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Lucy Barker is a chemical engineer based in Kent. She helps to develop fragrances for a range of everyday products – from washing powder to designer perfumes.

How would you outline your chemical engineering job?

The company manufactures flavours and fragrances for lots of different commercial products. My job is about developing the technology that allows us to carry out these processes. We manufacture some of the ingredients, and buy others in. Then we blend these raw materials to come up with the right fragrances.

What is your weekly routine?

It depends what project I'm on. If I'm trouble-shooting, I might spend a day trying to identify a problem in a piece of equipment. I often attend review meetings with colleagues. Recently I've spent a lot of time in Mexico, designing a new piece of kit to allow them to manufacture several ingredients. That was a long-term project which I worked on intensively for a year.

What hours do you work?

The hours are quite flexible. I tend to start at 9.30 am and work until about 6.30 pm. If there is a trial running for a new process I might work into the night, but that's very rare and planned well in advance.

What's your working environment like?

I work mainly in an office. My first ten months in the job were spent in the factory, and I still visit our factory sites quite regularly. The factory is noisy, but clean. You have to ware a lab coat and safety shoes and glasses.

Who do you work with?

I work with plant operators to discuss how the equipment will work. I also liaise with research colleagues, to ensure we have the right concept for a process, and with commercial managers to ensure projects can be achieved within budget. Sometimes we deal with contractors who are called in to do specific tasks.

What special skills or qualities do you need for your job as a chemical engineer?

You need to have an interest in how things work. Good skills with numbers and problem-solving are important, as is common sense. You also have to be able to get on with all kinds of people, and be focused on getting results.

Why did you choose this type of work?

I studied physics, maths and chemistry at college. I wanted to do a job that involved all three, and that was also practical: I didn't want to be stuck in a lab all day.

What training do you/have you done?

I did an MEng in chemical engineering. Safety is a priority in the job, and since joining Quest I've been on several courses to keep you with safety laws. As part of the management training programme I'm on, I have also been on business courses to learn about finance and other corporate issues.

Do you use any tools or equipment?

A lot of the work is done on computer. We use computer-aided design packages. While I have to understand the design of the plant, I don't work with it directly: that is done by trained operators.

What do you like/dislike about your job?

The work is challenging and keep you engaged. I like working with a variety of people. I also enjoy being able to see the results of my work fairly quickly. The element I don't like is the long, tedious calculations I sometimes have to do! Also I don't always enjoy working alone on design projects – I prefer being part of a team.

How do you see your future?

I would like to become a project manager, and possibly move on to run a department. It's good that the company doesn't just see you as an engineer and that you can learn about the commercial side of the business too. That gives you the opportunity to go into general management, and perhaps even a chief executive role.

What are the particular challenges in your work?

Detailed work on big design projects can be extremely complex and time-consuming.

Lucy's route to her chemical engineer job

  • A levels.
  • MEng in Chemical Engineering.

Lucy's chemical engineer tips

  • Some universities offer trail courses for a week in chemical engineering – try one, or discuss the degree in detail with tutors to get a feel for it.
  • Ask yourself whether you want to follow a technical or management path, and choose a course to match.

Chemical engineer related jobs












  • Biochemist
  • Biomedical scientist
  • Consumer scientist
  • Food scientist
  • Production engineer

What is the salary of a chemical engineer

  • The starting salary for graduates is around £22,000 a year.
  • An experienced chemical engineer in their early thirties might earn £35,000.
  • Chartered chemical engineers at the most senior levels can earn well over £50,000.

How to become a chemical engineer

  • The usual route is through full-time study at university for a first degree in chemical engineering.
  • It is also possible to begin training for craft or technician level jobs straight from school, with good GCSEs/S grades in English, maths nd science.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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