Dr Qasim Rafiq spoke to some our undergraduates to answer questions such as why study biochemical engineering? What's it like at UCL? What is it like learning in a research department? You can hear the SoundCloud podcast below or click on some of the FAQs to find some of the answers to popular questions, or read Dr Brenda Parker's guide to writing a UCAS personal statement.
- Undergraduate Application FAQs
Frequently Asked Questions:
- What is the difference between Biochemical Engineering and Chemical Engineering?
- Can I become a chartered Chemical Engineer if I study Biochemical Engineering?
- What kind of jobs can I do after graduating as a Biochemical Engineer?
- How much labwork/practical work will I get to do?
- What does an average week look like? How much contact time will I have?
- 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:
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.
- Dr Brenda Parker's Introduction to Writing a UCAS Personal Statement
Dr Brenda Parker Talks About Writing a UCAS Personal Statement
21 November 2016
We’ve taken a few minutes to meet the Undergraduate Admissions Tutor for The Department of Biochemical Engineering to talk about UCAS, Personal Statements and what you should be looking out for when deciding what course to study.
What are you up to right now?
At the moment we are in the middle of the UCAS cycle, so the Admissions team are handling applications. On a day to day basis we are responding to enquiries from candidates interested in studying Biochemical Engineering or Bioprocessing of New Medicines.
What are people asking you?
Many questions! Often candidates have alternative qualifications, and they want to check their eligibility. Or they may be considering their options between Biochemical Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology so they want to be clear on the differences between the subjects. Or, they want some advice on how to tailor a personal statement as there are only a few Biochemical Engineering courses in the UK and they are worried if their statement isn’t specialised. As an interdisciplinary degree we accommodate a wide range of interests, so quite often candidates just need to the confidence to know they are on the right track.
What advice do you have for people writing a UCAS personal statement?
We’re looking for enthusiasm and an insight into what the degree is about. A common mistake that many people make is thinking that we require that they must have relevant work experience. We know that isn’t always realistic, and there are many other ways you can show your active interest in the subject. This might be through reading about developments in biotechnology through a journal or scientific publication, 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! I’m always excited to hear how a new development had captured somebody’s attention and they have made the effort to read beyond the A-level curriculum.
We share the same team working, problem-solving and numeracy requirements to Chemical Engineering, so candidates should focus on demonstrating those skills if they have multiple applications. Biochemical engineers are often motivated by altruism or by a desire to make the world a better place, so volunteering shows that candidates are self-motivated and committed.
In line with UCL policy, we don’t have an interview process so it is good to inject your personality and energy into the personal statement. You may have had a personal experience that has ignited your passion to study this subject, the key thing is that you come across as genuine and authentic.
What kind of careers are people interested in following?
We have a real range, from those interested in Regenerative Medicine and clinical applications of stem cell therapies, through to green chemicals or biopharmaceuticals. An up and coming aspect is synthetic biology, sustainability and industrial biotechnology. Quite often our applicants know they want to be involved with start ups in pharmaceuticals or biofuels, but they aren’t sure in which sense. Some candidates are looking for a way to combine their skills in maths and science – the beauty of this degree is that you learn the fundamentals, so you can still change your mind and getting exposure to industry helps them decide!
How can people help make up their minds about what to study and where?
We host a number of Open days: during the UCL Open Days you can visit the pilot plant and talk to our students and alumni. If you can’t travel easily to London on those dates we have recorded a virtual open day, where we give examples of the kinds of topics we study, and the destinations of graduates. If you are curious about the facilities available, then you can get a 360 degree view of some of our laboratories (this works really well on a smartphone as you move it around!)
Information on the degree structure can be found on the website, and entry requirements are on the prospective student website and the prospectus. We’ve asked some of our students to talk about their experience studying in the department, so you can hear their perspectives.
What are the key factors that students should consider when deciding on a degree, and what should they ask on Open Days?
You should think about the style in which you like to learn. Our intake in Biochemical Engineering is quite small compared to many of the bigger degrees, so although we are a central London university, it feels more like a family. Another important factor is contact time, and hands on learning. In particular, if you think you would like to work in industry or research it is vital to have ample practical courses and opportunities to get exposure to the kinds of equipment or techniques that you would be using. Look for a department that is innovating, and responding to outside challenges. For instance, we listened to our undergraduates and have pioneered a new MEng year in Industry where our students can experience R&D at a company. In this kind of emerging field the integration of research and teaching is vital, so you should be assessing how a department links these two fields. At UCL we’re building this into our culture through the Connected Curriculum.
Another factor to consider is the opportunities to diversify or specialise, and the options available to tailor your degree. For example, the Integrated Engineering Programmeenables you to pair Biochemical Engineering with a range of subjects from Programming to Policy.
- MSc Biochemical Engineering Application FAQs
Frequently Asked Questions:
- What is the difference between Biochemical Engineering and Chemical Engineering?
- Can I become a chartered Chemical Engineer if I study Biochemical Engineering?
- What does an average week look like? How much labwork/practical work will I get to do?
- If I am allocated in stream X can I take modules from stream Y?
- How will a potential “Brexit” influence my fee status as an EU citizen?
- Are there any scholarships/funding opportunities to support my studies?
In some ways the two disciplines are closely related. Both are based on core engineering concepts such as heat and mass transfer, thermodynamics, mathematics. Unique to our MSc (and to Biochemical Engineering as a discipline in fact) is the blend of Biology, Biochemistry and Engineering principles to (learn how to) design, operate and optimize bioprocesses (e.g. for the production of pharmaceuticals, biofuels, pluripotent stem cells for regenerative medicine, biopolymers or vaccines). Topics exclusive to Biochemical Engineering include Bioreactor design, downstream processing (separation and purification), bioprocess management and specialized optional modules such as Vaccine development and Microfluidics.
Consequently, the specialized knowledge that you will derive from a dedicated MSc in Biochemical Engineering can't be matched or "approximated" by traditional Chemical Engineering. In much the same way you need (Physical-)Chemistry, Thermodynamics and Engineering knowledge to design a petrochemical refinery you need Biology, Biochemistry and Engineering to design bioprocesses for the production of therapeutics for example.
Yes, this is one of the main benefits of our IChemE accredited programme. The level of accreditation obtained is dependent on the background of an individual student and the MSc pathway taken.
The “Science” and “Biochemical Engineering” streams of the Biochemical Engineering MSc have been accredited by the IChemE as meeting the further learning requirements, in full, for registration as a Chartered Engineer (CEng, MIChemE) for a period of five years, from the 2016 student cohort intake.
The “Engineering” stream of the Biochemical Engineering MSc has been accredited by the IChemE as meeting the learning requirements, in full, for registration as an Incorporated Chemical Engineer (AMIChemE) for a period of five years, from the 2016 student cohort intake.
That means, that even if your undergraduate background is from a Science/Life Science discipline, studying our MSc will put you on track to becoming a Chartered Engineer. One of the key elements you need to display in order to become a chartered Engineer is to have conducted a full process design project. Our “Engineering Stream” tailored for graduates from the Life Sciences includes such a design project as well as the necessary core engineering topics. Once you have successfully graduated from our MSc, you will then need to obtain some relevant work experience and you will become eligible to apply to become a Chartered Engineer and a full member of the IChemE.
During Term time expect to be engaged 5-days a week between 4 to 8 hours (depending on stream and term), with intermittent brakes for lunch. The coursework and lab practicals involve a good mix between individual based and group based activities & assignments as do the design and business projects. The ability to work in teams is a key requirement of a professional biochemical engineer and hence this is reflected in the MSc programme.
The amount of lab/practical work versus lectures varies slightly depending on the stream you are placed in but you can get a rough idea from the module descriptions on our website under the tab "degree structure". During Term 3, where you will be doing your research/design project you will be spending the majority of your time (9-to-5) in the lab/computer/group working areas.
The curriculum for each of the three streams has been designed around the needs and requirements of the students it is offered to.
The “Science” and “Biochemical Engineering” streams offer a limited selection of optional modules that you can take. Some will be exclusive to your individual stream but some will be shared across all three streams. Options have been designed to cover a wide array of topics and skill such as Bioprocess Microfluidics, Vaccine Bioprocess Development, Bioprocess Management and Synthetic Biology.
The “Engineering Stream” currently offers only one slot for optional modules, with two possible modules available. The number of optional modules is limited for this stream because of the need to include all the elements required for IChemE accreditation. As you can appreciate, it is no easy task to re-train students from a non-Engineering background into well rounded Engineers within a years’ time. Bear in mind that some modules are common across all three streams so you will frequently interact with the entire MSc cohort. Moreover, the two optional modules on offer take place in different terms allowing you to better balance your workload as you see fit.
UCL is a global university through our outlook, people and enduring international partnerships. Students and staff from the European Union are an intrinsic part of our community. We have a long tradition of European students and partnerships. We currently have over 4,000 non-UK EU students enrolled at UCL. In the words of Professor Michael Arthur, UCL President and Provost: "We value you enormously – your contribution to UCL life is intrinsic to what the university stands for."
Immigration Status: If you are currently enrolled at UCL, your immigration status and associated fee status, as well as your access to the student loan book, have not changed as a result of the vote. If there were to be any changes to your immigration status in the future, we would not expect these to come into place until formal agreements have been reached in relation to issues such as freedom of movement.
If you have a place to start at UCL in the academic years 2016/17 or 2017/18, at this stage there is no reason to assume any change to your immigration status.
Tuition Fees: The tuition fees payable by EU students who have accepted a place on a programme as a home/EU student prior to the date upon which the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union becomes effective will remain the same (subject to any annual increase in accordance with the applicable terms and conditions and the UCL fees schedule) for the duration of the relevant student’s enrolment on the specific programme.
Eligibility for loans from the Student Loans Company (SLC): The referendum result has not had any impact on current eligibility for tuition fee loans or maintenance loans. For more information, please refer to the statement from Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science, on the SLC website. Latest developments can be found on this article from the BBC.
UCL maintains a dedicated webpage addressing issues related to the referendum and potential “Brexit”. You will find more details here (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/eu-referendum).
The Department of Biochemical Engineering does not run its own scholarship or funding scheme to support postgraduate studies. However, UCL offers a range of financial awards aimed at assisting both prospective and current UCL students with their studies. You may find more information on our "Scholarships and Funding" portal (www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/scholarships).
You can filter the available opportunities by degree type (Graduate Taught in your case), Department (Biochemical Engineering) and/or Country of Domicile (according to your citizenship).