Michael Williams

Michael Williams

Name: Michael Williams

Job title: Process Engineer

Company: Johnson Matthey

Country: UK
A-levels: Chemistry, Maths, Further Maths, Physics and History
University: Imperial College London

I grew up in Devon, UK and enjoyed science and maths at school. Choosing my A-levels was fairly straight forward because I stuck with the subjects that I enjoyed – chemistry, physics, maths, further maths and history.

When I was choosing my A-levels I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at university – although I considered many subjects.

Keeping it in the family

My family is very science-orientated so it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise that I ended up studying a chemical engineering degree. With scientists and electrical engineers already in the family, I actually found out about chemical engineering at a careers fair and I still remember it vividly.

It was a man on an exhibition stand – it may have been whynotchemeng – demonstrating how to dry milk. I remember going back the next year too and he was there again, this time showing students how crude oil could be transformed into a toothbrush via chemical engineering.

The idea that you can take this raw material and turn it into everyday products really appealed to me and helped me to narrow my choice down to chemical engineering.

Chemical engineering has got a clear vocational aspect and it pays well. There are lots of jobs and career paths you can go into with a chemical engineering degree whereas something like chemistry wasn’t nearly so clear-cut.

I studied chemical engineering at Imperial College London , UK and knew from the outset that I wanted to be a chemical engineer. Because it’s such a highly regarded degree choice, some students inevitably get snapped up by the finance sector upon graduation but I knew then that I wouldn’t be one of them.

I had looked at whynotchemeng.com during my A-levels so was fairly familiar with the topics that were covered on my degree course. I had also been on a one-day course staged at Birmingham University, UK which was really helpful.

More maths, less chemistry

It’s hard to get a feeling of what chemical engineering is all about at school or college because you don’t do it in the classroom, although I was lucky enough to be able to do a chemical engineering option as part of my chemistry A-level. The degree course has more maths and less chemistry than many people expect.

I definitely benefitted from having studied further maths at A-level. There wasn’t much new maths in chemical engineering, it largely reflected what I’d been taught in further maths. If you’re thinking about studying chemical engineering and you haven’t chosen your A-levels yet, I’d recommend further maths.

During the last year of my course I started to think about the world of work and I decided that I wanted to work in the petrochemical sector and/or do design work.

Working here at Johnson Matthey is ideal in that sense because that’s exactly what I do. I enjoy the opportunity that I have here to help develop technologies all the way from lab scale through to basic design work and finally to commissioning the plant. There are opportunities for international travel too, I have been to China and Brazil through work. Having been here since 2006, I have got to do lots of different things.

It’s great to be able to go on site and see something that you have designed in an office being put into action.

Being a chemical engineer isn’t like studying it at university. At university you are very focussed on understanding the basic principles of chemical engineering. In the world of work the emphasis is on applying that theory to real world problems. You may have incomplete information and using your engineering judgement is very important – there is not always a ‘right’ answer!