Deciding which degree to study can feel like an impossible task - at least it did for me. So why did I pick Chemical Engineering out of the thousands of degree courses available in the U.K? And what actually is Chemical Engineering anyway?
What Chemical Engineering is and what Chemical Engineering is not:
One of my lecturers in first year pretty much summed up the course by saying that chemical engineers 'turn ordinary stuff into useful stuff, without making bad stuff' which can be translated to Bath's official description as - 'Chemical Engineering benefits society and the environment by combining science, mathematics and engineering to develop new technologies, processes and products'.
So, a chemical engineer will essentially take raw materials and turn them into safe, cost-effective products. In fact, pretty much everything around you right now will have at one point been interfered with by a chemical engineer - which is pretty cool because it means a degree in Chemical Engineering gives rise to so many different opportunities. Water treatment and sanitation, pharmaceuticals, energy, oil and gas, nuclear power, food and drink, biotechnology, healthcare and management are all sectors to which a Chemical Engineering degree can lead to.
Check out this 'What is Chemical Engineering' video which was produced by the University to help clarify any misunderstanding.
There are so many misconceptions about what Chemical Engineering actually is. When I tell people what I am studying at university they always seem to stare back at me with a blank face. So many people assume it relates only to plumbing and pipework, and don't get me wrong, I have learnt a fair amount about pipes and fluid dynamics, but there are also pure science modules, math's modules and so many other modules completely (well mostly) unrelated to pipes! Engineering is often falsely labelled as boring, when in reality it is interesting and ever-changing, despite being hard sometimes.
What is the future of Chemical Engineering?
Initially, the field of Chemical Engineering was to combine the knowledge of a mechanical engineer with that of a chemist to design and create successful separation processes, primarily for refining. And although separation processes are still a major part of Chemical Engineering, the field now encompasses so much more. With global warming and an increasing population - chemical engineers will be at the forefront of designing new technologies and processes to lead us into the future.
An example of this is the research of Dr Marianne Ellis's, a senior lecturer in biochemical engineering at Bath. It is well known that the animal agriculture industry is having a detrimentally negative impact on the environment and Dr.Ellis' research revolving around cultured meat will be 'helping address the world’s future food needs as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions as part of efforts to tackle global warming'. You can read more about this here.
If you are considering studying Chemical Engineering...
I would strongly emphasize the benefits of attending a summer school. I had the opportunity to go on two chemical engineering summer schools before applying for university and they really helped me to understand what the course is and what a degree in engineering would entail. If summer schools are not an option for you then definitely try and speak to some current students at open days, calling campaigns and so on, so that you can try and get a feel for the course.
Has my course lived up to my expectations?
At the start of my course, I was slightly worried because some of the content seemed a little random - so it was difficult keeping up the momentum to study. However, by the end of the first year, all of the modules started to tie together and the overall picture of what being an engineer would entail became clearer - so did my individual interests within the field.
I think the world of engineering is really exciting and knowing that I will be able to contribute to such an ever-changing and fast-paced sector definitely gives me the motivation to do well. The course is really rewarding and at Bath, there is a balance between group coursework, lab reports and exams (although the contributing marks come primarily from exams).
Additionally, Bath itself is a beautiful city to live and study in. Chemical Engineering has proven itself to be extremely challenging and time-consuming, despite this, I know that if I had the choice again I would still pick the same course.