San Francisco, CA
Biochemistry and Microbiology, University of Colorado, Boulder
M.S. - Chemical
Engineering, Texas A&M
in Manufacturing Sciences
"I think it's
important to understand concepts, to understand mathematics.
Chemical engineering is more of a way of thinking rather than
what you learn."
My name is Raquel Widrig. I'm an engineer at Genentech in manufacturing
Q: What do you do with
My department is the technical
support group for the manufacturing facility. I do process development and
cell culture processes that we use to make pharmaceuticals. We have two
main cell culture-derived drugs. One is used as a treatment for heart
attacks, the other is used for cystic fibrosis patients.
Q: What do you like about
this type of work?
The charter of Genentech is to
provide pharmaceuticals for large unmet medical needs. I'm happy to be
part of that because I'm actually on the process development end of
developing the drug. So I have a real impact on making the drugs so that
we can sell them to people who need them.
Q: How are chemical
engineers involved in process engineering at Genentech?
There are a number of people
who do the kind of process development that I do from an engineering
perspective. I see chemical engineers as the bridge between basic science
and a manufacturing process. We're kind of the money makers for the
company. We take an idea and make it a reality.
Q: How did you end up
working in the pharmaceutical industry?
This is always where I wanted to be. I took an indirect path to get here.
I started out as a biology/biochemistry major and got an undergraduate
degree. I then decided that I wanted to change my major to chemical
engineering. So I went to graduate school and got a master's in chemical
engineering to complement the biology and biochemistry degrees because I
really wanted to be in the biotech industry. I felt that was interesting
and where I could make an impact. So chemical engineering really helped
complement my undergraduate degrees.
Q: Do you see some
benefits to getting a master's as opposed to just getting a bachelor's in
I think changing my major was
more important than the fact that it was a master's. I think that I could
have been just as successful with a bachelor's in chemical engineering. It
was more the combination of my background that really positioned me for a
career at Genentech.
Q: How did you get your
first job and what kind of tools did you use to get it?
My first job actually was for
a company in Wyoming. I went through the campus recruiting office at Texas
A&M and did several campus interviews. Unfortunately, being in Texas, the
people that interview on campus are mostly looking for petroleum-related
chemical engineers. I knew that's not what I wanted to be, so I took a
position as an environmental engineer for this company in Wyoming. I
wanted to be in biotech but, unfortunately, there's not a lot of biotech
in Texas. So I wanted to get my feet on the ground before I really started
pursuing what I wanted to do.
Q: You mentioned you were
an environmental engineer? What do chemical engineers do as environmental
What I did was more maintaining the environmental area around the plant,
the facility where I was. Environmental engineers, I think, tend to focus
more. It's more of a civil engineering type of job. The environmental
engineers that I worked with who were not also chemical engineers had a
different point of view, more from a `how do we construct something that
isn't going to impact the environment,' where chemical engineers kind of
figure out what's impacting the environment and what you can do about it.
Q: What courses did you
find most helpful in meeting the needs of your job?
A lot of the mathematics
courses were very helpful. That's mostly what I use here and in my
previous job as an environmental engineer. Lab courses and chemical
engineering were helpful-unit operations-type classes. Fluid Dynamics is
the heaviest chemical engineering influence I have in my position right
Q: Are there any courses
that you wish you had taken?
For my master's, I did what
they called the retread program because I wasn't a chemical engineer as an
undergraduate. I took a year's worth of undergraduate chemical engineering
courses, then took another two-and-a-half years' worth of graduate level
chemical engineering courses. Which meant that my undergraduate chemical
engineering education was rushed. So I wish that I had spent more time on
the undergraduate courses and taken more lab classes in the undergraduate
portion of my career.
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