The Chemical Engineering course in Cambridge is unusual in that it is second year entry only, with the majority of students having taken Part IA Natural Sciences or Part IA Engineering. Because of this, Chem Eng is sometimes seen as the easy way out, with the amount of contact time vastly reduced from the first year Nat Sci and Engineering courses. This is not the complete truth though - a large amount of material in Chem Eng (approx 30% in Part I) is continually assessed. As a result of this anyone wishing to study Chem Eng has to have the self-motivation to complete longer projects as well as the normal supervision work and labs. The continually assessed work is a feature of all three years in the department, culminating with a year long research project in Part IIB.
What about the Chemical Engineering course at Cambridge appealed to you?
Tom: The best thing about the Cambridge Chemical Engineering course is that you get the opportunity to learn more in depth about the core disciplines such as Chemistry, mechanics etc via the two different routes before specialising in Chemical Engineering. You get to really fine tune and grasp all the concepts you’ve learnt at A-Levels, International Baccalaureate etc before putting them into good use and applying them in the second year.
Aiden: The Cambridge Chemical Engineering course lets you explore the theoretical or practical side of the subject in more detail in your first year, via the two different entry routes. You can then specialise in Chemical Engineering. It gives you the opportunity to explore some varied subjects, some of them more relevant to the course than others, and gives you an extremely broad knowledge base.
How have you found the structure of the course?
Aiden: The first year of the course is exactly like studying Natural Sciences or Engineering. If you decided during your first year that Chemical Engineering wasn’t the subject that you wanted to specialise in, you are under no obligation to specialise in it. The second year aims to bring you up to speed with core Chemical Engineering principles as well as provide you with the knowledge that you didn’t gain in your first year due to your specific entry route: Engineers study some Chemistry and Natural Scientists study some Engineering principles. By the third year, everyone is expected to be on the same level and everyone studies the same modules. The third year culminates in the design of a manufacturing plant, projects in the past have involved the design of a natural gas processing plant or a instant coffee decaffeination plant. Finally, the fourth year gives you far more scope to explore subjects that interest you: you get to choose from a list of optional modules to study, as well as a research project that you undertake over the course of the year. Overall, you develop an excellent understanding of the subject as well as a strong set of skills that can be applied to many different fields.
What is your faculty/department like?
Tom: The atmosphere in the department is a good one, everyone is very friendly. This is certainly helped by the fact that the department is small (though ever growing). As such you’ll get to know pretty much everyone in your year as well as people from other years through the wide range of social events organised by the incredibly active student society (CUCES). The friendly atmosphere is fostered by the almost ritual usage of the department tea room every day. Lectures are organised such that there is a twenty minute break in the morning for everyone to grab a cup of tea and have a natter. The department is hoping to move to a new, much bigger,building situated in The West Cambridge Site starting September 2016.
What types of work do you have to do?
Once you specialise, in your second, third and fourth year, you’ll be expected to complete supervision work. You’re normally given 2-3 problem sheets to take away and complete in your own time. This work is taken to your supervisions and discussed with an academic, usually a professor but occasionally an extremely knowledgable PhD student. Additionally, in second year you’re expected to perform experiments in the fluids laboratory on a fortnightly basis, and then write up your results in a lab report. Second and third years are also expected to complete “exercises”. These are unique to the Chemical Engineering course. You’re given a fairly large scale problem to go away and solve using material you’ve covered in lectures every 2-3 weeks and they’re designed such that there are no real right or wrong answers: as long as you can justify your working you’ll be given credit. This is fantastic preparation for work within industry where these sorts of projects are what you could potentially be working on.
Do you have career plans?
Currently I’ve been looking into consultancy work - this can range from giving businesses advice to giving people who’ve developed a novel technology advice on how it could be turned into a product. The skills I’ve developed through the course such as analytical skills and the ability to understand new concepts rapidly are all the sort of stuff that employers love. Many of my friends are going to work within the chemicals industry, directly applying their knowledge. Something like 50% of all Cambridge Chemical Engineering graduates go on to do something like this so while it’s a significant proportion there’s still such a wide range of career paths open to you.
What about your course would you change?
This is a great course that I would recommend to anyone thinking of applying to Chemical Engineering. However, you do get a sense of split priorities with your options, especially with Natural Sciences route as you feel like you don’t need to focus as much on some options as they don’t seem as important for the next year.
Typical timetable of a Chemical Engineering student
We usually have between two and four supervisions per week, and two hours of lectures per day, which gives you plenty of time to fit in extracurriculars, social life, and job applications.
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