Discussion Central

Subject: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

1.  Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 06-01-2017 18:57
There are three basic reasons why engineers should have a Professional Engineer's (PE) license:  (1) Some projects require it, (2) You'll need it if you start your own business, and (3) You'll need it if you want to do any kind of consulting work.  Think of a PE license as another feather in your cap.  Government projects with the Departments of Energy and Defense, EPA, and NASA, often want PEs on their staffs.  Large companies that contract with the government often boast about the number of PEs that are available, and put it into their proposals.   They often will pay a premium in salary for the employee to maintain that license.  As a chemical engineer, you may never have to sign off on or stamp any drawings, but having that PE will give you an edge over another chemical engineer when competing for the same job.

Robert Bugiada PE
Senior Process Engineer
RC Costello & Assoc Inc
Seal Beach CA

2.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-03-2017 09:29
At the Spring meeting, I sat down with young professional AIChE member Donna Bryant to talk about how the PE exam changed her career and perspectives. We also discussed tips for preparing and upcoming changes to the exam. It will be the first engineering discipline to move away from pen and paper exams and be all digital. Donna is the vice chair of both the Baton Rouge Local Section and Management Division Program Vice chair.

Check out my interview with Donna

And then... Let me know...

Why do you think ChemEs in particular should take (or not take) the PE exam?

What do you think it moving to a digital format?

Very Best,

John Vasko
Manager, Community & Content
New York NY

3.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-04-2017 07:57
Should ChemEs take the PE:
I do not think it should be an across the board requirement as not all ChemE jobs or careers are the same. I do believe that there are some fields where it's should be important but other fields it may be a side note. As a field engineer, most people I come across who do great work have a PMP or just years experience, an engineering mind (maybe not a degree), and management skills. The two field engineers I knew who had PEs where both removed from the position. This stated I know a number of great consultants who have PEs and that I love to work with in the field. So I don't think we should make broad statements either way, just understand what skills are needed for success in the different career paths.

I strongly do not agree with moving to digital only testing. This is a trend across multiple certifications and organizations that I do not like for if we are looking for just what someone knows, then we should allow them the ability to choose the method to show that if the criteria and content is the same. This stated, back in college I had a track record of doing poorer on digital exams than paper even if the paper test was easier.

Anna Shea
Plant Engineer
Humboldt IA

4.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-04-2017 09:53
I think an Engineering License is an excellent credential to display when you are a single ChE working in a group.  I have been a lone ChE  within my working groups for most of my career.  Having this credential immediately gives me credibility as I work with new groups and teams on new projects.  It is also a credential that gives credibility to the group, which can be a factor in job security, or when interviewing for positions in new groups.

Annette Johnston PE

5.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-04-2017 11:07
In addition to opening doors to companies that require PE licenses for certain positions,  the study preparation can bring one up to speed on new developments in Chemical Engineering applications.  I would also like to point out the benefits of obtaining a Board Certified Safety Professional license.  I did so in 2000 and it changed my career goals forever.   I engineered extensive Process Safety Management improvements in refinery  and specialty chemicals plant settings for the last 17 years and feel pretty good about my contributions .

Stephen Movesian
Grand Haven MI

6.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-04-2017 12:55

I highly recommend that younger engineers and students take a few minutes to view Donna Bryant's interview as it clearly explains some of the reasons why every younger chemical engineer should consider the licensing pathway early in their careers.


7.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-05-2017 09:47
Keep in mind that unless you plan to work in the public sector (hang out a shingle), a P.E. License is only a status symbol, amongst your peers at your company and amongst those you work with in other companies.

As to digital exams (hold the laughter),  I went through my chemical engineering curriculum at UMass, Amherst, from 1966 to 1970, with a slide rule.  So you can guess my opinion on this.  I hold a P.E. license in Massachusetts.  The EIT exam (1977) was multiple choice on paper (work the problem, pick an answer amongst 4 or 5 choices - forget how many), and the P.E. exam (1984) was pick four of ten problems in the morning and 4 of 10 problems in the afternoon and work them.   If I had to get my driver's license again, I could probably handle the learner's permit exam, which is "on the computer."

John Sharland PE,FSFPE
Bridgewater MA

8.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-08-2017 11:45
Mr Sharland:
I read your contribution and I would like to ask what exactly you mean by your statement that  "you can guess my opinion on this." I really do not understand this. I do agree that a P.E. is largely a status symbol among your peers. Since the P.E. for an academic is largely public ( because,  academia is largely public) the P.E. is largely public for an academic.
Thank you.
R Long. P.E.
Professor Emeritus

Richard Long PE
Oklahoma City OK

9.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-08-2017 14:07

I respectfully disagree with the comment: "Keep in mind that unless you plan to work in the public sector (hang out a shingle), a P.E. License is only a status symbol, amongst your peers at your company and amongst those you work with in other companies."

Engineering licensure laws are not uniform throughout the US. Every state has the ability to define the "practice of engineering" for purposes of licensure differently. Also, every state has the ability to identify and define exemptions for the areas of practice that must be solely performed by a licensed engineer. I worked in private industry for several years and a P.E. license was required for roles and signing of designs, reports, and plans in several departments. A broad statement like "unless you plan to . . . hang out a shingle, a PE License is only a status symbol" is misleading to those considering whether or not to approach obtaining a license. Several commenters here have identified areas in their own practice where a PE was required for certain tasks or where it may not have been required but was a credential worth obtaining.

There's another thread on this topic here as well.

Kodi Verhalen PE, Esq, F.NSPE


10.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-09-2017 17:00
"Because laws require PE licensing" may be a sufficient response, but it says nothing about underlying faults.

Licensing DOES NOT, never has, and (I believe) never will ensure good engineering practice. In my experiences, licensed engineers have made as many -- maybe more -- critical mistakes as unlicensed engineers. Good engineering arises from strongly internalized dedication to high-quality, productive performance, not from having a good test day and score.

No licensing of any profession or activity assures society of acceptable performance. Licensing is an acceptable excuse for making mistakes, not a guarantee of quality. The fact licensing presents a target for lawsuits appeals to some and benefits a few, but society as a whole gains nothing.

Performance counts. Licensing is just a legal nicety with no societal benefits.

Steven Osborne
Luling LA

11.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-10-2017 10:22

To put the issue of Licensing and good practice into perspective, once I had been notified I earned my license, an older engineer put it simply:

"Congratulations!  In the eyes of the state, you are now minimally competent.  Never forget that."

Any licensing or certification exam is simply an acknowledgement that you have met someone's idea of competence.  It does not make you infallible.

However, I have found that having the license makes me more aware of how everything I do on a project affects the other parts and the people down the road who will have to deal with my decisions.

Dr. Keith Dackson , P.E.
East Aurora NY

12.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-05-2017 09:58
Consider it this way: what is the downside to licensing? None. So why not become licensed. It will only open up employment / career avenues.

James Wesnor
Senior Technical Advisor - Process
Birmingham AL

13.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-05-2017 12:57
There is a downside to licensing: the cost to the individual and the cost to society of the administering bureaucracy. There is also the moral hazard created by the sense of invulnerability perceived by society and sometimes exercised by the licensee.

Additionally, licensing is or creates a false sense of security. Who most often gets blamed or sued for malpractice: licensed physicians, licensed lawyers, licensed engineers, licensed pharmacists, etc. Being licensed does little or nothing to assure quality of work, productive performance, or safe and environmentally-aware practice.

If a surgeon is going to hack on me, I want to know what experience he or she has and what his or her success rate has been. Passing a test and garnering a piece of paper is not reassuring, no matter what the profession.

If one needs a license to work for certain employers, seek it. If one needs a license to become fulfilled, seek it...but ask why doing a good job is not satisfactory.

I cannot make a strong case for or against digital testing. I was educated in slide-rule days and running Fortran programs on IBM mainframes, so I am somewhat biased against digital testing. However, I have taken digital tests that were well worthwhile. The biggest problem I have seen with digital testing is that the tests are developed primarily by programmers or human resources personnel and do not represent job requirements well. If experienced engineers develop tests for engineers, it should not matter if those tests are analog or digital.

Steven Osborne
Luling LA

14.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-08-2017 10:05
When I finished my undergraduate work in 1963 one of my professors recommended that we all take the EIT (now called FE) exam at the end of the school year.  It was wise counsel, but I chose to ignore it thinking I was headed into the area of research and that a PE would not benefit me.  Ten years later I found myself taking both the EIT and the PE exams.  I reviewed my class notes and textbook on Statics and Dynamics, and that got me through the first exam.  I didn't find the second one difficult, either, because it was something I was doing on a daily basis.
The thing I wanted to point out is that there is a difference with those exams now that they are digital.  Going from pencil to digital was a tradeoff.  It seems like the world is going digital in most areas of life.  It is easier to grade a digital exam, but I think much is lost in doing so.  When I took those exams, particularly the PE exam, we were instructed that it was not critical to come up with the final answer.  What was more important was to show how we would approach a problem and set it up.  So setting up the relationships or equations to solve a problem was just as good as getting the final answer.  What was important was how we approached a problem to find the answer.  You cannot do that with a digital exam.  The computer looks for a predetermined answer and has no capacity to determine how you found it.  In my mind that is a big downside to going digital.  I think we have paid a big price for the convenience of grading the exams with a computer.

Robert Clay, PhD, MBA, PE
Sr. Associate Engineer
ECI, Inc.
Lenexa, Kansas

15.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-09-2017 13:16
I recently took the PE exam (still waiting on the results)- the last "written" PE Exam- I wish this statement was still true: "When I took those exams, particularly the PE exam, we were instructed that it was not critical to come up with the final answer.  What was more important was to show how we would approach a problem and set it up.  So setting up the relationships or equations to solve a problem was just as good as getting the final answer. "

In the test I took, the process, the critical thinking, and the understanding went out the window. It was essentially a race against time to solve a problem correctly.

16.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-10-2017 10:34

Yes Divya....and that's a little like real life.

17.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-08-2017 12:02

Let me assure everyone that the questions on computer based exams are still prepared by the same hardworking experienced PEs on the NCEES Exam Committees. The computer based aspect just improves the delivery efficiency and allows for greater flexibility in scheduling and gives a much faster feedback on the resuls.

18.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-09-2017 08:03
When I took me PE test they still had essay questions.  Since they essay has been dropped and all questions are multiple choice what difference does it make if it's paper and pencil or digital to the test taker?  Or am I missing something?

William Wagoner PE
Wagoner Consulting
Chesterfield VA

19.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-12-2017 13:05

Much of the effort to manage the engineering profession and the PE license is volunteer, and is in place to protect public safety.   The cost to maintain a licensure infrastructure is very small.   If something does go wrong.........everyone gets sued, whether one is licensed or not.   The only difference is the statute that is invoked.

Get the license.........it has paid me extraordinary dividends across my 40 year industrial career working for large multinationals.   Bottom line, it quickened my learning curve and gave me opportunities that I would have never had.

Deborah Grubbe, PE, CEng, FAIChE, FIChemE, NAC
Owner and President
Operations and Safety Solutions, LLC
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, USA

20.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-15-2017 15:52

I do not object to professional licensing. What I do find objectionable is that professional licensing (or licensing of any sort) is a politically-motivated scam and our educational systems are so bankrupt that people cannot (apparently) see the scam behind the practice. Errors are human; accidents are human-caused; licensing does nothing to mitigate these very real aspects of being human. If we fail to educate ourselves to recognize such fundamental faults, how can we expect to continue advancing complex sciences and technologies? Ultimately, the system must rationalize or it must fail. I prefer moving forward to failing. - Steve Osborne

Steven Osborne
Luling LA

21.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-16-2017 09:50
I waited 20 years after school before sitting for the FE and PE exam.  Luckily I have exercised engineering basics a lot in work, so kept a lot fresh.  I did home study to get ready, and it was an excellent refresher, and good way to prepare for the exams with daily reading and practice tests.  Pass rate for Chem E's is high compared to other disciplines, and that should be encouraging if you are thinking about sitting for the test.

I haven't stamped things often, but having the PE adds credibility.  Especially if someone is in a consulting role.  Here too States require the PE to do "engineering" in the state.  It is a good practice, that should be enforced more strongly in my opinion.  That enforcement, and proper application of the PE as oversight would discourage the practice of sending key engineering work out to other countries just because it is cheap.  Even though not necessarily always quality work.

In this day and age, requirements of engineering, and safe designs, are often not well understand by upper management.  We have a lot of managers these days, that do not have a technical background or good technical understanding.  I have even been taught in management classes before that "engineers aren't good managers".  (I disagree with this teaching.)  So companies are often run by accountants and lawyers.  This could be dangerous, without enforcement like OSHA requirements and PE oversight driving good engineering practices.

It is a worthwhile goal.  And can be key to maintaining quality work in development of engineering projects.

22.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-09-2017 20:22
When I worked for an EPC company, I held licenses in 4 states where we did business, and the company paid my annual dues, which added up to about $1,000/yr.  Subsequently I went to work for a software company, where it was of no value to my employer, but I kept them alive for 11 years.  Then, when the software company closed down and I found myself unemployed, I stopped paying the dues to conserve cash, but fund it impossible to reactivate later without taking the exams all over again.  As my next employer was an operating company, they did not need or value a PE license either.

The bottom line?  A PE license is only of value when you have to get construction permits from the government.

Jimmy Kumana
Kumana & Associates
Missouri City TX

23.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-05-2017 18:31
First off a bit of advise.  Regardless of your current attitude towards getting your PE, Take the FE before you leave college.  If you have recently left college, take it ASAP.  If you look at the FE prep book and its all greek then you have a lot of studying ahead of you.

I am eternally grateful for my professors who pushed our class to take this exam.  At the time I really did not know what a PE was or meant.  It did not occur to me or even enter my universe to get a PE until I was 15 years out college and I was working for an engineering firm.  They wanted all their engineers to get credentialed for multiple reasons.  My peers who got a PE but had to pass the FE first all told me they thought the FE was harder for them than the PE exam.  All disciplines take the same FE.  As a graduate of any engineering curriculum your will have been exposed to enough areas to pass.  But many of the areas may not be anything you kept over the years.

For example, many if not all Chem Es took statics.  Statics is in the PE.  Easier to tackle if your statics course is recent.  Much harder if it is a distant memory.  For the Civil who could do statics standing on his head would probably think the same about the chemistry portion of the exam.

Why a PE?  I can think of two major reasons why.

1.  Your job or the the job you want requires you to do engineering the legal sense and that engineering design requires a PE to stamp it certifying it meets code.   For Chem E who drift towards the mechanical side, that might be vessel design, relief valve sizing and the like.  For those who drift towards the control side and engage in control cabinet design will require a PE Stamp.

As I said, I worked for a engineering house and I saw all kinds of things get stamps that had nothing to with code, but just that a PE reviewed it.  They required P&IDs to be stamped and I still do not know what that exactly means in a legal sense.

As a corollary, reports get stamped and this leads to expert witness.  As a PE you can qualify as an Expert Witness and testify in court as such.  This is a small subset of PEs.

Personally I have had my PE for nearly 20 years and I have not stamped anything design.  I do control work mostly and P{LC code does not get stamped.  I have worked on a number of P&IDs but have stamped one.  But I have worked with engineers who stamp things on regular basis.

2.  PE means status.  It brings with it a certain amount of respect to new situations.  Just because you have a PE does not make one a good engineer or genius.  If infers an presumption that you have attained a certain level of competence.  Once engaged, your actions will speak much louder that the certification.   Its like a PHD.   The certification helps you get in the door.

I am self employed.  I do not do engineering work in the legal sense but some firms would not hire me without it.  If I had to use an example in the none engineering world it would be an MBA.  Its easier for my clients to sell me to their clients and charge more for me if I have a PE than if I did not.

Also there are ethical and legal obligations that go with a PE.  They are by and large not onerous in most situations.  The professional liability costs for those who do legal engineering is something that is just a part of doing business.

I recommend pursuing a PE for all those who stay in the technical arena.   Not having it closes off career options.  If yo are not sure, at least get your FE out of the way to avoid much more pain down the road.

William Wagoner PE
Wagoner Consulting
Chesterfield VA

24.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-06-2017 11:20
Hopefully my perspective will add some interesting color: I am a ChE 7 years out of college, and after all these years of working in Oil and Gas (in  role nowhere related to ChE) I've decided I want to make a career switch. Sadly I did not have the foresight to take the FE when I graduated, so here I am studying with a huge yellow study guide.

Here are my reasonings for pursuing the FE/PE:
1. It is a good opportunity to get reacquainted with some of the technical topics that were placed on the furthest, dustiest shelves of my mind; while it's not a full ChE degree again, I am comforted by revisiting some of these topics before engaging employers
2. It is a good reminder of what my favorite topics are/were, and might provide some guidance on what parts of the ChE technical scope I want to pursue in employment
3. It shows commitment to my career change
4. If/When I pass, it will be a nice way to distinguish myself with recognized technical credentials
5. I can feel proud about achieving it so many years after college

Here are some hesitations I have:
1. Not many ChEs that I know have PEs - and many of those that do don't use it for "signing" power. This doesn't diminish the power of a PE, but to me that means it's not being used to it's fullest
2. As many of you have mentioned (and as I've heard from others), there are legal and moral complications that may arise with a PE - we must be willing to uphold the ethical code at all costs, even if that means parting ways with an unethical employer and saying no to a request
3. I worry that having a PE will deter some employers, as they might view it as a 'higher qualification' that requires them to pay me more for a job that doesn't need the "signing" power

I am still pursuing the FE in conjunction with my career transition, and depending on in what career I land it could always be placed on a back shelf (again). But at least for now, I think the possible value is worth the effort.

With regards to it being computerized, since that is the form in which I will take the FE, it seems that everything is going this way and we might just need to be prepared for it. I cannot say I have a preference, as there are pros and cons to both forms; but my current study fashion includes me searching topics in the online PDF and still writing out all of my work with good old fashioned pen and paper.

Thanks to everyone else for sharing!

Christina Schappacher
Westminster CO

25.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-08-2017 18:52
I want to add a few more reasons why ChEs should consider becoming PE. With multiple changes in employment and career paths, which is very common these days, a PE license is certainly helpful. Especially, if someone intends to seek a career path in environmental engineering or science, it is essential. All the design drawings and specifications for air, water and hazardous waste remediation, and the related permit applications need to be signed and stamped by a PE. It is also a must whenever a legal issue on some technical matter needs to be settled. Having a PE license in the early stage of a career is certainly helpful as it keeps the door open to such career opportunities.

When I took EIT and PE exams in early 80's there was no concept of digital test. We had to use calculators and pen and paper to work on the problems, and the examiners had the opportunity to review the work done to solve a given problem. I am not qualified to comment on digital exam but have my personal reservations about it.

Somnath Basu
Vice President Global Process Engineering
Headworks International
Houston TX

26.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-09-2017 09:49
I would like to add some comments and perspectives on the pros and cons of PE Licensure.  Regardless of whether you plan on going for the license, as others have said, take the EIT before you get too far out of school.  Once you leave it will be that much more difficult to find the time or motivation to actually study and sit the exam.  I took it while in grad school, shortly after my BS degree (1982).

I then worked in Industrial R&D for a number of years and finally decided to go for the license in 2004.  My decision to get the license was motivated by the realization that my company was planning to JV with a company in China and eventually send all of their manufacturing to Asia, then close the plant where I was working.  The main lesson is that you can never tell what or where your career will take you.

Understand that by getting a license, you are opening yourself up to enhanced scrutiny by the Engineering Boards of each state you are licensed in.  While this may not sound so bad, be aware that each state has their own requirements for continuing education and usually that is on you as a personal expense; your company may not value the license or want to cover the cost of the license and training.  Remember that AIChE does give you up to 6 free credits (to be used for webinars - you actually have to prove you did them) with your membership, most states require 12 credits per year CE.

Also, holding a license opens you up to State Licensing board disciplinary action.  While this most likely is not an issue for the vast majority of engineers, one slip not having to do anything with engineering can put you license at risk.  For example, in New York, if you get convicted of a crime, such as DUI, you may be subject to professional discipline in addition to any criminal penalties.

However, the license does give you a level of instant credibility.  For example, even if you never sign or stamp a document, you are recognized as an expert in legal proceedings as an Expert Witness, as long as you have experience in what you are testifying to.  In job interviews with EPC companies, you are more respected.  Sometimes, the license makes up for the lack of a PM Certification.  In short, it is handy to have.

But is it a "must have"?  It is an individual choice and should be considered.

Dr. Keith Dackson , P.E.
East Aurora NY

27.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-09-2017 10:12

This is my personal opinion.
When I finished my M. Eng. in Chem. Engg. at Stevens Tech., I was tempted to take PE exam to see if this adds value to my professional career. I analyzed my career goals and tried to match with the tools that I needed. I wanted to go to the Technical mgmt. in large corporation after having experience in Process Engineering. This directed me towards MBA. When I worked for Exxon,  my boss ( who was head of Chemical Engineering dept. at MIT before taking job at Exxon, advised me that the most critical part to be successful is to apply three chemical Engineering principles, continuity equation, mass balance and energy balance plant process and optimize the process. 

To day, I am glad that after 30+ patents in improvements in plant Process Engineering, having high level technical management exposure and training engineers in top 100 corporations, I think I have achieved my goals. Thus having PE depends on your goals.    

Sudhir Brahmbhatt Ph.D. MBA; President- Technology Services Inc.

Sudhirkumar Brahmbhatt PhD, MBA
Glencoe MO

28.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-10-2017 13:35
The reasons to obtain your license is that you are required to have it for the work you are performing, or the prestige associated with being licensed.  The FE and PE exams, at least when I took them, were basically textbook type exams (not what you learned in industry, as I was always told the PE would be), and the longer you wait to take them, the more you are going to have to back and relearn the material to pass the exam.  So your future needs should also be considered.

I took the FE exam during my senior year.  I had every intention of taking it, as I had a lot of friends in other disciplines, and was quite aware of the licensing requirements.  As it happened, starting with my semester, taking the exam was a requirement for graduating.  I was fortunate, since I did no preparation (other assembling all my books, as at that time you could take in any bound book), I managed to pass the exam.  In case you are wondering, I was not a top notch student.  I see no reason not to take the FE exam as soon as allowable.

It was 7 years before I had the 4 years experience under other PE's, but since I was working for an engineering design/consulting firm, I knew it was to my advantage to be licensed, regardless of whether I was actually stamping drawings.  As it happens, very little that chemical engineers do get stamped because they are primarily looking to stamp construction drawings, and items that need to be issued for building permits.  In the 21 years I have only stamped a couple items.  In the last year, I left the engineering design/consulting business and started working for a small manufacturing operation.  Even though I am not licensed in the state in which I work, I am still considered a PE, and there is a certain amount of respect when a consultant and/or vendor sees the PE on my business card.

The only reasons I can think of not to get licensed are the hassle of applying and taking the exam, the application and renewal fees, and the continuation requirements.

Arnold Harness PE
Chemical Engineer
High Plains Bioenergy
Overland Park KS

29.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-10-2017 18:46
Hello everyone,

I am a recently-defended Ph.D. chemical engineer and am interested in pursuing P.E. licensure. This thread has been enormously helpful in solidifying that interest, so thank you to everyone who has contributed their advice and opinions!

One question that I have been unable to answer myself: does my 4.5 years of doctoral study in the field count as "progressive engineering experience" in the eyes of P.E. licensing boards? Not that it may matter, but I did "real" chemE research (heterogeneous catalyst design for industrial chemical manufacturing). Just wondering when the "clock" starts for my experience in the eyes of the licensing boards.

Thank you!

Nick Thornburg

Nicholas E. Thornburg, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Researcher
National Bioenergy Center
National Renewable Energy Laboratory

30.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-11-2017 08:00
In Kentucky, one year of experience is awarded for a M.S. or Ph.D.  I suspect it varies by state, so check the regulations in the state where you want to be licensed for their experience requirements.  Usually the state licensing board will link to their state's regulations on their website.

Michael E. Williams, Ph.D., P.E.
Project Scientist/Engineer (PGS)
Richmond, Ky

31.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-11-2017 11:31
Hi Nick! Congratulations on the PhD!

As to your question about whether your 4.5 years of doctoral study counts as progressive engineering experience, the answer is: "it depends". It depends on the state or states you will seek to be licensed in. Instead of having to research each state's laws independently, the National Society of Professional Engineers released, on May 3, 2017, a publication titled Education and Experience Requirements for Engineers. This publication provides a summary of the education and experience requirements, by state. The report is available for free to NSPE members here and for a very small fee to non-members (there's both a PDF version of the entire report or you can filter the list by state). Additional licensure-related state summary publications created by NSPE are available here.

Many states (I haven't read through them all, so I don't want to say "all") allow you to count several years toward your progressive engineering experience requirement.

Good luck!

Kodi Verhalen PE, Esq, F.NSPE


32.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-12-2017 13:29
     Typically a PhD reduces the experience requirement from four years to two years, but that might not apply to all states.  Be reminded that the license only allows you to do things for which you are qualified and there is an implied assumption of experience in the area for which the license is used.
     Neil Yeoman, PE, FAIChE

Neil Yeoman, PE, FAIChE
Merrick NY

33.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-15-2017 14:24
As a PE who worked in a traditional industry, oil refining, my opinion about why so few chemical engineers pursue their PE is that it is due to a very human emotion, fear.  Chem. Engineers are used to being the smartest person in the room but they also aren't immune to impostor syndrome or fear of failure.  Because you have to obtain references from PE's familiar with your work there is no way you can take the test in an anonymous manner.  People whose opinion matters will know you tried and if you fail they will know that as well.  Engineers are a conservative bunch where the rewards for risk taking often don't equal the severe consequences of failure.  A 1% increase in reactor efficiency doesn't balance out having 1% of your reactor designs explode. I think most Chem E's just balance the perceived disgrace of failing with the very slight impact of success and rationally conclude it isn't a good risk to take.  In my case my job has always immersed me in the fundamental calculations of the profession on a daily basis so failure was extremely unlikely but most jobs are more narrowly focused and do not cover everything the test will. Sure I'm glad I have the credentials but I also know chemical engineers that have failed the PE exam multiple times and I'm guessing they regret ever having taken it the first time.    A a Chemical Engineer almost everyone already assumes you are a near genius so there isn't that much to gain with a PE unless work requires it.  But as a Chemical Engineer who has failed at passing the PE exam you can do harm to your reputation.  

Steven Cousins
El Dorado AR

34.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 05-16-2017 13:33

Hasn't thought much about that aspect, Steve C.....being on the Ch.E. PE Exam Committee I know that the tests are very fair and not intended to be tricky. Although my career was mostly in management I was surprised when I joined the committee to see how much came back to me with just a little effort and a decent understanding of the fundamentals. Really I think that if you just take the exam somewhat seriously and do a moderate amount of work that you are very likely to pass. Of course, I would not recommend that anyone take the PE Exam if they are not willing to do a little extra work.

35.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 06-26-2017 09:43
Lessons Learned about PE Licensure

1.  Don't let it lapse.  Even regaining a full license from "retired" status can be very time consuming.
2.  Use your AIChE membership for free PDH credits.  Much of AIChE Academy's content is available with credits that come with your annual subscription.  Use them to view webinars or content bundles and print PDH certificates to fulfill your Continuous Education requirements.
3.  Do you teach, or present at seminars?  That may also qualify as PDH.
4.  Be aware that some states require a separate Certificate of Authorization to actually use your PE license in that state.  That Certificate can belong to your employer in that state, or if self-employed, you'll need one.

Recommendation:  Do get your PE license, the earlier the better.

That said, I can't say for sure that it opened any doors for me.  I'm in the camp of never having had to use my stamp, employed by manufacturing companies until very recently.  I'm curious how other ChE's have used theirs.  I had imagined it would apply where public safety is concerned, such as an NTSB investigation.

The PE does show that you make the time and effort to engage in professional education, regardless of its relevancy to your work.  I'm proud that the state I keep my original license, West Virginia, was one of the first to require continuing education.  I can apply volunteer teaching hours at a local University to that end.

Finally, when I opted for retirement status at one point when I could not meet the CE requirements, I later found the reinstatement process to be quite burdensome for others as well as myself.  I had to find other PE's familiar with my work to write letters of recommendations, and there aren't many ChE PE's that I worked with.

So, just like the letters B.S., M.S., PhD, the letters P.E. are an indication of commitment, if not competency.

Gary Sawyer, P.E.
Process Evaluations LLC
Media, PA

36.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 06-27-2017 09:08
Who uses their stamp?  I don't use mine.  I mostly do control/automation work, start up processes and consult on process design.  I have worked in and with the E&C business for nearly 30 years and I have know Chemical Engineers that did use their stamp regularly.  These engineers drifted towards the ME side and were involved with safety relief valves and coding vessels.   The only time I have used mine is when I wright an official report.

Electrical and structural engineers use their stamp frequently because their designs have to meet codes.  Process design generally does not have code requirements, although specific components will and does not matter if end user did the design or not (at least int he jurisdictions I am familiar with).

I have also seen E&C companies stamp every drawing including P&IDs that go out the door.  I have never gotten a good explanation what a PE stamp on a P&ID meant beyond that at least one PE looked at it.  There is lots of cross discipline stuff on a P&ID and the person stamping it does not necessarily understand in depth all aspects.  What is the legal significance of a stamped P&ID?  Does it mean anything beyond "Issued For Construction"?  In my experience its about 50/50 EE to ME stamping the P&IDs, when I know the person doing the stamping.  They ahve also generally been a department manager.  If any one knows more about this than I do, please share.

William Wagoner PE
Wagoner Consulting
Chesterfield VA

37.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 06-02-2017 10:07
Actually, there is no good reason for a Chemical Engineer to become a PE other than if it makes you feel good about yourself or you want to add a couple of letters behind your name.

I was a PE for a very long time. I got mine because I started out working at an E&C and it seemed like a good idea. I stopped being one because I firmly believe that the Continuing Education requirements are a complete scam. There are no standards. I still get flyers in the mail for a CE boot camp where you go for a weekend and you are awarded enough PDHs to fulfill the requirements. Really? How much are you going to learn or retain from two days of courses? Then try to find enough new courses in Chemical Engineering over your career. You find out that you'll have to take the same courses over and over. I have discovered that many times I knew more about the subject than the instructor. The purpose of the courses is to provide revenue for outfits like AICHE and NSPE. Nothing more.

If you work for a company, you don't have to have a PE to practice. If you consult for a company, you don't need one either. I have never had to sign or seal a document with my license. I have never met a Chemical Engineer with a PE that had to sign or seal a document. That comes up more in other disciplines such as Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical.

Then there is the problem of practicing in states where you don't have a PE. By the law you have to have a PE in a state where you are doing engineering work. I don't know of a ChE PE who abides by this requirement. It's not practical. I worked in the central engineering department of an oil company. All we did was process design work and few of the ChE's had PE's. I worked for one of the large ChE software companies that provided simulation software to all the major energy and chemical companies and I was the only ChE with a PE.

I have no problem if someone wants to become a PE, but don't do it under the delusion it is a career enhancer or it is necessary. Neither are true.

John Braccili
Wallingford, PA

38.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 06-02-2017 13:05
Interesting. I've stamped a number of documents where a stamp was required by the state or other regulator. From my experience, clients prefer hiring people with PEs. While working at parsons it became abundantly clear I needed a license to keep doing the work I was doing. I found myself setting up the project, doing the design and hard work and then handing the project off to an inexperienced civil engineer who had a PE. She got to do the fun work and finish off the project. It was just a matter of time before she could completely replace me - and then I'd be let go like so many others. I pursued my PE after 18 years of practice. It was tough, but I stayed employed and had a chance to do some contract work and consulting work on my own. I wish I had been encouraged to get my PE license earlier in my career. Looking back, it would have opened more doors and I would not have had to go through the grind of relearning elements of engineering that I did not use regularly.

Diane Spencer PE
Safety Analyst
Lawrence Livermore Natl Lab

39.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 06-05-2017 06:16
I agree with controversial discussions above. However, there must be a foundation to start with anything from techniques to ethics. The tangible ROI on PE may have not been rewarding just like many MBA titles in the market.

The PE still has to go through an evolution and may be a revolution to build towards a high class standardisation platform. Many argue that it is not there yet, it is absolutely true but is there any other  alternatives to building ethics and techniques in our industries.

In my 30 years career lifetime I have witnesses many large deviations from best practices in techniques and ethics. The people involved are mostly not registered with any institutes. They have skipped it altogether for better for their own careers and worst to anyone else.

They have a show, showroom, and clients liking the shows but the shows are not anything close in compliance to best practices.

Sometimes I call them small profitable empire and sometime corruption circus or corrupt circuit.

I always thought this would never stop in my career lifetime in our industry.

PE may give it a chance to fix the problem from foundation.

Farshad Salimi, PhD Mgmt, MSc ChemEng, MA Finance, CEng, PMP
Functional Process/ Project Manager

40.  RE: Why Should Chemical Engineers (in particular) take the PE Exam?

Posted 06-05-2017 08:38
I remember that day in 1983 when I was putting together my "package" to apply for a seat to take the P.E. Exam in Massachusetts in Fire Protection Engineering.  The exam in Fire Protection Engineering was being offered in Massachusetts for the first time in the spring of 1984.

There on the coffee break table from left to right was a copy of my sheepskin, the application, examples of my work, not to exceed a pound, and my personal check for the application fee - $40.

My manager, who had encouraged me to get my P.E. (I took the EIT exam in 1977), strolled by, with his daily unlit cigar in his mouth, stopped to look at the array and put his finger on the $40 check.  "There's the most important piece of paper, right there", he said with a chuckle.

I passed the test, and my stamp says "Fire Protection" on it, by mandate of the State P.E. Board.

If you take the exam in Chemical Engineering, does your stamp have to say "Chemical" on it?

There are no Continuing Education requirements in Massachusetts to maintain your P.E., just a check for $150 every two years.

Life is good.

John Sharland PE,FSFPE
Bridgewater MA