Written By: Qi Song on Feb 2011
Current Years of Study: Final Year Student ( Honors Year) at NUS Chemical Engineering
Relevant A-Level Grades: As in Maths, Chemistry and Physics
Challenges faced and what to expect from the courses you are studying.
Chemical engineering is about large-scale production of any useful, desired chemicals. It has nth to do with chemistry; cos it is still an engineering course after all, haha. Thus, good mathematics skill is a must. Chemical engineering is really about using all the maths that you have or are going to learn and apply into chemical processing. Like any other engineering, we have models/simulations/equations that described the physical and chemical processes taking placing in a chemical plant.
Year 1 and 2: You will learn math, chemistry and many chemical engineering basic modules. NOTE: chemical engineering basic modules are not exactly the things that u have learnt in JC. You can say that these modules are actually a hybrid of “A” level of maths and chemistry. You will get to know many different Theories and Laws which can be described by the derivatives and differential equation learnt from maths, haha. You may find these modules to be very common to Mechanical Engineering (in fact, chem eng started off from there, haha). So it is definitely NOT CHEMISTRY.
Year 3 and 4: Drawing and integrating important knowledge from the chem eng basic modules, you will start to learn “advanced” modules which define you as a “chemical engineer” from the rest of the people. Since the chem eng basic modules is all about maths equaition, the “advanced” modules is going to be about maths again, haha. Just that now u got software/programs/models to make ur life easier, haha.
At the end of the 4 years, you will be able to “simulate” a chemical plant based on the (1) maths, (2) chemical engineering basic modules and (3) “advanced” modules that you have learnt, haha. You will be able to appreciate how NUS Chem Eng department have designed the 4 years of syllabus in such sequences. New knowledge is built on top of the current ones.
Essential academic strength of applicants to excel.
I think a potential Chem Eng student should have good skills in both (1) Quantitative Analysis and (2) Qualitative Analysis.
(1) Quantitative analysis: In simple terms, you must be good in maths. A good grade in JC maths can be an indication. Like any other engineering, maths is the language that is commonly used in describing chem eng. You must be comfortable in looking and interpreting any maths terms appearing in the entire 4 years.
(2) Qualitative analysis: In simple terms, you must be good at grasping difficult concepts. A good grade in JC chemistry can be an indication. Especially in Year 2 and 3, many new chem eng concepts will be introduced to the students. You must be good in understanding these concepts and yet have the flexibility to apply them at the same time.
In addition, he/she must be good in many basic principles drawn from maths, chemistry, physics and even biology. He/she must able to switch from examining the minute details to seeing the bigger overall picture when required.
In order to excel the course, the student must have the above skills at the same time. These analyses will always happen together for the entire 4 years. This can be mentally challenging at times, but this is exactly the kind of “mentalities” that I think a chem eng student should have.
Chemical engineering can be an “easy” course. If you are already well-versed in maths, you just need to constantly challenge ur “thinking” throughout the 4 years. If you are lazy or cant be bothered to “think”, chem eng can be very tough and disturbing as described by many chem eng seniors (even if you are very good in maths).
Career options and prospects
Chem Eng students can find employments in almost any sectors. We are not limited to chemical processing/Jurong island/Shell, etc, although these sectors usually pay well. Of course, you can choose not to do these if you find it to be boring. But like any other engineering degree, we are good in all the skills mentioned above. Thus, chem eng student can also go into other non-engineering sector.
Any advise for them.
Depends what is their interests and capabilities first. What is the “thing” that they are interested in and have the capabilities to do so? It shld be sth which they feel strongly about, but I think is hard to have both at the same time, haha. But I usually tell my students to follow their interests first. At least, they have will have the motivation/understand what and why they need to learn. There are also examples of student who have capabilities and develop the interest later, haha. Actually, both interests and capabilities build on each other. Haha. Once this is defined, the choice for the course/education becomes clearer, I hope.
I think university courses form a formal education to equip the students with the necessary skills/knowledge/capabilities for the kind of work/career. I think the courses in local uni here are purposely designed to “stretch” the poor students, haha. From wat I have gathered, different courses have different styles of education in order to inculcate a set of “mentalities” required for the “job”. Thus, different courses may turn out to be different from wat the students expected, haha. I think interested students will understand why they need to undergo different learning experiences, haha.
My advice is that if a student is interested in a field and its related university courses, he/she shld talk to people who have undergone the same education. They are best people to pre-empt the student about the kind of “mentalities” and typical school life in the courses, haha. Talk to the relevant people more, or else it will turn out be different from is expected, haha.