When people envision what a chemical engineer may look like, they may first think of individuals in laboratories wearing big goggles and large white coats.
While many chemical engineers do work in a lab wearing typical safety gear, the field of chemical engineering is much more than that. Chemical engineering involves processing raw materials into different products that are in demand or necessary to live. For example, everyday things like electricity you use to watch television or food you bought at the grocery store probably involved some basic fundamentals of chemical engineering.
Chemical engineers work in academia, but also directly in the field in offices or laboratories. They design equipment and different processes in manufacturing plants. Because of the complex nature of the job, these engineers must be adept at mathematics, physics, and chemistry. Due to the high skill level required, these jobs are in high demand and are expected to increase over the years.
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What kind of PhD in chemical engineering should you get?
The two most common degrees for this field you may come across will be the doctor of philosophy or the doctor of science. What are the differences? While in other countries one may be slightly higher than the other, in the United States both degrees are virtually identical and at the top of the field. Although some schools may offer both degrees with some minor differences in requirements, they basically differ only in name.
Other than chemical engineering, similar degrees may be biomedical engineering, chemical physics, or a basic engineering PhD with specializations. For degrees with specializations, students will take specific electives to earn that emphasis. Classes may overlap among all the degrees, but differences may be present in the curriculum so it is important to be sure that the coursework and research goals match your future career goals.
How much do people with a PhD in chemical engineering make?
Advanced chemical engineers can easily make at least six figures – in fact, chemical engineers make some of the highest salaries out of all engineering fields. According to PayScale, those who hold a PhD in chemical engineering can make about $105,000 on average. They note that men makeup about 85% of the industry and make significantly more than women. Years of experience also increases one’s salary over time.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, chemical engineers regardless of degree or position make a median salary of $104,910 or about $50.44 per hour. Although those who hold an advanced degree in the field make more on average in general, those with just an entry-level Bachelor’s level who have years of experience also have high earning potential. It is estimated that job availability for chemical engineers will increase by eight percent from 2016 to 2026.
What can you do with a PhD in chemical engineering?
A PhD in chemical engineering prepares one for academia as well as for direct industry jobs. Many choose to become scholars and produce academic research for scholarly articles. Others, although technically in research, may not produce writing but will still contribute to top-level projects. Due to the fact that this degree combines hard research and laboratory skills, there is no single career path for graduates.
Below are some common job titles for chemical engineering PhD holders:
Product review engineer
What are the requirements for a PhD in chemical engineering?
Applicants with either a bachelor’s of science or a master’s of science in a related degree can be admitted into the program. Generally, many students will apply to the chemical engineering PhD program right after they finish their undergraduate degree due to the amount of time the program takes. In general, students can expect to take four or five years to gain their PhD. Students should submit their transcript, letters of recommendation, personal essays, and Graduate Record Examination test scores in their application.
Throughout the program, a variety of coursework will be required along with research which will compose a bulk of the curriculum. Although internships and practicums are generally not required, many students will work alongside faculty and other leading industry professionals to get experience. Students will be required to assist in teaching throughout at least the beginning of the PhD program – this allows them to receive funding from the school which often covers basic needs and tuition. Lastly, a PhD candidate will need to submit a doctoral thesis that is approved by the faculty.
Ranked as the No. 1 school for educational value by Forbes, Brigham Young University in Utah is a private institution that was founded by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Currently, there are over 33,000 students enrolled, with just under 3,000 graduate students. The Department of Chemical Engineering was founded in 1960 and receives over $2 million of external research money annually.
Learn from accomplished faculty by enrolling in BYU’s Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering. This program is offered in the fall, winter, and spring terms. It can be completed in about four and a half years. This program is only 54 credit hours of coursework, in addition to 18 credit hours of dissertation. Below are a sample of courses:
Principles of Reservoir Engineering
There are about 40 Ph.D. students enrolled in this program at a time. Annually, about six graduate per year.
Carnegie Mellon University is a prestigious private university located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The school is named after Andrew Carnegie, an ambitious entrepreneur who was prominent for building the world’s largest steel company in the 19th century. Before reaching university status, CMU was a technical school that primarily offered programs in the sciences. Its modern day name comes from when it merged with the Mellon Institute in 1967. The U.S. News & World Report ranks it the No. 25 Best National University.
Become an independent researcher at one of the most prestigious engineering schools in the country through Carnegie Mellon’s Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering degree. In addition to pursuing one’s own research, students often act as TA’s for other courses and are encouraged to get involved within the community. Here are some facts:
Completion Time: four to five years
Fellowships and stipends available to all full-time students
TA for three courses (maximum of five hours per week)
The median salary in 2018 at the College of Engineering’s Chemical Engineering Ph.D. students was $101,000. Some current reported job titles of graduates include AI Engineer, Senior Research Engineer, and Optimization Engineer.
Throughout its eight colleges, Colorado State University offers rigorous programs with the goal of helping students pursue their passion. CSU Rams are diverse, involved within the community, and engaged with the campus. The school’s Chemical Engineering program is offered through the prestigious Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering. In the 2016-2017 school year, over 50 doctoral degrees were awarded within the college.
CSU’s Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering boasts top faculty as well as a multitude of distinguished research opportunities. During your time as a student, there are several employment opportunities. In addition, financial aid options are available for qualifying applicants. Check out a sample of the areas of study you can choose from for this program:
Cell and tissue engineering
CSU is one of six universities in the nation to be designated as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University.
Located in the bustling city of New York, Columbia University is a prominent private research institution that is highly regarded internationally. Students studying here get all the benefits of living in a metropolis while still getting the graduate experience. Columbia was established in 1754 under a charter by King George II in England. It is the oldest university in the state of New York. In 2019, the U.S. News & World Report ranked Columbia No. 3 on their list of Best Universities in the Country and No. 6 on their list of Best Value Schools.
Passionate about both chemistry and physics? Then the Ph.D. in Chemical Physics may be right for you. This program is through the Department of Chemistry and is full-time. Students can expect to spend the majority of the first year going through coursework, and then starting their dissertation research. Throughout this rigorous program, students can also expect to experience:
Individual sponsor to help guide research
Around 25 PhDs are awarded yearly within the chemistry department. Students should expect to finish this program with a defended thesis in about five years time.
Cornell University is an elite private university located in Ithaca, New York. It is considered one of the U.S.’s eight Ivy League schools. Since its founding in 1865, Cornell has achieved many “firsts” and continues to strengthen educational ties within the state and around the world. Its Chemical Engineering programs are located in the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. This school was founded in 1939 and has been considered one of the best schools of its kind.
Get the ability to perform research in state-of-the-art facilities through Cornell’s Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering program. Throughout the program, students will take several courses, two exams, and complete a dissertation. For those who qualify, financial aid, including a stipend, is provided. There are also five area specializations:
Complex Fluids and Polymers
Computational Science and Engineering
Nanoscale Electronics, Photonics and Materials Processing
Sustainable Energy Systems
Other than studying and pursuing research, graduate students are encouraged to engage in the many on-campus events and activities. For example, there are many student organizations to choose from that are a great way to meet new peers.
All of those who roam the Kansas State University campus are welcomed into the K-State family. Known as the Wildcats, the school encourages everyone to follow the “Wildcat Way” which emphasizes courage and humility. KSU is a land-grant university that was founded in 1963. It is ranked No. 8 on a ranking of the Happiest Students according to the Princeton Review, among other outstanding accolades.
Feel confident that your research will make a major impact through KSU’s Ph.D. program in Chemical Engineering. This 90 credit hour degree is composed of major and minor coursework, as well as research. At least 30 of the credit hours must be devoted to research. Here are other features of the program:
Off-campus field experiences
The U.S. News and World Report ranked KSU’s graduate engineering programs among the best in the country in 2017.
Join a university that values student education without racking up decades of debt. Louisiana State University is a public research institution that is located in Baton Rouge. This city was ranked among the best 15 cities for college graduates according to Money magazine. Annually about $300 million worth of financial aid and scholarships are given out, with two out of every three students graduating completely debt free.
LSU’s Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering program is great for those who already hold a Master’s in the same or related degree. Other than required coursework and research, students will take a written exam. They may also engage in some teaching if they hold an assistantship.
Fall and spring semesters
Private research scholarships and fellowships
LSU offers generous assistantships starting at $25,100 for Ph.D. students. This rate may increase to reflect overall school fees as well as the cost of living.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, better known as MIT, is one of the most prestigious universities for those going into the science, technology, engineering, or mathematics fields. With the No. 1 Chemical Engineering school in the country and in the world, MIT is definitely the place to be getting your advanced degree in this area. The school boasts a dedicated faculty, beyond excellent research, and talented students. MIT hopes to advance knowledge in the STEM fields in the 21st century and beyond.
MIT offers a wide variety of Ph.D. programs in Chemical Engineering: the standard Doctor of Philosophy/Doctor of Science degree in which students can choose the name of the degree on the diploma, the Doctor of Philosophy in Chemical Engineering Practice, and an interdisciplinary program in Polymers and Soft Matter (PPSM). Key features of these programs include:
Financial aid assistance (assistantships and stipends)
Completion Time: about 4 years
Designated research advisor
The Doctor of Philosophy in Chemical Engineering Practice requires additional courses taken in the Sloan School of Management. The PPSM degree is a more specific field of study that provides a unique way to doctoral candidacy within the field.
What makes New York University such a desirable school? NYU is known for its competitive programs, global relationships, and prominent faculty. Today it is one of the largest private universities in the nation. It is also one of the best-ranking schools. NYU’s Chemical Engineering program is housed in the Tandon School of Engineering, a nationally ranked school by the U.S. News & World Report. The school was founded in 1854 and has had a solid impact on the state’s engineering research and education programs.
Prepare for a dynamic career in the molecular and medical sciences through NYU’s Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering program. Upon graduation, students will be experts in the field’s fundamental principles and be able to defend their own research. At least 75 credit hours will be completed, with 36 of them relating to the dissertation. Some courses that can be taken include:
Chemical Reactor Analysis and Design
Statistical Thermodynamics and Kinetics
Chemical Laboratory Safety
Merit scholarships are available for qualifying students. In addition, those who are veterans can also apply for special financial aid.
Northeastern University, with its main campus located in Boston, is a top 50 university according to the U.S. News & World Report. Between the years 2006 and 2018, Northeastern’s research funding increased by 229%. This increase is due to its dedicated faculty, staff, and neighboring community. An essential part of Northeastern’s academics is “experiential learning,” whether that be through research, internships, or global learning. Its advanced Chemical Engineering program is no different, offering many opportunities for students to grow in the field.
Northeastern’s Ph.D. program in Chemical Engineering provides students with opportunities to work with cutting-edge technologies and research. Because of its ideal location in downtown Boston, students will have access to prominent local businesses. Some unique features of this program include:
Focuses: Advanced Materials and Biological Engineering
Ability to earn the Gordon Engineering Leadership certificate with the College of Engineering
There is a residence requirement which involves completing full-time graduate studies for one academic year.
With its tradition of putting students first, Northern Arizona University is a public research institution located in the city of Flagstaff. Flagstaff is ranked the No. 3 Best College Town in the country, known for several outdoor and arts activities. NAU was founded in 1899 as a normal college and gained university status after extreme growth in the ’50s. Today the NAU community is known as the Lumberjacks, and students can be found exhibiting school pride throughout their many athletic events.
NAU offers a Ph.D. program in Bioengineering which allows students to emphasize in over ten areas. Upon completion of this program, graduates will be ready for a successful career in academia or directly in the field. Check out some of the available research emphases:
Muscle-like actuation and wearable robotics
This program offers several unique interdisciplinary partners, allowing students access to faculty and staff from other departments.
Ohio State University is a public land-grant research institution that is located in Columbus, Ohio. Its main campus is the largest in the country. In the U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of America’s Best Colleges in 2019, OSU was No. 17 in the nation and No. 1 in the state’s public colleges. Not only that, but it is among the 10 best settings for STEM jobs, ensuring that those who hold an advanced degree in Chemical Engineering will be able to find meaningful positions in academia or the workforce.
Those who are ready for a challenging program should apply to OSU’s Ph.D. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Throughout the program, students will experience a variety of things. Below is the typical pathway for the program:
Completion of core and advanced coursework
Minimum 53 credit hours of research
Qualifying and candidacy exam
Students can transfer up to 30 credit hours from their Master’s program if they graduated from another university, successfully lowering the required credits needed to take during the Ph.D. program.
Known as the Bulls, the University of Buffalo is an active college campus located in the state of New York. As a flagship institution in the state university system, Buffalo offers premier research facilities, meaningful on-campus organizations, and global partnerships. Several of Buffalo’s engineering programs are notable for award-winning faculty and initiatives. About 160 graduate students are currently enrolled throughout its Chemical and Biological Engineering degrees. Buffalo is the No. 1 public university within the state, and among the No. 40 within the nation.
Become one of the next leaders of the field upon completion of the Chemical and Biological Engineering Ph.D. program. Students will complete the required coursework, two examinations, and a thesis. This program is ideal for those who have already completed an MS degree.
Minimum 72 credit-hours
Two teaching semesters
Current employers of graduates include but are not limited to Honeywell UOP, Intel Corporation, 3M, The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, and PepsiCo Global R&D.
The University of Arizona had humble roots, beginning in 1895 with only two men and one male student. Today, they are a major higher educator within the state and are recognized nationally as a top 50 public university by the U.S. News & World Report. In total, there are over 44,000 students enrolled, with about 8,000 of those consisting of graduates. In 2016, UA received over $500 million worth of gifts and grants for research.
UA’s Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering is an interdisciplinary program with several opportunities for graduates to research their passion. This program is operated under the Chemical & Environmental Engineering department in the College of Engineering. Students have access to amazing facilities such as the Institute for Energy Solutions and the Water & Energy Sustainable Technology Center. Common areas of research include:
Life cycle assessment
Applied quantum chemistry
This program is offered either in fall or spring, with application deadlines the same for international and domestic applicants. Fellowships, as well as assistantships, are available.
Did you know that the state of Georgia was the first in the nation to charter a state-supported university? That school was none other than the University of Georgia that was founded in 1801. Today UGA consists of seventeen colleges, with its Ph.D. program in Chemical Engineering being offered through the College of Engineering. UGA has many points of pride – other than being the state’s premier institution of higher learning, it continues to be ranked as one of the best value schools in the nation. In 2018, Kiplinger Magazine ranked UGA the No. 12 in the nation for the lowest debt and best value.
Earn your Ph.D. in Engineering with a Biomedical Engineering emphasis that is offered through the School of Chemical, Materials and Biomedical Engineering. This is an interdisciplinary program that requires general advanced engineering courses, as well as emphasis electives. Students must complete a minimum of 72 credit hours with a bulk of those credits going towards doctoral research. Below are a sample of common courses:
Advanced Mass Transport
Fermentation Engineering Laboratory
Exceptionally advanced students may be accepted into this program after completing the BS degree. In this case, four additional credit-hours must be completed.
With the goal of becoming a nationally recognized 21st-century institution, the University of Houston is a bustling campus with over 46,000 students. UH is known for putting on its fun and festive traditions, such as Cougar Red Friday and the annual student-led Frontier Fiesta event. Currently, there are 29 research centers on campus and 46 doctoral degrees offered. According to the U.S. News & World Report, in 2019 UH was ranked as having one of the Best Engineering Schools in the Country.
UH offers a Ph.D. program in Chemical Engineering for those wishing to research within a specific field. Upon completion of 30 credit hours of coursework, students will begin their research project. The dissertation will be orally presented to the faculty. Sample courses include:
Advanced Process Control
Classical and Statistical Thermodynamics
Plasma Processing: Principles and Applications
Upon acceptance into the program, students will almost always receive some form of financial support. There are also merit-based tuition fellowships for outstanding students.
Get to know the state’s premier public research university at the University of Iowa. It is not only the oldest institute of higher education within the state but also one that holds many nationally-ranked graduate programs. To this day over 32,000 students are enrolled, with almost 9,000 graduate and professional students. The U.S. News & World Report ranks Iowa No. 38 among its Best Public Universities ranking. Students enrolled in programs within the Chemical and Biochemical Engineering department can expect a personalized learning experience with dedicated faculty.
The Ph.D. in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering is a competitive program seeking dedicated students who hold a related BS degree. Only about six to eight applicants are accepted every year. Currently, about 30 Ph.D. students are enrolled in the program. Check out these other program notables:
Completion Time: 5 years
Majority of graduates placed in industry-related jobs
Sample Courses: Transport Phenomena, Intermediate Thermodynamics, Polymer Chemistry
Current employers of graduates include, but are not limited to, the Carnegie Institute at Stanford, Abbott Laboratories, Honda, and the U.S. Department of Energy.
The University of New Mexico is the state’s flagship university located in the heart of Albuquerque. Due to its location, students have access to a city with a rich history. In fact, many of the school’s architecture and other initiatives aim to support and educate people on the local Native American tribes and issues. UNM is a primarily Hispanic-serving institution. Many of UNM’s graduate schools are ranked among the best in the country.
UNM offers a Ph.D. in Engineering with a Chemical Engineering concentration. The Chemical & Biological Engineering department began as a small chemistry school. Today, students have access to several research facilities and advanced technologies. Some systems that may be available for use include:
Autosorb-1 sorption analyzer
Process control laboratory
UNM’s engineering program is ranked among the top 100 in the nation.
Known for its athletic teams nicknamed the Utes, named after the Native American tribe, the University of Utah is a prominent research institution located in Salt Lake City. The U was established in 1850 and has a total enrollment of over 31,000. Students attending this school get all the benefits of living in a city with a rich history. In fact, the university boasts local partnerships particularly in the issues of sustainability. In 2019, the U.S. News & World Report ranks The U’s Engineering School among the nation’s top 100.
The Ph.D. program at The U in Chemical Engineering is a highly research-centered and rigorous degree. Students are required to publish at least two first-author research articles in peer-reviewed journals. Although the typical completion time is five years, students have a maximum of seven years. Other activities that can be expected are:
Student teaching for two courses
Participation in conferences
When students pass the examination, an MS degree will be added to the student’s program, with both degrees being conferred upon graduation.
The University of Wisconsin – Madison is a public land-grant university with over 150 years of history. With research expenditures reaching over $1.2 billion annually, UW is ranked No. 6 on the list of Best Research in 2017. The university is most commonly known for the fact that it discovered vitamins in the 1910s. Currently, there are about 2,800 professional students enrolled, with over 1,400 doctorate degrees being awarded in the 2017-2018 school year.
Focusing on problem-solving and research, UW offers a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering for motivated and experienced professionals. Applicants generally apply for fall admission and must possess a Bachelor’s degree and strong knowledge of Chemical Engineering. Many opportunities for financial support are available. Some common courses students will be exposed to include:
Momentum and Heat Transfer Operations
Kinetics and Catalysis
Research assistantships are common and will support students throughout the duration of the program. Students will be required to participate in undergraduate teaching to be considered for this support.
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