Talk with Jehangir Akram (ChemE Educator and Freelancer)

This week, we introduce you to Jehangir Akram, a Chemical Engineering Student and a freelancer. He has done his BSc.Eng In Chemical Engineering from the University of Gujrat (Pakistan) and graduated with remarkable results in September 2020. Currently, he is working as a freelancer, but he will be starting his MS in chemical engineering at Beijing University of Chemical Technology.

To name some of his major achievements during his BSc, Jehangir has written three review papers on the topics of photocatalysis and green chemistry, and is about to start his Masters in Chemical Engineering from Beijing University of Chemical Technology, China. Impressively, he is working on his fourth review paper which is related to Anaerobic digestion of Biomass utilizing DIET for Biomethane production, and afterwards will be carrying out research on the same topic during the MS. Furthermore, he is currently working as a freelancer on Fiverr and also has a YouTube channel dedicated to ChemE.

Undoubtedly, Jehangir is a competent chemical engineer with in-depth knowledge of the different engineering topics. We were lucky to have a talk with him to learn about his experience and education. Do read his answers and advises below to better streamline your own career.

Education

How was the workload of your degree? What did you spend most time on?

Overall workload was moderate but there were times during the mids and final exams when it was very difficult for me to find time for cocurricular activities. Most time of my Bachelor's was spent on labs as we had to spend maximum time in labs.

Was there a lot of chemistry in your curriculum?

No, there were hardly 3 courses and 2 labs of chemistry in my Bachelor's curriculum

What topics did you find the most difficult during your degree?

I found the topics of Instrumentation and Process Control a bit difficult

What line did you choose to focus during your degree? Why?

I chose Gas Processing as an elective course and there are two reasons. One was the availability of expert of the field and second was the summer internship which I did in a gas processing plant motivated to choose this subject

Did you have student jobs or internships during or between your education? How did you get them? Where did you work? How did it help your education or future career?

I did two internships during the summer vacations between my Bachelor's. I got them by actively sending emails to the relevant companies. Internships significantly improved my interpersonal and technical skills, especially the second internship in which I worked in a Pakistan's famous Oil and Gas company, OGDCL. I learnt how Chemical Engineers work as Process Engineers in the Gas Processing plants and how the concepts which I studied during my studies are being applied there.

You have written 3 publications and are working on your 4rth? How did you find time for it? Was it part of your courses or something you did extra? How did you do it?

I have written three review papers on the topics of photocatalysis and green chemistry, and I am about to start my Masters in Chemical Engineering from Beijing University of Chemical Technology, China. I am working on my fourth review paper which is related to Anaerobic digestion of Biomass utilizing DIET for Biomethane production, and afterwards I will be carrying out research on the same topic during my MS.

In the University during the final year we were taught a 2 credit hours course of unit Processes, in that course we didn’t have much to study so our course instructor started guiding us about academic writing. He gave us some assignments, initially those assignments were in a very shape but with time we kept improving our assignments and before our degree completion we managed to publish our review papers. I am writing ‘we’ because I was not the only one who wrote review papers during the Bachelors but several batchmates of mine also papers published.

If other students wish to work on publications. What would you suggest they should be doing?

I will suggest the students interesting in publications to decide a topic on which they want to pursue their Masters/PhD and start learning academic writing. Read about referencing tools such as Endnote and Mendeley, read the types of references, and in case your English is not that good (although unlike content writing, basic English writing skills are sufficient for academic writing) start writing with the help of software such as Grammarly.

After you have learnt all these basics then move towards your topic of interest and start reading important review papers related to your topic (not research papers, as initially it will be difficult for you to read research papers and get important results out of them).


You have mentioned that you will be starting your MS in China? How did you get into the program? What were the criteria and so on? How can future students prepare beforehand to be eligible for such wonderful opportunity?

There’s a famous Chinese Government’s scholarship CSC portal through which thousands of international students are admitted to Chinese universities every year. The applications for scholarships usually remains open between February and April (timeline of universities vary).

Once I was working on the topic of Digestion (fermentation) of Molasses for Ethanol production where I realized that I was really weak on that topic as we were not taught much about bacteria and fermentation. I joined several online courses such as on Coursera to study bioreactors but there were several things which I was unable to understand but at the same time my interest in the field was growing. Then, although having no intention of starting MS, I was searching top chemical engineering Universities of China where I came across Beijing University of Chemical Technology (BUCT) and on the faculty’s tab I saw the profile of a Professor of Chemical Engineering at BUCT (my supervisor) whose most of the past researches were related to fermentation and biomethane, and having discussion with my supervisor I came to know that BUCT is the best institution in China for this field. It was how I got in the program as my supervisor assisted me through every step.

Criteria of CSC is simple but one needs to put some special effort to make sure that he/she will get accepted. For example, you need a well-written motivation letter and/or experience in the field or have publications (like my case). Although on Masters its not compulsory to get a supervisor but you should get a supervisor as your application will likely get rejected without the recommendation/acceptance letter of a supervisor.

Students who are willing to study in China (on fully funded scholarship) should start completing the prerequisites of their Universities of interest. Check if your University of interest requires IELTS/English proficiency, get recommendation letters from your previous faculty and get a passport (in case you don’t have one, passport number is needed for application as well).

What will you be focusing on during your MS in China?

I am studying Master of Chemical Engineering with research concentration on topics related to fermentation/Anaerobic digestion for biomethane production.

Work Experience

Which industry are you working in right now?

I am currently working as a Chemical Engineering Freelancer since 2020. I have been working as a freelancer on Fiverr, although I am not under that company. I also get orders from social media platforms and my website.

What is your daily work routine like as a freelancer? What are the typical tasks, which you have to deal with?

As a freelancer, I have mostly been working from home. Working from home, my daily routine depends on the timeline and nature of the project. Most of the projects I receive are research based.

What type of projects do you accept and take at Fiverr? And how can one get in touch with you at Fiverr?

I mostly accept projects related to Simulations and Plant design, in fact I accept any project provided that its not the Academic Assignment/exam as such projects violate the fiverr’s terms of service.

What hard and soft skills are the most important for your job?

Being a freelancer one needs to be versatile and need to have several skills which can related to the field such as using ASPEN and can be related to other fields such as content writing, Graphic Designing etc.

What is the best thing about your job?

The best thing about freelancing is that, you choose your schedule, you choose which order you will accept and when will you take your days off

Which topics from your degree do you use the most on the workplace?

In fact all of them

You also have a YouTube channel, if I am not mistaken? What type of videos, do you upload and what is your target audience? What is the link to the YouTube channel?

I have made videos on equipment design such as on Shell and tube heat exchanger’s design, Multicomponent distillation column design and simulations of several equipment/processes on both Aspen Plus and Aspen Hysys.

In terms of your ChemE Professional career, what industry do you wish to work for in the future?

I wish to work in green fuel/chemical industry such as in Hydrogen, Biomethane and Ethanol.

Do you believe that Pakistan has a good scope for Chemical Engineers? If yes, in what sectors can a fellow ChemE have a chance of getting a job?

I think there is a limited scope of Chemical Engineering in Pakistan. Although in the recent duration a lot of vacancies were made available for chemical engineers but most of those were in Textile Industry. Which in my point of view, other than wastewater treatment section (if there is any), is a bit irrelevant especially compared to the curriculum that a Chemical Engineer is taught during his Degree. Then there are several vacancies of Chemical Engineers in Quality Control Departments of Pharmaceutical, polymer or packaging industries, which again without any disrespect are not that relevant to our field and the experience of such industries won’t be rewarding in the long run (if one wishes to switch the industry).

What are you future plans for your career? What does your current job as a freelancer allow you to do in future?

I am currently pursuing my MS and as already described in above mentioned sections I want to start my career in green fuel/chemical Industry. I do not intend to continue full time as a freelancer. Working as a freelancer I worked for several individuals and companies which helped me revise all my course contents and learnt several important concepts. My research skills are significantly enhanced which will, no doubt, assist me in my entire professional career

Any suggestions for future graduates? Something they should be doing while they are still in university getting their degree.

I will advise the students to be critical thinkers. If you are studying thermodynamics, plant design, heat and mass transfer or whatsoever may be the course learn the practical approach and reason behind every phenomenon. Consider an example of Henry's law which I studied in my Bachelor's but had no clue why we are being taught till I countered a problem of creating VLE diagram in which that law provided significant help. Similarly in Chemical reaction engineering learn software such as MATLAB to solve complex differential equations and don't limit yourself to simple series or parallel reactions. Last but not the least, improve your interpersonal skills, especially if you are in a country like Pakistan where Chemical Engineers have to actively interact with operators and workers your personality will have a significant impact in job hunting.

What skills should they focus on during university years? As explained earlier students should focus on software such as MATLAB, ASPEN and other software such as VISIO, and they should be improving their interpersonal skills. Join American Institute of Chemical Engineers or other such societies which will help you keep yourself up-to-date about the field.
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