Author Topic: Are you a chemical engineer or a mechanical engineer?  (Read 582 times)

secondcor521

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Are you a chemical engineer or a mechanical engineer?
« on: July 14, 2017, 02:46:33 PM »
I have a son who is going to be a junior in high school this fall.  We are starting to look at colleges.

He thinks he may want to be a chemical engineer or a mechanical engineer based on his interests and strengths.  He has taken three years of mechanical engineering-like classes in junior high and will graduate with 5 years of chemistry classes and probably an IB diploma.

As I help look at schools, I think it would be helpful to figure out - at least a little - whether either of these two fields would be a good fit and be what he and I imagine them to be like.  If he's gung ho for one or both of them, then obviously we need a school that has those.  If not, then maybe we can look at different schools that don't have those programs but have other things he wants.

Is there anyone out there who is in chemical engineering or mechanical engineering who would be willing to do an informational interview for maybe 30-45 minutes and talk with him about what you do, what it's like, how it compares/contrasts with other engineering fields, your story of your transition from college to career, that sort of thing?  He and I would very much appreciate it.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2017, 02:49:03 PM by secondcor521 »
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MayDay

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Re: Are you a chemical engineer or a mechanical engineer?
« Reply #1 on: July 14, 2017, 06:54:35 PM »
I'm a ChemE and work with quite a few mechE's. I'd be happy to talk to you both. I have no cell phone and limited internet for the next few days but I can after that.

Generally as a ChemE I will say that I went into it because I loved chemistry.  But ChemE jobs can be a bit more limited geographically.  There are always mechE jobs everywhere. And they often require cad which ChemEs don't learn.  That said there is a ton of crossover. I personally find lack of cad limiting. If I did it over again, I'd major in computer engineering or if I was going into ChemE I'd take more of the mechE classes like cad that so many job postings ask for.

That said I don't want to be a downer about ChemE. I've had a perfectly lovely career and get paid lots. It's just been a bit tougher to find jobs in desirable places as they tend to build chemical plants either in the middle of nowhere or in really shitty places.

For schools a lot depends on what he wants to do. If he wants to go to a top grad school and become a professor, the state engineering school is fine if he is a top student there (I went to a mediocre state school, got an NSF fellowship and got into MIT and UofMn which were tied for first in ChemE at the time). If he wants to work in the area of his state going to the local state school is fine acts companies recruit from area schools as local grads are less likely to leave.  If he wants to work for a specific big name company (Google, etc) I can't give advice about that.

If he wants to be an engineer he needs to go to a school with a solid engineering program, not a smaller private school that has a tiny "engineering" school and not a liberal arts college.  But it definitely doesn't have to be MIT. Make sense? Most/all schools that have ChemE will also have mechE. I don't know if the reverse is true.
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C-note

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Re: Are you a chemical engineer or a mechanical engineer?
« Reply #2 on: July 14, 2017, 07:30:15 PM »
My son attends a private engineering school in Indiana.  He's majoring in EE with a minor in Computer Engineering.

As an FYI - the ChemE graduates had a hard time finding jobs this year.  The school boasts an overall 97% placement and they'll offer a lot of help to all graduates with their job search.  For some reason, there weren't a lot of desirable ChemE positions open this year.

Of course, in 6 years, it could - and probably will - be a different job market.  A well-selected double major or major/minor makes a graduate more desirable along with a summer internship or two.

Carless

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Re: Are you a chemical engineer or a mechanical engineer?
« Reply #3 on: July 14, 2017, 08:25:32 PM »
Materials engineer here.  Bridging the gap between chem and mech.  I picked it because it would give me a lot of options -aerospace, civil, chemical work, mining, automotive, nuclear... all have materials related work attached.  It's worked out reasonably well for me, but as MayDay says you're unlikely to find work in a big city.  A major indicator of success in my opinion is how far you're willing to relocate for work.

Maenad

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Re: Are you a chemical engineer or a mechanical engineer?
« Reply #4 on: July 14, 2017, 09:20:56 PM »
I'm 20 years out from my ChemE degree, and I've only rarely used the chemistry part. The basics like statistics, Design of Experiments, etc. cut across industries. I spent a few years in Chip Fab and the last decade in Med Device, the only limitations I've found are interviewing at places that make pacemakers where an EE would do better.

For the most versatility I'd recommend MechE. I loved chemistry then and still do now, but haven't actually used it in my career much.

EscapeVelocity2020

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Re: Are you a chemical engineer or a mechanical engineer?
« Reply #5 on: July 14, 2017, 09:48:26 PM »
Unlike MayDay's comments, I've found ChE to be a skeleton key to many engineering locks, at least when I was in my 20's and 30's.  I lived in Cabuyao, Philippines for my first overseas assignment and it has been onward and upward, for the most part.  There was a stint at the Pringles plant in Jackson TN that was pretty meh, but the pay was good.  Stints in Brockville, Canada (weekends in awesome Montreal).  Orange County, Greenville SC, Lima OH...  Anyway, doing lots of interesting things in a wide range of good and not so great places got me a majority of the way to FI prior to moving to Houston.  Hit FI during our time in Norway, then lived in Dubai, and pretty much the world is our oyster now (both for vacation and for business - my latest business travels taking me to South Korea, China, and Singapore).  There are certainly worse lifestyles out there!
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secondcor521

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Re: Are you a chemical engineer or a mechanical engineer?
« Reply #6 on: July 14, 2017, 09:50:55 PM »
Thanks to all who replied and to the people who sent PM's.

@MayDay, I'll get in touch with you soon.  I think he'd like CAD, although I don't know if any of his classes have exposed him to that yet.  He definitely doesn't want to be a professor - he wants to get into the job market.  I think he could live anywhere, and if he could pick now he'd pick a big city like Boston if he could.  Regarding your last paragraph, he wants to go to a small school because he currently goes to a very small high school (graduating class of 30) and very much likes the increased personal interaction with teachers.

@C-note, I've also been encouraging all my kids to do internships / co-ops regardless of what they do.  It seems like a very excellent way to spend college summers.

@Carless, I don't know much about material science / material engineering.  Need to look into that.

@Maenad, interesting.  I thought the mechE job market was more saturated than the others, but I don't really know.  As C-note says, though, six years out is a long way.

@EV2020, thanks!

Overall, my kid likes to have options wrt everything (food, employment, activities).  Smart kid with 98% test scores, but still maturing in the area of being diligent with turning assignments in.  I only took a year of chemistry and forgot most of it, so he's beyond what I know there.  I have a BSCS from 1993 and he doesn't want to really go into CS/EE, so I'm a little lost in how to guide him.

Thanks everyone, keep the comments coming!
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Polaria

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Re: Are you a chemical engineer or a mechanical engineer?
« Reply #7 on: July 15, 2017, 12:48:45 AM »
I am a civil engineer in chemical engineering. I found there are a lot more mathematics and physics  (fluid and heat mechanics etc) involved than pure chemistry.  *EDIT*: This was actually perfect for me as I was never passionnate about chemistry although I had strong skills in the subject.

I totally agree about the downside of location and the fluctuations of job opportunities. We used to joke that chemical engineering pays well if you can find a job in the sector.

I have never held a job in the field though, I pursued complementary studies to become an actuary 10 years ago;  I have been working in that field since.
« Last Edit: July 15, 2017, 03:10:08 AM by Polaria »

MayDay

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Re: Are you a chemical engineer or a mechanical engineer?
« Reply #8 on: July 15, 2017, 05:31:07 AM »
When I graduated in 2005, ChemEs were the highest paid engineering graduates at my school. Same with my husband a few years earlier. It fluctuates.

There are good smaller schools for sure.  In my home state, Iowa, Iowa state has a large engineering college and u of Iowa has a much much smaller one that is still very solid. Of course the entire campus is large, so your fresh,an English type classes will be large, but once you get into the classes in your major it is very small classes.

In general ChemE programs are much smaller and in any given school the mechE will be much bigger.

You want it to be ABET accredited. Olin college in Massachusetts is one small engineering school with a good reputation. I'm sure there are others.
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Carless

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Re: Are you a chemical engineer or a mechanical engineer?
« Reply #9 on: July 15, 2017, 10:56:42 AM »
Don't just look at the size of the school, look at the ratio of professors to students for the department of interest.  My undergrad had a very odd situation at the time, in one class it was a ratio of one prof to 4 students!  It can really vary, and is quite independent of the overall university size.

Dezrah

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Re: Are you a chemical engineer or a mechanical engineer?
« Reply #10 on: July 17, 2017, 09:16:05 AM »
Iím a Mech E.  I fell into a highly niche field of designing curtain wall.  Itís mostly Civil Engineers but there are also a fair number of MEs as well.  Itís all on paper, lots of math, calculations, CAD drawings.  Every single job is different.  The need for engineers is growing too as building codes become more stringent on acoustics and energy efficiency. 

I also worked in manufacturing for a while but I hated it compared to what I do now.

For what itís worth, I also went to a very small high school where I had high grades.  I went to college at a small but well respected school.  My advice for your sonís current stage is to get as many AP credits as he possibly can.  I went in with nearly a yearís worth of credit and still barely graduated on time.

Iíd be willing to chat with him if heís genuinely interested (and not just forced to interact by his parent ;)

Roboturner

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Re: Are you a chemical engineer or a mechanical engineer?
« Reply #11 on: July 17, 2017, 09:28:06 AM »
Petroleum Engineer here, if he'd like to talk - we're pretty much a (specialized) MechE/ChemE crossover (Jack of all trades, king of none sort of thing)
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