Rotational Programs for Chemical Engineers

I'd like to introduce you to rotational programs--and I promise this has nothing to do with torque! I was recently in your shoes as a ChE undergrad, and currently braving the adult world via air mattress. That leads me to my first topic in a series on rotational programs. 


Building experience, finding a path

I am all about professional development, including networking, interviewing, and r?sum? building, and rotational programs are a great--and accelerated--way to gain experience. They are designed to take a fresh BS/BE and taking him/her out of their comfort zone through a handful of 4 to 6 month rotations, providing a taste of how different business lines and strategies work. You learn way more than expected in 4 to 6 months (just look at any semester in fluid mechanics to justify me). Hopefully, in 1 to 3 years, you will have found a home business group that you believe will give you the most potential to grow and learn. Rotational programs work well for gaining insights into any industry because they offer a lot of exposure to many areas. You might jump from HSE to operations and then onto accounting. You could be working on refining, catalyst production, and then sulfur removal. You might also move anywhere from three floors in the same office to across the country for your next assignment - in some instances, even outside of the country. Rotational programs are, for most people, the last chance to keep your options open before industry tells you to choose a path and stick to it. Now, that is not to say later you cannot jump ship for another field, but the entry barrier is more difficult the further you advance in your career. In addition, you may want to progress up the ladder from engineering to management and onto becoming a business leader. Sometimes this requires leaving a company or even your line of work. At the same time, rotational programs can be useful in giving you an idea of what leadership roles you prefer - perhaps a technology leader, business development specialist, or a project manager. As such, your rotations in accounting, marketing, engineering, design, HR, project controls, etc. should help give you that sense of what path you wish to take in the next 5-10 years. Your path isn't set in stone, and you may decide after your first 6 months in marketing that you never want to be near PowerPoint again. If you have the option to do a rotational program, definitely take these pros and cons into consideration:


  • Several roles and positions to experience
  • Typically paid, and usually adjustments are made to account for cost of living in different cities when traveling
  • Not forced into a set industry/role
  • Most likely able to choose instead of being assigned a rotation
  • Potential travel/relocation experience
  • Network/meet a lot of people
  • Learn to work in different groups
  • Develop balanced r?sum? rapidly
  • Learn all corners of the company
  • You're a chemical engineer, so you're able to solve any problem


  • May be too far out of comfort zone/ bad fit for a rotation
  • Program does not place you in one of your preferred roles
  • Relocation can be difficult
  • Not getting along with new group/manager
  • Failed to meet your expectations
  • Sometimes sleeping on air mattresses while away from home!

Your end goal: find a good starting point, develop your intended direction, take aim, and SUCCEED!

More to come

I'll be returning in a few weeks with my next topic on my first rotation in design work! I'd love to hear more ideas and personal experiences with rotational programs. Please share your comments below! For more on rotations, see this excellent post by another ChEnected blogger.

What rotation questions and experiences do you have to share?