I often get asked why I chose to study Chemical Engineering, and in some sense, it’s really hard to answer. Like many high school students, I didn’t know a lot about engineering and I never really thought about what my “major” in college was going to be. I was focused on my career, and I knew I wanted to go into medical research or biotechnology. These are obviously really broad fields, so I definitely struggled with what major to pick. Here are some reasons for why I chose Chemical Engineering, and what I’ve gotten to do as a Chemical Engineer.
To me, Chemical Engineering involves taking some material that is cheap or abundant, and turning it into something expensive and useful. As you can tell, this applies to so many different fields, like petroleum, nanotechnology, medicine, food production, materials science and environmental solutions. I’m more interested in the medicine aspect of this. To me, pharmaceuticals is such an exciting field to work in, and I’ve been so lucky to get an internship last summer in this field. My mentor had a Ph.D in Chemical Engineering, and so it was clear that Chemical Engineering really could be used in the biotechnology field. For example, I ran an individual experiment at my internship, to see what the distribution of a chemical was in our product. I had to calculate a mass balance for this, to see the input of the chemical in the process, as well as the output. This is a great example of Chemical Engineering principles applied to the biotechnology setting.
However, I have sometimes wondered if I picked the right major for my career goals. You see, USC also offers Biomedical Engineering, which sounds really aligned with what careers I was looking at. So far, I’ve been really happy with Chemical Engineering, but I’ve gotten the opportunity to explore BME and see if I am more interested in that. I am currently working in a BME lab researching shear stress on cardiac cells, in an effort to understand coronary artery disease. It is really cool research, and I have found myself getting very involved in the lab as a result. However, I still think that picking Chemical Engineering was a good choice, since my skills are still applicable to the lab that I am working in. Plus, I can always do BME for a Master’s Program or Ph.D!
My favorite class as a ChemE was probably CHE 205, which is called Numerical Methods in Chemical Engineering. It’s a programming-based class, where you learn how to use MATLAB to solve Chemical Engineering problems. I can safely say that I am not a programmer; I found programming to be very difficult and frustrating at times. However, I still think this was my favorite class so far, because it was so challenging but very rewarding. I will never forget the feeling of clicking “Shift-Enter” and watching my program plot the outflow temperatures of various conditions from a heat-exchanger. It also introduced me to so many Chemical Engineering principles but in a very subtle way, which I found very helpful when taking my other ChemE classes. Overall, I have been very happy with my decision to choose ChemE, and I hope that if you have any interest in chemistry, physics or math, that you look into majoring in Chemical Engineering!