Friday, February 18, 2011

How to (not) Become a Polymer Engineer

What is reported at this website is certainly not the advice I would give.
Step One: Obtain a Bachelor's of Science in Engineering
...The first step for becoming a polymer engineer is to complete a bachelor's of science degree program in engineering. Many schools offer chemical engineering degrees that will give potential engineers a good basic overview of polymers, but some schools offer even more highly specialized degrees in polymer engineering. A degree program in polymer engineering will provide students with in-depth knowledge into the behavior of polymer materials during processing.
Can't argue with any of that. If you can get an undergraduate degree in polymers, go for it, otherwise ChemE or MechE is a good option, but be sure to take whatever classes in polymers that you can (not overlooking a polymer chemistry class that might be available in the chemistry department). Just the fact that you are interested in polymers will offset you from everyone else.
Step Two: Find an Internship
Finding an internship will provide a potential polymer engineer with a competitive edge on the job market. The appropriate internship may be found in many different research laboratories for companies and manufacturers working with polymers. According to the University of Oregon, nearly 70% of all chemists and chemical engineers work in the polymer industry ( During an internship potential engineers will see how scientists conduct their studies and apply their knowledge to solve actual problems.
This is step 2? This should be done while you are still in school, not afterwards. And what's up with this 70% figure? There is no way that that number is that high. If it were, there would be little point in this article as the odds are nearly 3-to-1 that you will end up working in polymers anyway.
Step Three: Consider Licensure
Although it is not a requirement for polymer engineers to become licensed, earning a Professional Engineer (PE) title will provide an engineer with more career options and the possibility for greater responsibilities. As a PE, an engineer is able to submit bids for government grants, work as a consultant and work with the public on projects.
Don't. I can't see that would do you any good. What public works are so heavily polymer oriented? Sure, polymers are being used more and more by civil engineers - adhesives for instance, and oh boy do CivE's need to know more about how they work and fail, such as what happened in the Big Dig a few years back, but if you are going to be doing work like this, you will be first and foremost a Civil Engineer, not a polymer engineer. So no, I would not recommend licensure.
Step Four: Find Entry-Level Work
The many different positions held by polymer engineers create a wide variance in the requirements for job openings. Polymer engineers may be employed by local, state or federal government agencies to aid in the regulation and clean up of polymers deemed harmful to the environment. The many companies that use polymers in the manufacturing of their products often employ a team of polymer engineers to help them use polymers in safe, effective and profitable ways.
Now we're talking. But a polymer engineer being used to "clean up polymers deemed harmful to the environment"? Is this environmental correctness being taken to an extreme?
Step Five: Consider a Graduate Degree in Engineering
Many upper level research and teaching positions will require a polymer engineer to go on to earn a postgraduate degree. Depending on the position desired after school, an engineer would need to complete either a Master's of Science or a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in polymer engineering. These programs are found at most major universities and teach students the complex functions and applications of polymers.
Right on. This worked out well for me, but I recognize that grad school is not for everyone, and certainly have an advanced degree can make it seem like you have fewer options than if you didn't have one, so I would definitely emphasize the word "consider".

So, in summary, step two should be done simultaneously with step one and skip step three entirely. And remember that your employment options are far more than what few choices were given above.


Materialist said...

I would agree with your changes, and would argue that there is yet one more step that goes with step one:
1.5 Do research/interning with a polymer research group at your university.
Internships have gotten progressively more competitive, and having any real lab experience gives you the edge.

John said...

Good addition. I'm too far removed from school to have a feel for what it's like anymore.