Why I Chose to Study Chemical Engineering at Bath

Posted in: Faculty of Engineering, Undergraduate

Making big decisions about your future is a daunting feat at any age, but doing so when you’re not even old enough to vote yet is something I found, and continue to find, remarkable.

The natural inclination is to pick something you’re good at, or enjoy, or better yet both. This was futile in my case however, as throughout school I was a prolific teacher’s pet across the board. I marvelled at the wonders of literature classics like the works of Jane Austen, as much as I did at the accomplishments of pioneers in the world of science and technology like Nikola Tesla and Marie Curie. I have even been jokingly referred to by my friends as the “Jack of all trades, yet the master of none” over my lack of compulsion to a particular field. This is a great strength when you’re studying a range of subjects as broad as the scope of GCSEs, and even to some extent A-levels. But as a lifetime of education gradually whittles down to choosing one subject at the tender age of 17-18, it is a strength that becomes somewhat redundant.

Hence, my degree choice was not as black-and-white as a “yes or “no” answer to these questions. I had a bit of internal reflection about what was important to me. For me, it was the idea of being able to make real-world change, and to empower my younger self. I first heard about the word “climate change” when I was around 12. It was in a science class, and at that age I suppose my teacher thought the most engaging way to present the issue was to play the music video for the song “Coldplay – Don’t Panic”. It’s almost funny to recall, but I was genuinely upset by the depiction of a paper cut-out of Chris Martin, and human civilisation, slowly being swept away by an animated rising sea level. I remember feeling upset in that moment, like I was powerless and could do nothing to alter the course of impending doom.

This feeling of climate anxiety continued all throughout my childhood and teenage years. The climate change agenda was strongly pushed to my generation in school and in the media. And rightly so, as we are arguably the last that can do anything about it. However, as a result, it’s always something that’s weighed on my mind heavily. Studying chemical engineering felt like the natural progression for a child that wanted to make the world better.

Put simply, chemical engineering takes reactions and facilitates them on a bigger scale, in a safe and responsible way that mitigates impact to the environment. This simple definition I conjured up is purposely broad, as chemical engineers work across a range of industries. Personally, I lean more towards environmental technologies such as energy from waste, but decarbonisation and net-zero are at the forefront of every industry. It’s likely that as a chemical engineer you’ll do a lot of work in sustainability without even trying to. I really liked that studying this degree would empower me with the knowledge of facilitating sustainable technologies on a large enough scale to solve pressing world issues.

I’ve also found that the further I progress in my degree, the more I can tailor the course to my interests, and as a result the more I’ve enjoyed it. The first instance of this was in my third year where I did a design project on the feasibility of pyrolysis (which is the conversion of plastic waste to fuel). Looking ahead, the “with Environmental Engineering” component of my degree title primarily affects my final year – which will follow environmental technologies, economics and legislation, and an environmental engineering research project.

Regardless of how secure I am in my degree choice, there is always a lingering sense of fear. “What could my career have looked like if I’d chosen X degree?”, “would I have been better off pursuing a career in X field?” etc. Perhaps that’s what made the cross-disciplinary experience of studying chemical engineering so appealing to me – it’s not restrictive at all. The breadth of chemical engineering spans from the basics you would commonly expect such as bioreaction engineering, thermodynamics, fluid flow etc., and reaches as far and wide as modules like economics, project management, programming – to name a few.

Without trying to sound like a promotional campaign for the course, it is undoubtedly academically rigorous in this sense, and so is highly sought out by many employers. Recalling from experience within my own network for example, it is much easier to transition from a career in engineering to finance with a degree in engineering, than to make the same progression in the opposite direction holding a degree in finance.

I also think it’s important to dispel the myth that engineers are naturally bad writers – as if there is synonymity between the two.  Writing has been a recurrent theme in my degree and placement year ;in fact, my individual design project submission alone reached a whopping 19,000 words . There is less focus on “flowery” writing so to speak, which I struggled with a bit as an ardent reader of classic literature. Yet, the transition to this style of writing has made me more of an effective written communicator. The ability to get your point across to someone, regardless of their knowledge level on the subject, in as clear and concise a manner as possible, is an important skill to have, irrespective of the context of the situation.

My advice to those considering what to study, be it Chemical Engineering or any other subject, is to balance what you want to get out of your degree with what inspires you. If you don’t feel inspired by what you’re learning, your performance in your degree will most likely lack. Simultaneously, picking a degree without having no real objective(s) of what you want to get out of it, will likely make you feel directionless, questioning the point of your degree throughout your time of study.

Of course, picking the “wrong” degree is not the be all and end all. Life is not a clear path that takes you from A to B. Whatever you want to achieve, there is always a route to it if you’re determined enough.




Posted in: Faculty of Engineering, Undergraduate

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