This week, we introduce you to Sejr Nielsen, a fresh graduate of chemical engineering. He has a BSc in chemical engineering from The University of Southern Denmark (SDU) and then has done a double MSc. through Sino-Danish Center for Education and Research (SDC), which he got as student at Technical University of Denmark (DTU), from where he graduated in summer of 2020. He is currently living in Denmark, but have through his studies lived in China as well.
During his MSc, he has focused on Process Engineering and is currently looking for a place to make his mark within process engineering roles and be part of a team that designs an entire process and see it works, so follow the process from initial ideas to a final product that works. At the same time, his interest also lies within the coating industry, which he has expertise in through his MSc study.
Needless to say that Sejr is a highly competent and an enthusiastic chemical engineer, who has expertise within the different topics of chemical engineering from chemistry to engineering. We are certain that any company would be lucky to have him as an engineer in their team. We are really happy to have gotten a chance to have a talk with him and to get his insights about chemical engineering! We wish him the very best for his bright future career!
What university did you study at? Kindly provide the official name and level (BSc/MSc/PhD) of your degree?
I have a BSc from the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) and a doble MSc through the collaboration Sino-Danish Center for Education and Research (SDC), which is a partnership between all Danish universities and the Chinese universities Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS). This means that I have a degree from Technical University of Denmark (DTU) from the Danish side of SDC and University of Chinese Academy of Sciences from the Chinese side.
What motivated you to study and work in Chemical Engineering?
In high school I had a big interest in chemistry and the art of brewing beer, which I did a little as a hobby. So, in my gap year I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do and started to look into different programs and found chemical engineering. What I think caught my interest due to be a line of study where there is a good mix of theoretical work and practical work, and I had the opportunity to follow some of the interests I had in high school.
How was the workload of your degree? What did you spend most time on?
It depends a bit from semester to semester, but common for almost all the courses I have had was that there was a project throughout the course, which was the majority of the time spent on, when I didn’t have lectures or class assignments. But through my bachelor I don’t think the workload was that bad and I still had time to have a social life besides my studies. However, on my master the structure and workload were different as I had modules instead of multiple classes at the same time, so it was a bit more concentrated and was not uncommon to be studying from 8am to 5pm and often later. But I was lucky to have great classmates which made the time much easier to overcome.
How was a typical study week? Was it a lot of classes, assignments or lab work?
On both my bachelor and master the structure was more or less the same where there was a mix of lectures about a topic then followed by group work or assignments related to the topic, so you could work with what one just had learned and then a bit of laboratory work related to lecture. Then there was also project work which you have to plan yourself with your group as well as laboratory work related to the project.
Was there a lot of chemistry in your curriculum? How does chemistry link up with your chemical engineering degree?
On my master I had almost none, as I chose to focus more on process engineering, so it was more thermodynamics and transport phenomena. However, on my bachelor I had some fundamental chemistry, such as organic, inorganic, and analytical chemistry, to have a fundamental understanding.
What topics did you find the most difficult during your degree?
As I took a degree in chemical and biochemical engineering, I have worked with both chemistry, biochemistry, and process design. And of that what I find the most difficult have been the biochemistry part, especially down on the cellular level and the different mechanisms in the cell and cycle in the cell to produce different products, such as Krebs cycle.
What line did you choose to focus on? F.e. process engineering, catalysis, environmental etc.? What did it entail and why did you choose this line?
I have mainly focused on process engineering, so I have worked a lot with the design, sizing, operation and cost of different process and chemicals units. Which is what I have found to be the most interesting aspect of chemistry as there is the opportunity to follow a process from getting an idea to design it and setting it in production and thereafter follow it to optimizing the process and keeping service on it.
Was there a lot of programming involved within ChemE? What is the level of programming you had to go through?
There has been a bit where I have mainly used MATLAB to set up models or simulations for different systems, to try and predict reactions and what effect it has on concentration as an example. For this I have mostly used some different loops to set the parameters and set up ordinary differential equations and then of course some programming to present the data produced. But I don’t believe that you need to be an expert in programming to get through a chemical engineering degree.
Is ChemE more mathematical based or lab based in your experience?
From my experience studying to be a chemical engineer has been more mathematical based, but that is due to the fact that I have focused more on process engineering, especially process design and therefore been more centered around calculations and simulation. However, I have lab experience from my bachelor where I have experience with both organic synthesis and analytical experiments. Whereas my master it has been more focused on the equipment, where my lab experience has been around pilot scale equipment.
In your own words, how would you describe Chemical Engineering to someone who has no idea what it is?
Chemical Engineering is the study of liquid, gasses, and solids and how they interact regarding concentration, temperature, and transport. This chemical engineer can use to upscale the production of products either by chemical reactions or biorefinery and thereby produce chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food, or fuel.
Did you have any student job or internship during your degree?
I did not have a study job or an internship during my degree, but I wish that I did as I believe that would have helped me to better understand what I can do as a chemical engineer. As I have learned a lot doing my studies but feel that I am missing how to use what I have learned in practice, beside the experiments and lab work I have done.
What industry do you wish to work in? Have you limited yourself to just engineering positions or also non-core positions?
I would very much like to keep working with process engineering and be part of a team that designs entire process and see it works, so follow the process from initial ideas to a final product that works. I have also looked into the coating industry as I have workede on my master , which I have found to be very interesting regarding the design and formulation of systems and the potential coating has to reduce fuel consumption on ships, protects steel beams doing fires and much more. And I also believe that the coating industry is in a very interesting position right now by going from more of a skill to a science.
What skills do you believe are the most vital for Industry, which are learned from ChemE degree?
I believe that a degree is a little bit like a driver's license, in the way that you first truly learn how to use it after you have gotten and started to use it. However, I believe one of the most vital skills that I have gotten from my degree has been being able to work together with other people, in order to get to a common goal, as nobody can do everything by themselves. So, learning how to utilize each other’s strength in a team, I believe one of the most vital skills I have learned and being forced to do group projects each semester have been great for that.
Have you considered studying ahead to BSc/MSc/MBA/PhD? Do you think it brings value to graduates looking for jobs?
The thought has crossed my mind to apply for a PhD, however at the moment I am more interested in getting a job, so that I can get a better understanding on what I can and how I can utilize all the theory I have learned, to have an impact on a company to either improve a process or product.
Do you think it has been difficult to find a job or get call backs with a ChemE degree in your country?
I don’t think it is that bad in Denmark and there are quite a few positions, however, a lot of the companies want somebody with experience, and I do not think the Corona situation has made it any better as some resources are needed with graduates. But I have been to some interviews, where the reason for not getting the job is a lack of experience.
In your opinion, what are some of the things, which you wish you knew before you graduated and started in the job market? Anything, you wish you had done before and not after.
The importance of experience so I gained some experience while still studying, either in the way of a student job or an internship so that I can show that I have a bit of experience.
Suggestions for future graduates
Any suggestions for future graduates? Something they should be doing while they are still in university getting their degree.
Remember to also spend some time relaxing, so you do not burn yourself out. But besides that, figure out how you best learn the pensum and materials that you are working with, so that you get the most out of it. After I found out how I best learn, it made it much easier for myself and the exam period was not so here after, this also counts for taking notes, with great notes the entire process will be so much easier.
Any suggestions on job search. Any tips and tricks which you believe can be useful for graduates.
Figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are and how you can utilize them in the different positions and have a great CV that is easy for the one reading it to get a good and fast idea about what you can and how the company can use you.
What skills should they focus on during university years? How to work in teams as you will rarely work on something alone, so figuring out how you work in a group and what you can contribute with and how you prefer to work. As well as socializing with your classmates as building a great network before graduating can help a long way when starting applying for jobs.