You and Your Chemical Engineering Career: The Next Steps

Thoughts from Dr. Herbert W. Cooper, a Past Chair of the Metro New York Section of the AIChE

I am a Chemical Engineer with decades of industrial experience in the activities necessary to convert a technical concept into an actual functioning chemical or utility plant. Experiences include interviewing, hiring, and monitoring the progress of many who have recently entered the professional world. I find that many soon-to-be chemical engineers or recent graduates frequently have an understandable career concern; What’s Next? This note might help you answer this question.

Understand your current status. You are in or have completed a chemical engineering program. My experience indicates that while each accredited program has its own strengths and its own super-strengths, you have obtained a terrific engineering education. The demands of your early career positions will range from mundane to extremely challenging tasks. Be confident; there is very little chance that you are unprepared to succeed.

Your best early professional job is the one that you can get or already have! Ideally, but a bit unlikely, it will perfectly match your interests. More likely, it will have some drawbacks, but will still provide experiences dealing with real-world technical, communications, interpersonal and organizational matters, as well as the culture, driving forces and jargon of whichever sector (for-profit, governmental or academic) it is in.

Your Career Path is not, and cannot possibly be, clear to you at this time; life brings many twists and turns, coincidences, accidental meetings and the like. Obviously, anyone who wants to advance professionally needs to do the very best in any assignment he/she has. We need to have a reputation for being dependable, producing high-quality results, and meeting or exceeding expectations. Additionally, for significant advances, it is important to:

(1) be generally aware of broad trends in our profession. These include societal matters such as the impact of climate change and technical developments such as having new materials with unusual or superior properties available.

(2) continually network with people within, and also outside of, your current field. You can never know what having a friendly discussion with a lawyer or accountant or governmental regulator will lead to. And show that you are interested in what they are saying!

An excellent way to start is to become active in the local section of a professional society such as the Metro New York Section of the AIChE. Make it a habit to periodically look at our website (, attend our monthly dinner meetings, and actively participate in our planning and other activities; you will be warmly accepted. You will also certainly find that this is an extremely time- and cost-effective way for you to enhance your career path.

Welcome to our profession and our AIChE Metro NY Section. Best wishes for your future!

Note added September 19, 2016.