Probably one of the most difficult choices in our lives is deciding how we want to spend our time. Our career path is huge in that regard because it encompasses 4+ years of education, followed by 50+ years of labor. Not only does this consume our time, but it also affects the type of life we lead. Furthermore, because this is how we will spend a majority of our lives, we need to pick something that we enjoy. With all of this riding on one single choice, how does an individual confidently settle on chemical engineering (or any major for that matter)?
Let’s look at chemical engineering from a statistical standpoint. What do they “do”? Chemical engineering is a compilation of chemistry, biology, physics, and math that is applied in the production of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and (my personal favorite), cosmetics. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for chemical engineering majors with a Bachelor’s degree in 2012 was $43.36 an hour, totaling to $94,350 per year.
In a simple evaluation of the above information, chemical engineers can do a really wide range of things, but every facet gets paid well. Delving in a little bit deeper, the top five industries for chemical engineers include (also from the Bureau of Labor Statistics):
- Petroleum and coal products manufacturing- $105,310
- Basic chemical manufacturing- $99,510
- Scientific research and development services- $97,880
- Resin, synthetic rubber, and artificial synthetic fibers
and filaments manufacturing-$94,810
- Architectural, engineering, and related services-$93,390
Where would you fall in? That is a question I can’t answer for you, but I can share my personal story with you.
I have one older sister, and she was always more inclined towards English and literature, while I was always more inclined towards math and sciences. This was influencing factor number one. In 7th grade, I was invited to attend a “CHOICES” Program at Lehigh University which was sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers. This opened my eyes to what engineering could be for me and also introduced me to my future school. This was influencing factor number two. At this point, I knew engineering was a good option because I liked math and science and honestly, because it paid well, but I didn’t find the idea of doing math the rest of my particularly interesting. It wasn’t until I researched the different branches of engineering myself that I found the one thing that made everything fit for me.
An important sidebar to this story, I got really bad acne in 5th grade and had it for 9 years. I had been on countless pills and tried countless topical gels that all promised clear skin. My parents spent thousands of dollars on facial treatments and lasers, but nothing ever worked. Finally, I gave in and went on one risky treatment that was guaranteed to work. The thing about this pill, was that for a REALLY small group of people, it made their acne worse before it got better. Naturally, I was in that subset. My skin was a disaster. I cried about my appearance, I hated to go places, and I never slept at my friends’ houses for fear of taking my makeup off. Makeup was my saving grace. It helped give me confidence when I felt so low about myself. Senior year of high school, in the midst of all this, my biochemistry teacher assigned a project to research a compound in a product that we use everyday. Being the makeup lover that I am, I decided to research a compound in my foundation. I found that the main filler was an acne inflammatory agent, caused respiratory problems, and dried out the skin. I was disgusted. I was angry. And I knew that there needed to be makeup that did not destroy the skin I worked so long to make clear.
With all of this, I learned about chemical engineering and its link to the cosmetic industry, and I was sold. My career path was set. I plan to work for a makeup company on product development, and my ultimate goal is to have my own makeup line.
My love of makeup combined with my understanding of skin problems and its affect on self-esteem make me a perfect candidate for this type of work. I also work at Sephora, a cosmetic store, which gives me a unique understanding of consumer desires and trends in the cosmetic field.
Chemical engineering is so broad, that you have the ability to make it your own. All you need to do is find the one aspect unique to you and run with it! It is a difficult major, but the motivation that comes with having pre-established goals works wonders!