When I think back to my freshman year, I entered as a doe-eyed 17-year-old — ready for all the possibilities. I grew up a lot in college and while I am still ready to take on this world, I’ve become more cynical and sarcastic in my approach. All jokes aside, this article is about my career path and not about my emotions haha! So on to the University of Wisconsin – Madison! Badger nation.
What can I say… I feel like an old lady now pondering about my past in Chemical Engineering. If I had a redo in life, would I have it any other way? Hell no. I am weirdly very okay with my decisions! This is weird for me because sometimes I like to think about what would have made my life easier. As an international student trying to find a job in the pandemic, I often thought to myself “why didn’t I just do computer science, it would have been so much easier to find a job”. But I am then reminded of my dislike of coding… so there couldn’t be another path in my eyes. I would not have had it any other way. Although ChemE (an abbreviation) was a ton of hard work and tough nights, it was just as rewarding when you go to the end of that exam/project/assignment. At UW, ChemE was deemed one of the hardest degrees on our campus with a GPA cutoff to be even admitted into the program. Once admitted, you really felt the emotional rollercoaster hitting you — the highs when you got those A’s and the lows when you found out you barely passed with a C. At times you felt deserving and undeserving. But that’s life — you win some and you lose some. The key is to keep the overall goals in mind and keep chugging along. Just keep swimming.
From my previous article, Pre-College Conceptualization, you know why I ended up choosing chemical engineering but now I will tell you why I kept at it. While many people I know floated from major to major until they found one they liked, I came in with the intent of ChemE, applied (every incoming freshman came in as a General Engineering major and then had to complete the general intro classes before “applying” into a chosen field), got in, and kept it till that grad cap and that embossed piece of paper that had my name on it.
One of the key reasons I kept to chemical engineering was because my passions for ChemE never swayed. Yes, it was hard — but I felt a certain belonging to the types of work and topics they covered and was always interested to learn more. didn’t sway. I do understand that these aspects can change over time and hence what you are doing presently to get to the future goals change. But for me, throughout college, my North Star was to get into a line of work that impacted global sustainability and healthcare outcomes. Chemical engineering was the best way for me to get there.
Another reason was that this degree is the perfect integration of the sciences that kept me challenged and interested. There is a common misconception that chemical engineering is just chemistry and some math. However, that barely scrapes the surface of the sorts of classes I was taking and the projects I was working on. I’ll admit looking at the course guide, it is a lot of chemistry classes (you only needed 2 additional courses to have a whole degree in Chemistry) but the engineering-based classes were all math and physics. The most amazing aspect for me was that while the learnings were all the effects of math and physics, it was always based on chemistry and biology!! EXACTLY WHAT I LOVED. I fell in love with the integration of sciences and the ways it all came together for such crucial applications in our day-to-day lives. Chemical engineering has touched most products you interact with on a daily basis. “Integration”, as you will soon learn, is one of the major themes of my career. We will dig more into this as I explain how I expanded beyond these classes in undergrad and my graduate school journey.