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Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Name: Alex Konisky

Year: Class of 2011

Hometown: New Hampshire

Major: Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF CHEMICAL AND BIOMOLECULAR ENGINEERING!

Now that break is almost over and I am thinking about my next semester at Hopkins, I thought I would take some time and talk about being a chemical and biomolecular engineer (or ChemBE for short) at Hopkins.

I guess I should start by saying I never thought I would be an engineer, but here I am three semesters into starting my life as one and I am happy to say I have loved it.  After some thought and research in high school, I decided the pharmaceutical industry was really where I wanted to be.  So I looked at programs in biochemistry and molecular biology and they all seemed good, but would they really get me into the industry?  Then I visited Hopkins and read a flyer about ChemBE in the admissions office.  It listed the fields chemical engineers at Hopkins go into, and there on that list were pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.  After the visit, I decided I wanted to be a ChemBE at JHU.

Now for some basic information about ChemBE:

  • The department currently houses 324 undergraduates and 14 full-time faculty members.
  • The ChemBE program is ABET accredited.
  • There are three tracks within the undergraduate program (more on this later!)

Cellular Image Now I feel the need to dispel some rumors about chemical and biomolecular engineering at Hopkins.  A rumor I frequently hear is that all ChemBEs are premed and while some are, some are not.  Personally, I have no plans of attending medical school.  Also, not everyone in our department will go into industry and work in alternative fuels.  Luckily, ChemBE provides us with the opportunity to go into industry or graduate school.  In industry, ChemBEs work in anything from pharmaceuticals to manufacturing to patent law even, yes, alternative energy sources.  Also, contrary to popular belief, we also have fun.  ChemBEs definitely have a lot of hard work, but we also have many opportunities to participate in student groups and just spend time with friends.  Our department even has a picnic each spring where students and faculty hang out and eat some good food.

So far I have taken three classes in my department and really enjoyed starting the process of becoming an engineer.  I can’t say I consider myself an engineer yet or really that I know when I will start to, but I have had the pleasure of learning some of the tools chemical engineers use in the field.  I will admit, one of the things I love about being a ChemBE is telling people that I am taking classes like Process Analysis and Transport Phenomena I and II and getting to answer the obvious question, “What do they teach you in those classes?”  Unfortunately I have found no obvious answer, but in Transport we study the mechanics of fluid flow and process analysis teaches problem solving.  On top of these classes I will have to take Thermodynamics, Kinetics, Senior Lab, and a few more in department before I graduate.  That is, of course, in addition to the chemistry and math classes outside the department.

Thermo Book Although we have a lot of major requirements and the curriculum is very structured, one cool thing about chemical engineering at Hopkins is that concentrations allow a little bit of personalization.  We have a choice of three paths: the molecular and cellular bioengineering concentration, the interfaces and nanotech concentration, or no concentration at all.  For each path, the courses we take in addition to the core requirements differ.  I am in the bioengineering concentration so I will take Biochemistry Lab and Cell Biology while my friends in nanotech will take Material and Surface Characteristics.  Regardless of concentration, we take advanced chemistry and biology electives, which include classes like Cell Biology Lab and Aquatic Chemistry.  Since ChemBE is an ever changing major, the department recently changed its graduation requirements to adapt to the changing conditions in industry.  The new requirements include pre-professional workshops (resume writing for example), more relaxed humanities and social science requirements, and new classes including Modeling and Statistical Analysis of Data.  Clearly our graduation requirements get a little complicated, so luckily we have faculty advisers to help us out.

My faculty adviser, who is now the department chair, has met with me every semester since I Nanotech Imagestarted.  He has been nothing but amazing, helping me clarify the requirements and providing me with amazing opportunities.  Next semester I am taking Kinetics and Thermodynamics together, although Thermo is the prerequisite for Kinetics, in order to get a graduate degree in epidemiology before I declare myself old.  With the help of my adviser and some advanced coursework in high school, I will be eligible to graduate a year early if I choose to.  Within our department, if you are willing to work hard and put some time in, there is more flexibility in your schedule.  My adviser will also be my mentor next semester when I start a paper review project looking at previous research in tumor-cell adhesion.  My project will take about forty hours throughout the semester and count for one credit towards my engineering electives.

ResearchA big draw of Hopkins engineering is the ability to do research within your department (or even outside your department if you choose).  Students in every year participate in research during the semester or the summer (yes, even freshmen).  Other activities ChemBEs participate in include our chapter of the American Institute for Chemical Engineers (AICHE), Engineers Without Borders, and the Society for Women Engineers.  Each of these student groups provide ChemBEs with an opportunity to network and expand their skills.  For example, AICHE brings in future employers for panels and contains the ChemE car team that competes each year in a race to travel a certain distance and be powered by chemistry.  AICHE also puts on a poker tournament each year where members can play poker against some of our faculty.  It also provides people with an opportunity to become involved in the department and dramatically helps people to find internships and jobs after life at Hopkins.

NewAIChESBELogo As of right now, I am planning to graduate in 2010 and pursue a doctorate degree in epidemiology and then work in the pharmaceutical industry combining my chemical engineering undergraduate degree with my interest in public health.  I might take some time off in between my degrees and either work for a pharmaceutical company in research and development or participate in an international service organization.  However, there is always the possibility that I might dive right into graduate work.  Although this is likely to change over the next year and a half, I know whatever I choose to do with my life, chemical and biomolecular engineering will be part of it.

Hopefully this has provided some insight into being a ChemBE at Hopkins!

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Click here to access more information about the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective as well as the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering question thread.

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