STEM Story: Nidhi Ohri
What drew you to majoring in Chemical Engineering?
Chemical engineering is great in its vast applications: nearly everything needs chemical engineers. Cosmetic industries, computer companies, literally everything. I will say that this major is the application of chemistry, and so you will have to take general chemistry and physics courses but mainly it’s focused on physics chemistry holistically and their applications. So for me, I like the application of chemical engineering but I also love chemistry and theory. So I’m majoring in chemical engineering but doing research in a chemistry lab to satisfy my two interests. If you look up the general curriculum for chemical engineering and look at the courses over the four years it’ll give you an idea of what things you learn! I want to work in industry and not in academia, so that’s why I chose engineering over chemistry. In chemistry you’ll learn how fuel cells work, in chemical engineering you’ll learn how to actually design one. So this distinction led me to this major.
What are your opinions on the chemical engineering department at UPenn?
UPenn has a great engineering school overall and a good chemical engineering department. The professors are very skilled in their own career and having professors like that gives a strong advantage in research opportunities. The name of the school and university will also always stick with you when applying for jobs and give an edge bc employers will seek out to you or be inclined to work with you.
Is there any advice you’d like to give students who are considering engineering as a major?
I don’t think you need to be perfect in STEM classes to consider the major. Physics was never my strong suit but it’s an important thing in Engineering. My dad is an engineer and when he hires people he always tells me that they don’t care if you’re the smartest in the room, you just need to be willing to learn and work hard and I think colleges have a similar if not same mindset. Otherwise like a lot of people with perfect scores in everything would automatically be at the top schools. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have good scores, but its ok here and there if one isn’t amazing or great.
Do you think chemical engineering is a viable path on its own?
I definitely think chemical engineering on its own is a viable career path. It’s one of the toughest if not hardest engineering majors because you have to be well versed in physics and chemistry and their applications. We only have 30ish students in this major for every graduating year and that shows that it’s a tough major but the return is really good. Most engineers can’t find a high salary job just with bachelors degree, but chemical engineers can. There’s such a high demand for us because again the application of chemical engineering is so versatile and valued. I was originally in the VIPER program and was majoring in chemistry and chemical engineering as a dual degree. I dropped the chemistry major after this year because for me and my career goals, doing a dual degree is very time consuming to get good grades AND have time left to do internships and research. I value research more than the chemistry degree because I’ll get more out of it. You can do a dual major or degree but don’t do it because you think it’ll look impressive. Do it because you specifically know there’s a reason to based on your career goals. Especially with the difficulty of chemical engineering I for myself chose not to go the dual degree path but that doesn’t mean it’s not good for someone else
Any other tips for students looking to apply as this major?
Engineers have the engineering mindset, we want to solve problems and use our creativity and find the best solutions. Taking classes like physics math chemistry are like basics most people take in high school anyways, so it won’t really set you apart that much. Extracurriculars and teacher recommendations help in that matter. Someone who for example does a STEM activity is more “preferred” for an engineering school than someone who writes a book or something. But the way you present and orient what you’ve done in the direction of what you wanna do in college and career is what matters. Every activity has useful lessons that can be applied and it’s up to you to analyze that in show it in your essays and interviews
Interview by: Chandana Karumanchi
Graphic by: Kianna Bolante