Where My Chemical Engineering Degree Has Taken My Career

Katie Gardner studying in the ERC

Hello, my name is Katie Gardner and I am a Clarkson alumnae, having earned my bachelor of science degree in Chemical Engineering in 2006. Since then, I have taken my career in many different directions and had a multitude of opportunities that have broadened my horizons and allowed me to strive every day to learn and grow in my career. If you’re considering a future career in chemical engineering, I hope this post is helpful to you!

Currently, I am a Licensed Professional Engineer working for a consulting company doing design work in the semiconductor, pharmaceutical, and specialty chemicals industries. Along the way, I have had a wide variety of jobs from manufacturing semiconductor chips in a cleanroom to process improvement as well as global energy improvement engineering role in the specialty chemicals sector. 

How I Got My First Engineering Job after College

My senior year at Clarkson I attended the Career Fair and handed out a bunch of resumes! I walked around and spoke to a ton of companies at the fair and from those interactions, I got my first job. 

Katie on the top of the Eiffel Tower, Paris cityscapes can be seen in the background
Eiffel Tower on a Work Trip to a Plant in France

I had previously gone to the Career Center, which was amazing. The professional staff helped me with writing my first resume, and I was also able to schedule practice interviews with them to help me with the interview process after the Career Fair.

Not only did I find that the companies at the Career Fair were excited to talk to me and seriously interested in what I had on my resume, but they were looking to find their next teammates, and many of them were Clarkson alumni. This is something that I am so thankful for because it will always be a little stressful to look for a job but to be able to do so at the Clarkson Career Fair my senior year was such a valuable and welcoming experience.

My first job right after college was as a Reactive Ion Etch Engineer at IBM. While I felt that my position was wholly unrelated to the chemical engineering curriculum that I was taught at Clarkson, my time at Clarkson had taught me the necessary critical thinking skills that I needed to be successful. And for that I was grateful! 

Graduate Studies

After a few years in the workforce, I decided to go back to school. I enrolled in a program with Columbia University for my master’s degree. I am now in the process of earning my Ph.D. from Clarkson University in the Environmental Science and Engineering program. Having a fundamental foundation from my Clarkson undergraduate Chemical engineering studies has been super helpful in earning my advanced degrees. 

I always tell people this one story about how my undergraduate studies at Clarkson really prepared me for my master’s degree at Columbia extremely well. In my last semester at Clarkson as an undergrad, I took a class about transport phenomena. In one of my first semesters at Columbia University, I took a graduate-level class about transport phenomena. The first couple of weeks I’m like, “Ok, just starting off with a quick review, got it!” But by the end of the semester, I was like, “Huh? We covered less material and this was in less depth than my undergraduate class at Clarkson!” Since I have changed up my focus a little for my Ph.D., it has been a little more challenging. Or one could suggest that a Clarkson education is just designed to be a little more challenging! Either way, coming back to Clarkson for my Ph.D. was a great choice.

Enjoying Engineering as a Career

I have always loved every one of my jobs, as opposite as they were – from working in manufacturing engineering in the semiconductor industry and process improvement engineering in the specialty chemicals industry, to energy engineering in the specialty chemicals industry and design engineering in pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, and chemicals. I have always found the work I am doing to be challenging and interesting, and almost every day has been fun! 

Katie at a construction site
Just hanging around a plant

Every day I learn something new. It has been hard at times but I am very happy I chose this career. I love problem-solving and I get to do that every day. I love that I am challenged in what I do every day and if you love being challenged and continuously learning I would suggest a career in chemical engineering.

When I am asked if my undergraduate education is still relevant to what I do day to day my answer now is yes! During my first eight years in semiconductor manufacturing I would have said NO, but as a design engineer, the answer is yes! In my current role, I use the chemical engineering principles that I was taught in the classrooms of CAMP daily and combine these with the real-world experience that I have acquired throughout my career so far. 


I would say the best advice to anyone who is looking at or in the chemical engineering program is to know that your career can be anything you want it to be. Chemical engineers are needed in all sectors of the economy in all sorts of roles. I have used many of the principles and key learnings from a number of my classes even now in my current role, especially the courses that compose the basics of chemical engineering: Thermodynamics, Mass Transfer, Energy Transfer, Kinetics, and Fluid Mechanics. I still use these concepts and lessons every day. You will need them and you will one day appreciate them!

What being a member of the Clarkson University community means.

My time as a Clarkson undergraduate student was very special to me. Now as an alumna and back at Clarkson University for my Ph.D., I feel even more connected to the current generation of Clarkson students. 

Clarkson was the solid base that I build my career on. It gave me the skills and knowledge that I needed to have a successful career and be competent and proud of my work in the fields of engineering. Outside of engineering, very few people have heard of Clarkson. But within the engineering world, Clarkson is known as a college that produces quality engineers.

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