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Engineering What would be more useful for chemical engineering?

  1. Oct 22, 2011 #1
    I think I'm going to aim for chemical engineering, I talked to a guy who now works for bp as a petrochemical specialist, he's retired now due to a car accident, and really think that its the sort of career I'd want to do.

    From what he said its a sort of mix between chemistry, Electrical and mechanical engineering and with a lot of maths involved.

    I'm thinking of doing Maths, Chemistry and Physics but not sure whether Biology or Technology and Design would be better for chemical engineering?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 23, 2011 #2


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    I am currently four years into a chemical engineering degree, and i think that if i was in your position, i would go with maths (the highest level you can handle), chemistry and physics. I have found that a lot of other students (especially those who did not have a particularly strong background in maths to begin with) have struggled through some of the more mathematically intense subjects (such as computer analysis and modelling, heat and mass transfer, process dynamics etc.) because they could not keep up with the maths. As part of my degree we did have to take classes in linear algebra, multivariate calculus, differential equations etc., however these were often taught at a fast pace, so any earlier mathematical preparation was very handy. I did quite well in my high school math classes, and although the math i have learned in university is much more advanced, my study of high school math gave me a very solid foundation from which to expand, and it also helped me figure out what works for me when studying math.

    Although my engineering course hasn't required me to take many chemistry or physics classes, getting an introduction at the high school level did definitely help. I did have to take introductory chemistry classes at university, however, like the math, they were quite fast paced compared to high school, so I'm not sure if i could have learned as much without any prior knowledge. Honestly though, i think the biggest advantage from studying chemistry and physics in high school is the way that (especially physics) they make you think analytically, which is exactly how you will need to be thinking for many engineering classes. Maybe somebody with more knowledge can comment, but i am not sure if biology will get you thinking in the same way, especially if it is just about rote memorization like i so often hear (although in saying that, being able to memorize things well is a very useful skill).

    I didn't ever study much biology, but it does have its applications in chemical engineering. I know some courses do require that chem. eng. students take biology classes (mine doesn't), but I'm not sure if studying it in high school will be as beneficial as studying physics and chemistry. As for technology and design, i am not entirely sure what these involve, however you will learn a lot about engineering technology and their design while at uni, and even more so when you start working as an engineer.

    All in all though, if i had to make one single recommendation based on my experience, it would be to learn (and properly understand!) as much math as you can, and learn how to learn math efficiently.
  4. Oct 23, 2011 #3
    Thanks for your very detailed reply.

    Technology and Design covers mechanisms, pneumatics, electronics, computer design and manufacturing, there's probably a few more that I've forgotten.

    Biology is basically what it says on the tin.

    Hope this helps.
  5. Oct 23, 2011 #4
    What would be more important, having biology which maybe more relevant to chemical engineering and getting slightly worse grades or doing technology which is less relevant and will be covered again in university and get better grades?
  6. Oct 24, 2011 #5


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    Why will biology mean slightly worse grades?

    I don't really know whether biology or technology will be more useful. Honestly though, i don't think it will make too much of a difference. Physics and math will give you a start in the analytical thinking that you need to develop to study engineering, but beyond that, I'd probably just choose whatever subject interests you more.

    Keep in mind that i am only speaking on behalf of my own experiences, so somebody else may suggest something else. I am more than happy to talk more about what studying chemical engineering involves, and the types of classes you will probably take as an undergraduate, but i probably cant give too much more help with high school subject selection beyond suggesting that you take as much math as you can.
  7. Oct 24, 2011 #6

    Is there a lot of essay type assignments for chemical engineering or is it mainly lab work write ups and designing?
  8. Oct 24, 2011 #7
    Depending on where you work, you could be describing yourself as a control systems engineer. It is the intersection of all the studies you describe. You'll need to pay extra attention to differential equations, Laplace Transforms, and Linear Algebra. However, know that these math courses are actually valued not for being able to do them but conceptually so that you know what you're doing with a real process.

    Look in to the International Society of Automation and see if there is something in there that you might like. A student membership isn't much and it can be a good gateway to exactly the sort of career you may be seeking.
  9. Oct 24, 2011 #8


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    Most of the assignments so far have been technical reports (usually involving designing OR analysing something, lab reports etc.). Some of my classes have weekly or biweekly assignments which are pretty much questions straight from a textbook.
  10. Oct 25, 2011 #9
    so many engineers cant read/write. . . it's all math/chem/physics and bio if you want to go in that direction. you kinda take the core and then pepper it with whatever electives you want to take -- ive seen people do languages/bio/music/etc -- it's really your call
  11. Oct 25, 2011 #10
    Uh, guys, I hate to be the bearer of bad news: If you can't write a coherent document your future as an engineer or a scientist will be very limited. There are two parts to this work: First is the technical issue of creation or discovery. Second are the reports of what you have done. Overlook the second part and you are not likely to get a chance to play the first part again.

    An engineer or a scientist who can't communicate is a useless waste of everyone's time.
  12. Oct 25, 2011 #11
    Unless you really want to go into biochem/medical field, biology is absolutely pointless. I would do technology and/or whatever interests you. I'm assuming your in high school (I believe...not sure if you're outside of the USA), save the hard stuff for college. But if I were you, take as much math (i.e. up through DiffQ) as you can. Chemistry too. If you are ahead, try and make sure the credit transfers over. It'll save you a lot of time and money. Trust me.

    Again, depending on where you go to school, in the USA, expect a TON of chemistry (Chem I/II, Organic Chem I/II and Physical Chemistry. Throw some (actually alot) thermo and transport classes and that's the basics of a ChemE degree.

    BIGGEST misconception of (college freshman) engineering students. If you can't write, it will be very painful until you learn how to write (not if). Not to mention what Jake said about the real world. Very true.

    If you got questions, I'd be willing to field them. Can't say much about industry (other than there are a lot of opportunities for ChemEs), because I'm not there (yet ). Got around a year left at a engineering school out in CO :biggrin:.
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2011
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