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Chemical Engineering Overview - PowerPoint - Podcast

Raquel Widrig

Associate Engineer
San Francisco, CA


B.S. - Biochemistry and Microbiology, University of Colorado, Boulder
M.S. - Chemical Engineering, Texas A&M
Associate Engineer 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."

Widrig: My name is Raquel Widrig. I'm an engineer at Genentech in manufacturing sciences.

Q: What do you do with Genentech?
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 chemical engineering?
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 engineers?
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 now.

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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