can see that Petroleum Engineering has got the first position. This reflects the growing need of professional in these sectors. I have found an specialization that sum these fields of engineering: Chemical Engineering with Specialization in Refining & Petrochemicals(http://www.upes.ac.in/btech_appl_petro_Chemical_Engg.asp)

Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
16. Mar 30, 2010

### kote

Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

It's not like what? And chemical engineers work for oil companies doing petroleum engineering. It has more to do with the size of the sample and the self-selection of the candidates into certain jobs than anything about the major itself.

Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
17. Mar 30, 2010

### mgb_phys

Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

Yes, that's exactly the same thing they were saying 20years ago when I was at school.
But as I explained above the reasoning is a little suspect - unless you believe that chem-eng are really paid better than lawyers/doctors over the long term but all keep it a secret.

18. Mar 30, 2010

### bklynkenny

Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

In the U.S., there are 278,000 civil engineers and 238,700 mechanical engineers but only 31,700 chemical engineers.

19. Mar 31, 2010

### Mathnomalous

Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches?

Interesting. Even though in the US there are 7 times more mechanical engineers than chemical engineers, the salary difference between the two fields is less than $10,000. That is food for thought. What made chemical engineering lose its appeal to me was that it seems the profession is more about making sure the "assembly line" runs smoothly rather than designing new things (I guess chemists do more of that). Another factor was my recent discovery of the fact that mechanical engineers design turbines, power plants, and engines! I find those areas more interesting! I also discovered Capt. Nemo was a mechanical engineer and not just a sailor. Silly books influencing my thoughts! 20. Mar 31, 2010 ### kote Re: Chemical engineering not as popular as other 3 "big" engineering branches? I wouldn't chalk up the starting pay numbers to anything more than statistical / demographic differences. We hire all flavors of engineers except civil, and there's a$1-2k difference max. After taxes etc that's at most $50 per$1500 paycheck. After the first promotion there's no difference.

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