Back in school when I was in the weeds of topics such as process design, kinetics or mass transfer, I'd imagine myself in a chemical plant someday designing huge equipment, wearing a hardhat and addressing day-to-day emergencies. When I started my first job out of school and my boss told me that I'd be a project manager leading a software development project for petroleum engineers and geologists, I thought, "Excuse me? Where are my chemicals?! Does this guy know that I can hardly turn my computer on?" I definitely had some growing pains and learned some lessons that I believe could be useful for others who find themselves in a similar position.
Keep Your Cool
If you're ever given a role that you don't believe fits your background, my first advice is: do NOT freak out. Sit back, breathe, and think about why you were placed in that position. Perhaps a wide gap exists in your company where you'd be able to provide more value to the business than you would have in your previously assumed job function. In today's economy where jobs can be scarce, you may potentially have to compromise your interests and accept the opportunities that are available. As far as job security, it's much easier to sleep at night when you know you are serving a role that brings value to your company.
Broaden Your Boundaries
Take this opportunity to push your boundaries. I hear all of the time that what you learn in school is miniscule compared to what you will learn on the job. By assuming a role outside of your comfort zone, you enable yourself to continuously expand on your knowledge and add more skills to your tool belt. Within just two short years in my project management role, I obtained various proficiencies such as programming and data management, project management, facilitation, presentation skills, and the list goes on. These skills, which I now value, may not have been so easily obtained in a role I was familiar with such as process engineering.
Look Beyond Chemical Engineering
Next I'd like to ask, who said you had to be a chemical engineer? Likely, you chose that major when you were only 18 years old. At that age, I had trouble deciding what shoes to wear much less a 40-50 year career. If you're anything like me, after taking a few classes and realizing how tough it was, your addiction to challenge and love of chemistry/math/physics etc. kicked in and convinced you to stick with it. While traditional chemical engineering is a wonderful career path which I may try to pursue someday, try your best to keep an open mind and be willing to branch off if the opportunity arises. Nothing says that you would not be able to return to a more traditional role later in your career if you so decide.
Consider Your Network
Also, consider this a chance to expand your network. For instance, I now have relationships with many of my colleagues within our IT department that I likely would not have built if I had been placed in a typical engineering job. I plan on keeping these relationships for the duration of my career. And who knows how we'll be able to help each other out someday, whether it's teaming up to solve a complex problem for the company, or suggesting one another for a new job.
In closing, if you're ever given the opportunity to take a job outside of what you pictured yourself doing, before making any decisions, consider the positives that may come out of it. You never know what kind of doors may have just opened for you until you walk through them.