Hey everyone, my name is Truyen Le and I’m originally from Viet Nam. I came to the US in 2012 to pursue my bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at University of Minnesota (UofM). My reasoning for why I chose chemical engineering was embarrassingly simple, I was good at math and chemistry during my high school, and I thought that “chemistry + math = chemical engineer and engineers should be able to find jobs easily,” so that is why I decided to major in chemical engineering.
As I learnt more about chemical engineering during my time at UofM, I found it to be very intriguing and started liking it more because chemical engineering is the bridge between scientific theories and practical applications. I was a very practical person, so I resonated well with the ideology behind chemical engineering, which takes fundamentals principles of chemistry and physics and apply them to develop actual real-life processes, materials and technologies that have practical and tangible effects on our standards of living. During my time at UofM, I had various experiences, from working as a research assistant in a university polymer lab researching about sustainable polymer, as a chemist intern at H.B. Fuller studying about adhesives, or a technician at Cargill in which my responsibilities were to operate a research and development pilot plant for food production. Through those experience, I was able to explore various industries and gain good experience but finding a permanent job in Minnesota as an international undergraduate were particularly challenging, so I decided to pursue advanced degrees to improve my career prospects.
I was accepted to a master's program in chemical engineering at University of California, Berkeley and the Bay Area was one of the largest technology hubs in the US, so I decided to move there after 6 years living in Minnesota. After graduating from U.C. Berkeley, I have been working as a process development engineer at Lygos to develop downstream processes for purification of specialty chemicals obtained from fermentation.
Chemical Engineering is a field that intertwines the principles of chemistry, physics, mathematics, and engineering to solve real-world challenges and create innovative solutions. Because of that, there is a wide range of career paths for chemical engineers that include different industries and sectors and here are some of the prominent career paths you can pursue with a degree in chemical engineering:
I graduated from UC Berkeley in May 2020 and it was during the time when the pandemic just started, so it was particularly challenging to find jobs at that time. Everything had to be done online, and there was no career/job fair to go to meet employers. During that time, I did about 50-100 applications, mostly on LinkedIn and Indeed.com, and I did not get many responses until 3 months after I graduated. Since my working visa was expiring, I already booked a flight ticket home. Luckily two weeks before my flight, I got an interview invitation for a process development engineer position at Lygos, in which I did an online interview with 3 people and an in-person tour. I got accepted in the next few days and my life has changed since then. Working at a start-up was incredibly challenging since I had to do everything myself from building equipment, organizing working space, ordering new equipment/materials, planning experiments, etc. However, it was a good learning environment for a new graduate since I could develop diverse types of skills that you cannot have, working in big companies. Also, having a good mentor and colleagues is immensely helpful, so that is why I am still working here at Lygos after 3 years.
I would tell my younger me to go out and explore more instead of just focusing on studying at university. A good GPA is nice to have but not a requirement to land a good job, but instead relevant experience and connections are more important because after your first job, no employer will rate your GPA highly anymore. Apply to different jobs, internships, club activities to gain more experience, connections, and develop both social and technical skills because these skills will not only help you get accepted into a job but will help you succeed in it and open to more opportunities that will bring you closer to your dream jobs.
To improve your chance of landing a job, take advantage of all the resources available to you at schools and your surroundings. It is always good to have a dream job, something to aim for in your career, but be realistic and open to new opportunities. Go to career fairs, talk to companies, take part in club activities, email alumni, talk to your professors, etc. are different ways you can use to explore more about different industries. Once you understand what you are interested in, come up with a list of skills that may be needed for that industry and start working on it. Also, apply to internships, research positions or part-time jobs during the summers because it will give you an edge compared to others with no experience, especially in engineering positions.