My interest in chemical engineering started when I entered sixth form. Firstly, my dad is a chemist and I shared his love of chemistry and maths which led me to consider studying chemical engineering when I spoke to the careers advisor at school. I then arranged to go to Grove Fuel Cell Symposium in London during my A-levels. I met many chemical engineers from a wide range of companies and was awed at the problems they were trying to tackle in their work and how their products would make a real difference to the world.
This event opened my eyes to the fact that chemical engineers drive new technology, develop new products and set the future in the energy landscape and how diverse a discipline chemical engineering was – BP employs chemical engineers in many areas besides oil and gas.
After graduating, I joined BP’s Petrochemicals Technology Centre in Hull on the graduate scheme. I had a variety of roles with challenges ranging from designing and building laboratory sized equipment to projects on large-scale acetic acid manufacturing units. These roles have taken me to Germany and the USA as well as across the many BP sites in the UK.
I am currently working on advancing a revolutionary acetic acid technology, called SaaBre, which BP is piloting and I also work in a close plant support team, providing technical support to resolve operational issues on the manufacturing assets through a series of continuous improvement projects.
Designing and building a distillation column for the SaaBre pilot plant has to be one of the highlights of my career. I then had the opportunity to go on shifts and operate the plant and see how the column was performing. It was really rewarding to see all the hard work in the design stage come through to results which helped direct the team with the technology development.
The opportunity to take part in a catalyst project to look at the global future of coal and what implications this would have for natural gas is one of my career highlights. I worked with colleagues from China and USA to feed our collated views into BP’s long-term technology view. This was a great chance to look more broadly at energy use globally and I presented the team’s findings to the group head of technology in BP’s headquarters.
I am an enthusiastic supporter of STEM and am passionate about building the long-term capability of the chemical engineering discipline. Through BP I get the opportunity to go back to my university and hold talks to encourage and motivate the students on engineering and its practical applications. It is great to be back in your old department inspiring the next generation of engineers.
Every day presents a challenge in my job – that is what makes it exciting. Some of the bigger projects I have worked on have presented the biggest challenges, for example, coordinating a team of operators, chemists and engineers to set the outline for a $1m reliability project to present to senior management was challenging in many ways but equally rewarding when we got the go-ahead to carry out the project.
I would recommend doing some work experience or an internship to get to know the industry better. These are also good to get an idea of how chemical engineers interact with other engineers and other disciplines e.g. chemists, if you aren’t too sure if chemical engineering is right for you yet.
Chemical engineering is a very rewarding and highly diverse field of study. From process control on an oil rig to leading a team of operators on a chocolate production line, the principles you learn in your degree are applicable across many industries, so go into your studies with eyes open and a willingness to learn a broad range of subjects.
From my experience, you are not at a disadvantage if you are a woman in this industry. There are less of us but I have seen that anyone with a keen interest and passion for engineering can succeed in this profession.
And finally, save up your envelopes for those quick ‘back-of-the-envelope’ calculations to set the direction for your thinking!