I was recently reached out to by a young man in Nigeria looking to come down to the US to study chemical engineering. On the one hand, I realized that I am growing old. On the other hand, I figured my little knowledge about how things work here, in my responses to him, might benefit someone else. So find below, excerpts of our interractions over about a week and a half.
I’m interested in studying chemical engineering in the US. Please I need you to personally recommend schools for me.
This is a pretty loaded question for many reasons. I’m sure you know there are thousands of Colleges that offer chemical engineering degrees and most importantly, chemical engineering is a rather broad field and the region of the US you choose to go might determine your path.
What do I mean? I did my undergraduate in New Jersey and NJ is the well-known pharmaceutical hub of America and as a result, my chemical engineering degree was really a pharmaceutical Engineering degree. Now moving to Colorado where it is all about energy, everything changes. The state to a large extent determines your path.
Now there is the issue of funds. College tuition varies and you need to factor this in. I’d take it you haven’t taken your SAT’s and as such I can’t speak as to whether or not you have crazy grades to guarantee some kind of scholarship or you are a scion of Dangote and money is not an issue.
Finally, support structure is pretty important. when I got to the states, I had family in NJ. Beauty about America is that you can easily find your footing in a location you know people and then you can opt to transfer to the school of your dreams if you choose to. It is relatively easy (of course your grades matter but that is another topic).
Yeah, I haven’t answered your question but i’d love for you to think these through first and then we can go into narrowing down institutions. If anything, I’ll let you know the schools I applied to back in 05: Rutgers (NJ), Georgia Tech (ATL), UT Austin (Texas), Texas Tech, University of Maryland College park and NJIT. NJIT was never an option but after pretty much every school denied me, my brother suggested NJIT. Plan was to transfer but I loved the school too much and I stayed.
I also want to find out what Chemical Engineering is all about. I’ve tried to read up on it but I didn’t really understand what the internet was saying.
What/who is a chemical engineer? to put it simply? we are glorified plumbers. Plumbers that know a lot of math. When I was an undergraduate mentor, i used to call us the Jesus Christ of engineering. All other fundamental engineering degrees focus on the physics/energy of things/Math. mechanical engineers and forces, electrical engineers and fields and energy transfer. Civil engineers and how particles interact with each other at a physical level.
Us chemical engineers were the ones that introduced the idea of mass transfer. We said “Ok, heat is important, energy is important but flow of mass is also important”. this is what makes us unique. We touch every other aspect of engineering (fundamentally, engineering is physics [thermodynamics] & math) but then we add that extra bit of mass transfer (which adds chemistry & Biology to physics and math). How particles move from one place to another. How do they interact at a molecular level (the most fundamental level)? and then our biggest selling point; scaling up.
Usually, when you get to school. Your average prof on the east coast (NY,NJ,Boston etc) will tell you; ok, a chemist says he has figured out a way to cure AIDS in this crucible. We need to make 100,000 barrels of my cure a day. The mechanical engineer would say “ahh, daddy me. wachere omo, we’re ready but err, which one is this chemical? [That is good but what do I do with these chemicals?]” the civil dude will say “ok now, ok now, lezz go there but err, what is my own? [Oh nice but what exactly is my business with scaling up?]”. Now us Chemical engineers will go “OK, we see you have started with chemical X and chemical Y at this amount, you want product Z. I have my input (X and Y), my output (Z), now I can understand what goes on in between and scale up. “. Our understanding of mass transfer makes it easy for us to develop a process which can go from making small amounts of Z to large amounts of Z and then we call the Mechanical engineers and say “guy, hafa, i need you to design 7 pangolo [barrel] that can hold 50,000 liters of chemical A and it cannot be corrosive and you know that we have limited space. get to it”. You buzz your civil engineer and say “guy, we need a processing facility in this limited space, get to it”.
Now if you were in the Energy West/South, same concepts, different applications. We are talking about moving Chemicals from point A to point B or distillation of crude oil (i.e. turning A to B, C, D, E and F). Again, input is Chemical A in texas. Output is Chemical A in Arizona. How do I get it from A to B or how do I convert A to B,C,D,E,F? pumps, pipes and flow rates, how heat affects chemistry to how i can mix things to get me to my goal etc. Mechanicals can design this pump to spec, Civil’s can build a tower of winding pipes but they have no idea how the liquid (mass) in the pump would behave (at a molecular level) when it flows. My current masters research is on how some type of crude oil can go from looking like pap (Corn Starch) to looking like water as a result of an applied force (shear thinning fluids). Understanding how these fluids behave will help us better move them from the Oil well up to the production facility for refining. We chemical engineers are in every step of the way; from understanding the fluid properties (researchers), to getting it from point A to B (process engineers), to refining it, to ensuring the process is consistent & safe (plant, Safety & Quality control engineers), to selling it to people (Sales engineers).
Chemical engineers have their hands in many things just because of our understanding of mass transfer. It is broad and complex but fun. There is a reason why Chemical engineers are the highest paid engineers (some would argue Petroleum engineers but they really are an ofshoot of chemical engineers and geologist/geophysicists). As long as you need to design a process that requires moving mass (which is pretty much every process to some extent), even if it is making computer processors, the bread and butter of electrical engineers, you still need a chemical engineer.
I hope this description helps.
Regarding my Jesus Christ analogy; If Civil engineering was Adam, Mechanical & Electrical engineering were the Law & prophets respectively, Chemical Engineering aka Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets. It brought the idea of Love (mass transfer) into the picture. mass is everywhere, mass MUST be moved from one place to another. Mass [compromises] interacts with each other differently (Chemistry) and he that has an understanding of mass (Love) shall not perish (we are extremely important in industry) but have everlasting life (high salaries).
Here is a pretty Nice video by one of my Fav professors over at NJIT. He put all my epistle into two minutes.
What do you think you are interested in? Wanna work for big oil companies? You want to help design the next facility for making cancer cures? Want to design plants for making PEAK milk? You see yourself understanding standards and legal jargon and you want to make your plant/facility adhere to rules and regulations? Or you want to be in a research lab to perfect the next best source of fuel from algae? Do you have an idea of what interests you? CHEMICAL ENGINEERING IS VERY BROAD!
Also, what do u think about engineering in america compared to that in england or canada?
Do u think it’ll be easy for me to study in a city or the distractions will be too many
We are getting very personal now. I don’t know your personality and all that so I can’t speak for distractions etc. If you are going to spoil finish, it wouldnt matter if you were in busy NYC or college city central of boston or UT Austin and its supersize school and plenty women or Colorado where weed is legal, you will spoil pata pata [completely]. lol. America has its sins everywhere, whether it is a small place or a large place.
Let us take me for example. I schooled in Newark. 15 mins from NYC and newark is also a pretty busy city. In my 5yrs of being in the NYC metro, outside of going to the Nigerian embassy in NYC, I only went to hangout in the city 4 times. Yes okan, meji, meta, merin. just 4. I knew why I was coming in. It didn’t matter the location.
It will all boil down to peer pressure and picking your circle of influence. You’d never go into the City or an NYC club on your own to be honest. most times people are influenced by folks around them and the beauty of america is that in EVERY city, town etc, you will find what you are looking for. If you want to party, it is there and there are many people who like to party. you want some tight-knit Religious community? it is there. I fell into the latter category. I lived that Naija 7days a week in church hustle even in america. How did the bible put it again? “guard your heart with all diligence because out of it comes the issues of life” or something like that and then there was “Flee all appearances of Evil”. That was how I navigated my undergraduate years and it doesn’t matter if you believe in the Christian God (I Currently don’t), what matters is that the principle makes common sense.
You just have to look and take control.
My greatest struggles? damn, that’s a tough one. I tend to see everything as opportunities so I hardly keep track of struggles. I was the good christian boy homebody with a thick skin that wasnt susceptible to peer pressure. Add that I am fortunate to come from a well off family so fees was never an issue. I was fortunate. If there is anything I got mad at and I’m still mad at, it is the american immigration laws and company behavior. You get frustrated when you and your colleagues who are international students are at the top of your class yet many companies refuse to grant you internships because you are international. Of course your school, connections, presentation are huge factors also but that you are not even given an opportunity to interview and showcase your worth from the get go is rather ridiculous. America is doing a lot to fix this and I will not be surprised if there is a major overhaul to Americas laws by the time you get here.
Which secondary school did u go to?
Ibadan, the greatest City in the WORLD!