Dear Big Chem-EZ: Is there a chemical engineering career path that doesn’t lead to oil?

Editor’s Note: There are a lot of questions when it comes to water, soil, and the air we breathe in New Orleans, so ViaNolaVie teamed up with the Chemical Engineering Service Learning Class at Tulane University, taught by Dr. Julie Albert, in order to get some of these questions answered.

The series is called “Dear Big Chem-EZ” (think “Dear Abbey” but with less about “Why does my partner ignore me?” and more about “Can I actually drink my tap water?” and “What’s that smell outside my house?”). The series will be published the second Wednesday of every month. If you have questions you’d like answered, send them to Here’s our second entry that answers the question of: Is there a chemical engineering career path that doesn’t lead to oil?

Photo of an oil rig (Photo: Wiki Commons)

Dear Big Chem-EZ,

I am looking at majors for college, and I am really interested in chemical engineering, but the only career paths I see involve oil. What exactly can a chemical engineer do that is not in the oil field?

In order to understand one’s career options for chemical engineering, one must know what exactly chemical engineering is. Chemical engineering is an “engineering discipline designing processes to transport, transform, and produce materials.”3 Now what can one do with that? Well, chemical engineers can have careers in pharmaceuticals, energy, food, cosmetics, and personal care products.

When you think of pills such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen you may think of the pharmacist who distributes the medicine, but who else is involved? The chemical engineer in the pharmaceutical field is tasked with responsibilities related to creating new drug compounds, improving old formulas, and overseeing the manufacturing process. Being responsible for the manufacturing process means the engineer is expected to find ways to increase yields, cut the cost of production, and more.

Chemical engineers can also have a hand in food and beverage production. Companies such as Folgers and the Louisiana Sugar Refinery hire chemical engineers to help their processes. Chemical engineers are responsible for improving taste, appearance, and nutritional value while increasing safety, convenience, and shelf life of the food along with making innovations in packaging.2 Chemical engineers in the food industry have made it possible for us to eat foods that do not have to be rushed from the farm to the table.

The personal care product industry is another field for chemical engineers. This is where you have the most diversity. One can go into research and development to help design new products that will be used in detergents, cosmetics, and deodorants. An engineer can perform quality control to ensure that the current products are constantly meeting company and government standards. And just like in pharmaceuticals, personal care products need a chemical engineer to help with manufacturing.

Chemical engineers are needed in many more career fields than oil and have a wide variety of career paths to take once they obtain their degree. The best part of being a chemical engineer is the ability to get a job and good career with just a 4-year bachelor’s degree. Internships and co-ops allow you to explore different paths while you are in school to better focus your interest. With the wide variety of career paths for chemical engineers, you can do a lot more than working in oil.


-The Big Chem-EZ


1 Batch, Owen. “How to Get a Chemical Engineer Job in the Pharmaceutical Industry: ProClinical Recruitment Blogs.” ProClinical, 27 Feb. 2018,

2 “Chemical Engineers Are Enhancing Food Production.” AIChE, 11 Jan. 2017,

3 MajorPrep, director. What Is Chemical Engineering? Youtube, 26 Apr. 2017,

4 “Pharmaceutical Engineer Salary and Career Facts.”,

5 Raines, Christopher. “Chemical Engineering Jobs in Cosmetics.”, 9 Nov. 2016,


You must login to post a comment. Need a ViaNolaVie account? Click here to signup.