Intro to Chemical Engineering

Angela Tandon
September 24, 2019

Hi friends! Three years ago, I decided to pursue an engineering degree here at UNSW. As a young, naive and severely confused lass, I stumbled into university with a HUGE dilemma - what engineering discipline was the one for me?! Lucky for me, UNSW offered a Flexible First Year Engineering degree, which allowed me to test the waters of various subjects during my first year - allowing me to eventually settle on my Chemical Engineering and Commerce Degree. After studying first year physics, chemistry and computing, I realised that Chemical Engineering was the perfect choice to entertain my interests!  

What do you love the most and the least about your degree?

The best part of my degree are the practical chemistry labs! Throughout this degree, there are various laboratory-based subjects which allow you to put your knowledge to practice. The labs are always a great chance to have fun, collaborate and learn in an engaging and interactive way. The least favourite part of my degree are the 9am classes - these should be illegal, especially for students who live far from uni.

What fields of study are included in your degree?

Chemical Engineering covers a broad range of subjects. In your first year, you are likely to study basic physics, chemistry, mathematics and computing. As you move into your second year, you will begin to learn a specialised field of physics - thermodynamics. Additionally, you will learn further computing, statistics and chemistry. In third year, you will move towards design-based subjects, getting a taste of process control systems and plant design which includes the design of actual distillation columns, industry-grade compressors and pressure vessels. Additionally, you will learn about the financial aspects to consider when designing chemical plants. Finally, in your fourth year, you will focus heavily on designing your own chemical plant and equipment.

Do you recommend that students have done any particular HSC subjects prior to the degree?

Speaking from experience, the only subject that would be useful to have a knowledge of, is HSC Mathematics. I personally studied Advanced Mathematics (2U), and I did struggle with my first year math courses as a result. Nonetheless, if you are like me and you have not taken 3U or 4U math - do not lose hope! You too can work super hard and get up to speed with the content that your classmates have already learnt. The UNSW Mathematics Faculty is wonderful when it comes to providing extra help to students who may not have prior knowledge - like myself!

What sorts of careers could a person doing this degree go on to do?

One of the most important things that you need to know when it comes to Chemical Engineering is this: you probably will not end up doing much Chemistry. If you are hoping to become the next Walter White (shameless Breaking Bad reference), Industrial Chemistry may be a better option for you.
Chemical Engineering focuses on the design, prototyping, safety and environmental management of chemical processing plants. Large oil refineries rely on chemical engineers to ensure that the process plant is being run efficiently and safely, with minimal environmental damage. Local water providers rely on chemical engineers to ensure that drinking water is potable and safe for consumption for the general public. Hence, studying a degree in Chemical Engineering has various career paths including: 

  • Process engineer in oil/gas industry 
  • Process engineer in water industry 
  • Process engineer in food manufacturing industry 
  • Process engineer in pharmaceuticals 
  • Process engineer in the mining industry 
  • Project manager 
  • Consultant 
  • Analyst 

What advice would you give to anyone just starting your degree?

Always ask your lecturers and tutors for help if you need it! Everyone at UNSW is very helpful and supportive and you should always feel comfortable to speak up and raise any concerns.

For someone undertaking a dual degree, what other degree would you recommend?

I chose to combine my Chemical Engineering Degree with a Commerce Degree. I believe this is a really great double degree pairing, as ALL engineering projects entail financial and economic considerations that must be taken into account. Studying commerce certainly helped me gain further understanding about the inner workings of large corporations, and many of the subjects taught in commerce will help you with the financial aspects of your engineering degree.

Ever since high school, I knew I wanted to study science and business at university. Engineering and Commerce ended up being a great fit for my needs, as it covered my passion for science, as well as economics. Aside from the study aspects of my degree, I am so glad that I chose this path, as I have made so many wonderful friends along the way! Engineering is such diverse degree here at UNSW, and I’m grateful to be in a position where I can truly love what I do!