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In Your Element: Career Options With a Degree in Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineering combines various scientific principles, such as chemistry, biology, physics, and maths, to solve problems relating to the design and development of chemical manufacturing processes. It’s a challenging industry that requires vast knowledge, determination, discipline, and a particular set of skills.

Once you’ve secured your degree in chemical engineering, you’re presented with an array of possibilities. There’s a current shortage of engineers in the UK, including chemical engineers, which means demand is prevalent, and there are also multiple career paths you can take. Let’s explore the available options and what this might mean for you in terms of salary and expectations.

Chemical engineer

Studying chemical engineering at university will, first and foremost, give you direct access to a fruitful career as a chemical engineer. The industries available to you in this role include energy, food and drink, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and water treatment.

Following the successful attainment of your degree, you’ll have considerable knowledge in changing the chemical, biochemical, and physical state of a substance into something else. One example is making polyester from oil.  

As a chartered engineer, you could receive around £78,500 for the work you produce in your chosen sector. Typically, your working hours will be from 09:00 until 17:00, however, shift work (including evenings and weekends) may be required from those in processing and manufacturing roles.

Nuclear engineer

There are benefits that can be utilised from nuclear energy and radiation, and it’s the job of the nuclear engineer to source these benefits. Using information and skills acquired from your chemical engineering degree, you can discover and develop the necessary processes and systems to turn your results into useful perks that will benefit real life.

Nuclear technology helps the world in a variety of ways, especially in terms of climate change and sustainable development. Those earning in the top ten per cent of this career take home upwards of £110,000 per annum.

Your responsibilities could include monitoring the production and disposal of nuclear waste, discovering new uses for nuclear energy, and overseeing the operating activities within nuclear power plants. The hours you work will depend on the industry you enter, however, 09:00 until 17:00 is the typical consensus.


If you choose this career path, you can expect to join forces with other biological technicians to solve problems relating to living organisms, such as pollution and diseases. To be successful in biotech, you need robust mathematical knowledge, an analytical way of thinking, and strong attention to detail, on top of your chemical engineering degree.

The 2020 coronavirus outbreak further positioned biotechnology as a fantastic field to enter, as the demand for new drugs and vaccines rocketed. Those in highly experienced roles (having worked ten or more years) can expect to earn around £60,000 per year for a standard working week of thirty-five to forty hours.

You may be expected to keep up to date with the latest advancements in biotech and develop new products, systems, and processes in response to your findings. In addition, you may need to conduct experiments using living organisms in laboratory settings before monitoring and reporting your findings.  

Food engineer

A career in food engineering promises a lot of responsibility. Your primary concern will be to ensure the safe and efficient processing, packaging, and delivery of food, so you must be confident in your capabilities.

You can work in various sectors as a food technologist and expect to take home up to £57,000 per year for your experience and efforts. Your working day will typically run from 09:00 until 17:00 on weekdays, however, you may be expected to take part in shift work to cover production runs. 

It’s important to note that this industry is constantly evolving, with new focuses and opportunities materialising often. While food preservation and stabilisation were once the focal points, the sector has branched out to include diversity, taste, health, and sustainability. 

Colour technologist

With a degree in chemical engineering, you’d be well placed to pursue a career in colour technology. In this role, your responsibilities will vary depending on the industry you settle into. Perhaps your focus will be on creating dye for the textiles sector, or maybe it’s choosing paints and inks for printers.

Generally, your knowledge and skills will contribute to modifying and/or developing pigments using specialist computer systems such as CAD. On top of this, you may find yourself operating colour measuring equipment to ensure colour reliability in the dyes and pigments produced.

For the expert work you produce – as well as efforts to keep up to date with the latest trends and developments – you can expect to receive upwards of £35,000 per year once you’ve gained substantial experience and been introduced to the supervisory level. Working hours will vary dependent on the sector, however, routine hours are between 09:00 and 17:00.

Petroleum engineer

Oil is one of the most crucial raw materials in this world. Your job as a petroleum engineer will be to ensure the safe extraction of oil and gas, guaranteeing customer efficiency and affordability. 

Chemical engineering courses will equip you with the necessary skills to manage responsibilities, including researching and developing plans for extraction, discovering new sites, analysing the formation of rocks and reservoirs, and supervising drillings and extractions.

In this role, you could achieve a yearly salary of up to £95,000 with experience. In addition, you might receive the opportunity to work in different locations across the world, with extra, generous benefits packages available. Working hours are mainly between 09:00 and 17:00, with major companies typically offering flexible working patterns.

Your career in chemical engineering is waiting!

With a chemical engineering degree under your belt, you could be looking at a very prosperous career! The above list is not exhaustive of the paths this qualification can take you down, and you’re encouraged to explore further and find a job role that truly meets your interests and passions.

We hope this article has inspired you to keep pursuing your degree, or if you’ve already secured it, take the first steps into the career you’ve worked so hard for. Good luck!