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Biochemical Engineering

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Undergraduate Application FAQs

Questions:

  1. What is the difference between Biochemical Engineering and Chemical Engineering?
  2. Can I become a chartered Chemical Engineer if I study Biochemical Engineering?
  3. What kind of jobs can I do after graduating as a Biochemical Engineer?
  4. How much labwork/practical work will I get to do?
  5. What does an average week look like? How much contact time will I have?
  6. How can I best prepare my UCAS Personal Statement

What is the difference between Biochemical Engineering and Chemical Engineering?

In some ways we share many courses in common with Chemical Engineering e.g. Heat and mass transfer, thermodynamics, mathematics. However the main difference is that we also train our students in biochemistry and molecular biology from year 1. Biochemical engineering seeks to apply the fundamental principles of engineering to biological systems and processes e.g. for the production of pharmaceuticals, biofuels or stem cells. 

A technical example to take is how we might study fluid flow: as biochemical engineers our aim might be to understand how we can mix a fermenter to make sure nutrients can be accessed by cells growing in the bioreactor. The cells are making a biopharmaceutical antibody, and under strong mixing the extracellular product is damaged, so we need to optimize the system to keep the cells alive and the product intact. In this way we connect the physical engineering parameters to the biological outputs. 

By learning the core engineering science and combining this with applied molecular biology, we can apply the same principles to a range of processes: whether we are investigating how to make pluripotent stem cells for regenerative medicine, manufacturing vaccines or making sustainable polymers for bioplastics.

Can I become a chartered Chemical Engineer if I study Biochemical Engineering?

Yes. Our degree is accredited by the IChemE, so you can go on to become a chartered Chemical Engineer after studying Biochemical Engineering. 

At UCL there is the flexibility to combine courses. On our degree programmes you can opt to do the final MEng year in the other department e.g. Biochemical with Chemical Engineering.

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What kind of jobs can I do after graduating as a Biochemical Engineer?

Our alumni have a diverse range of careers, many work in the pharmaceutical industry on process development or in research, or else on the business and management side of the industry. Our graduates also join biotechnology start-ups where their varied skill set and sense of entrepreneurship is an advantage. We also have a number of students who enter specialist consultancy or finance jobs where their knowledge of drug development and manufacturing gives them a competitive edge.

A significant proportion go on for further study, gaining PhDs. This reflects the emerging nature of our discipline, as we link research with teaching wherever possible.

How much labwork/practical work will I get to do?

Our classes are relatively small, which means that we can offer plenty of practical sessions. There are molecular biology lab sessions in the first year as well as practicals in our pilot plant facility where you will learn about fermentation and downstream processing.

What does an average week look like? How much contact time will I have?

Our degree is fast paced, and this is reflected in the number of contact hours. The first two years will be a mixture of our Integrated Engineering Programme lectures, covering fundamentals such as mathematics and design. There are then discipline specific courses for biochemical engineering. In the third year, the Design Project forms a significant component of the course.

To get an idea of what you will be studying, you can see the module choices for our degree here:

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/biochemeng/students/course_modules

For the BEng/MEng route we’re looking to see that you have an interest in how to solve

How can I best prepare my UCAS Personal Statement?

For the BEng/MEng route we’re looking to see that you have an interest in problems practically. Quite frequently students are worried that if they pick a mixture of chemical and biochemical engineering degrees that we will look upon their application unfavourably. This is not the case! There are many examples of processes that involve biochemical and chemical engineers working together such as pharmaceutical or biofuel production.

It is more important that you show us how you can combine science and maths together, and apply your knowledge to problem solving. You may wish to pick a topic that relates to an area you that you are passionate about such as healthcare or the environment and explain how you believe engineering can change the world. This may have come through personal experience, something you have learned in your A-levels, or through your own personal research. If you would like some inspiration, we recommend you read or listen to podcasts about new developments in drug discovery, biotechnology and engineering in places like New Scientist, Science , Nature or PNAS. Or take a look at our News page!

There are a number of useful websites that can also help, such as the IChemE website or the WISE (Women into Science and Engineering) Campaign where you can see the various career paths open to you, or view the profiles of people who have studied similar subjects. There is also UCL Engineering Inspiration where you can find curated articles on a range of engineering subjects. We do encourage you to read around your areas of interest to find out the latest advances.

You can also read an article by Dr Brenda Parker, our admissions tutor, on how to write a UCAS personal statement here.

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