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Thinking about switching out of chemE advice wanted please!

  1. Apr 12, 2011 #1
    I'm about to enter my sophomore year of chemE. I haven't taken any chemical engineering classes yet but am registered for one in the fall. In high school, I found chemistry incredibly interesting, math tolerable, and physics..well I had only read Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking.

    Now that I've taken two semesters of chemistry, I've really started not enjoying it. There are lots of rules to memorize (as if we won't forget them in three years time). Also, it seems as if most of what we're learning is potentially fundamentally wrong... I have trouble doing the homework sets just because they bore me.

    Anyway, I now really enjoy Calculus (I and II) and physics (mechanics..e&m not so much). I've heard a lot of talk that chemE isn't really all THAT much chemistry and is more calculus and physics. How do you all here feel about it? Should I stick with it or switch to an applied math major (or mechanical engineering)?
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  3. Apr 12, 2011 #2
    I am currently a second year ChemE student, and I am also quickly losing interest in chemistry after taking courses like OChem. However, at my school there are only three or four chem courses that a ChemE major has to do. The ChemE courses you do are things like kinetics, reactor design, separation processes, control, fluid dynamics, transport phenomena, etc. (You use quite a bit of math in classes like fluid dynamics and transport phenomena)

    I don't know if Im the person to ask for advice though, as I will probably be transferring to EE next year. (I was always stuck between ChemE and EE, and EE seems more interesting)
  4. Apr 15, 2011 #3


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    The university at which i am studying chemE sounds similar to the one which ceran describes in that the course involves only a few classes in pure chemistry, and many more in things that only require a basic knowledge of chemistry such as fluid mechanics and thermodynamics. I actually wish that there was more organic chemistry as i do find it interesting.

    From what i have seen, most schools are similar in that you are not required to take too much more chemistry beyond the basics. Maybe you should have a look at the course requirements and see which classes you will need to take in the future?
  5. Apr 16, 2011 #4


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    I am not a chemical engineer (but do have many friends that graduated from chemical engineering) so you may want to take what I say with a grain of salt.

    Chemical engineering is usually not really about the chemistry: that's what the chemists, biochemists, pharmacologists, etc. do (and yes, certain more research-oriented chemical engineers--usually those with graduate degrees focusing on the more chemistry-oriented side of things). As ceran and danago allude to, chemical engineering, in general, is more about the the production of chemicals and materials once the chemistry has been figured out.

    In Canada, at least, the first two years are basically common (though select schools will make you jump through varying degrees of hoops--up to repeating the common first year--to transfer). I'd find out what the transfer options are, and try to get some work-experience to see what a day in the life might be like (WARNING: YMMV-Your Mileage May Vary, and sometimes, quite significantly). Oftentimes, joining (or at least hanging around) your local professional association (assuming one exists) will put you in contact with practicing chemical (or other) engineers. If nothing, mixer events usually have quite decent food.

    Good luck in your decision (and remember that, while influential, your choice of major does not necessarily determine the course of the rest of your life).
  6. Apr 16, 2011 #5
    Thanks for the information. After looking at my curriculum, I've noticed that it's only a chemistry class a semester through junior year. I am more interested in using the chemical reactions to do "stuff" than learning about the reactions. However, I have not yet taken the two semesters of organic, so my opinion MAY change.

    My first year was the same as all other engineering majors, so I wouldn't be far behind. I'd just have to switch before next semester, or I'll be a semester behind. I am planning on staying and taking the intro class to get a taste of it.

    Good idea about getting some work experience. I sadly live in a remote area which has basically 0 use for chemEs (other than the sewage treatment plant..?), so I'll probably have to wait until the next summer to get an internship close to my university.
  7. Apr 20, 2011 #6
    I'm in a similar boat. Year 12 at the moment, trying to decide whether to do a 3 year chemistry course, 4 year chemE course or 5 year double degree.

    I've always loved chemistry and it is my best subject. I also like the idea of using chemistry to do "stuff", which is why i'm looking at engineering, but the consistently reported lack of chemistry has me really worried that i will just hate it. What a conundrum.
  8. Apr 20, 2011 #7
    I think Chemical Engineering is hands down the best and most rewarding engineering degree one can obtain. I absolutely loved it by the end of my degree. I suffered and sacrificed through the subject but in the end I wouldn't trade it for anything. ChemE's have such a broad and expansive knowledge - from thermo to unit ops, heat transfer and process controls - you can't beat it.

    However...my biggest regret was that I didn't think too much about where I could get a job when done. I wanted to stay in California, but the best Chem Engineering jobs tend to be in texas, LA, New Jersey, etc and not neccesarily in the nicest places to live. Its something to consider...I have put a lot of effort trying to explain why a Chem E was just as qualified as a ME or other discipline and trying to position myself in other industries so I could have better options in where I wanted to live.

    One last thing...look at the CEOs and executives of most major engineering and energy firms. You'll find that out of those that don't come out of law backgrounds the majority are from Chemical Engineering backgrounds.
  9. Apr 20, 2011 #8
    What do you think about doing a double degree in Chem and ChemE? Would the extra knowledge from Chem help?
  10. Apr 21, 2011 #9
    IMHO Dont waste your time. By the time you finish all your thermo, p-chem, reactor kinetics, seperations, o-chem, electives, etc, you'll know more about chemistry then any undergrad chem major. Chemistry is one of those subjects that if you want to study it, get a PHd in it, otherwise your wasting your time.

    Chem Engineering though is a good practical undergrad and preps you for everything you'll need to know. If I were you, focus on getting experience in the real world. Instead of doubling up on classes do everything possible to find an internship somewhere learning the nuts and bolts of manufacturing,operations or design. There is a huge gap between school and the real world and the earlier you expose yourself the better.

    Start off by attending professional society meetings and networking.
  11. Apr 21, 2011 #10
    Traijan, have you already graduated from ChemE? If so, what kind of work are you doing now? It's just that most of the work I have heard of seems to be mainly managerial or plant maintenance/operations type stuff. Also, I live in Alberta and it seems like the majority of ChemE jobs are field work in Fort Mac, or some pipeline/drilling/mining operation in the middle of nowhere. I am legitimately considering switching to EE, as it seems more design based, the program is more hands on, and I am more interested in it.

    I agree that the extra knowledge from a Chem double degree would not really help, and that work experience would be more beneficial. I really don't think you would use your knowledge from more senior chemistry classes in your working life. (It doesn't even seem like you use your first year general chem material.)
  12. Apr 21, 2011 #11
    I graduated 10 years ago and work in commercial nuclear power. The whole part of being an engineer is managment, plant operations, etc. I know this may not be obvious in school right now, but 5 years out of college and you may start getting bored with the technical work and start to relaize that project managemnt and operations is where its really at and where your skill set is really needed. I was the same way as you and the truth is that most "technical" jobs are not very challenging. Most of the info out there has been standardized and documented and you end up just pushing lots of paper. When you get to the managemnt part, thats where the real challenges and problem solving starts.

    Obviously, there are groundbreaking industries out there that are exciting places to work at but I wasn't a CalTech, Stanford, MIT grad so I never really had those oppurtunities open to me. And by the way, for Biotech...lots and lots and lots of paperwork. QC hell.
  13. Apr 24, 2011 #12
    Lack in Chemistry is certainly not the reason to shy away from this major. You will find that the advanced courses focus heavily on physics, thermodynamics, and of course math. The main drawback that I've encountered is ignorance about what this major really encompasses. I was recently at a career fair, and a certain recruiter told me they focus heavily on pipe design, and so they were interested in Mechanical Engineers instead of Chemical Engineers. Little did he know we've solved hundreds of piping design problems in our courses! (Fluid Mechanics, Heat Transfer, Mass Transport, Fouling Factors, Fittings etc.). I guess most people just visualize a ChemE holding a beaker, as someone that only synthesizes stuff then mass produces it. Then again it's a relatively new discipline.
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