March 21, 2008

Martha Were ’09 Explores Chemical Engineering in the Pharmaceutical Industry

She served an externship with Richard Osifchin ’86, director of global pharmaceutical commercialization at Merck

During the interim session, chemical engineering major Martha Were ’09 (Kampala, Uganda) spent three days with Richard Osifchin ’86, director of global pharmaceutical commercialization at Merck, as a part of the program offered by Career Services. The following is a first-hand account of Were’s experiences with the externship.

  • Richard Osifchin ’86 Shares His Experience with Martha Were ’09
  • Richard Osifchin ’86 Impacts Healthcare Issues

During interim, I participated in a three-day externship at Merck Research Laboratories and Global Pharmaceutical Commercialization facilities at the Merck site in Rahway, N.J. My externship was an enriching experience that surpassed my expectations. It provided me with the opportunity to shadow six chemical engineers in addition to my externship host, Dr. Richard Osifchin, Lafayette Class of 1986.

When I initially contacted Dr. Osifchin, he asked me what my expectations for the externship were. My response was broad: “to observe how chemical engineers contributed to the pharmaceutical industry.” A week before my externship, I received my schedule. I was going to spend each day at Merck shadowing two different chemical engineers. I would also have the opportunity to attend some of the staff meetings.

During the three days at Merck, I observed and learned how chemical engineers are involved in both the early and late stages of drug synthesis. Chemical engineers are responsible for large scale separation of organic and natural samples, configuration of drug crystalline structure, equipment development and maintenance, and pilot runs to determine cost effective mass production of drugs. The synthesis of each drug is unique and involves constantly coming up with new approaches to this process. I was delighted to find that working in the R&D sector of the pharmaceutical industry entails a dynamic work environment.

While I shadowed the different chemical engineers, I had the opportunity to ask them about how they made their career decisions. I got answers from many perspectives because of the diversity of the group of engineers I shadowed. This included both old and new employees, undergraduate- and Ph.D.-holders. They shared what they did before coming to Merck and why they were enthusiastic about their career decisions. They also gave advice on how I could best prepare for a career in the pharmaceutical industry. I have found and will continue to find their advice invaluable as I make my career decisions.

I am glad that I took advantage of the externship program provided by Lafayette Career Services. I am also grateful to the Alumni Association which provided monetary assistance to cover lodging and transportation costs. Above all, I appreciate the hospitality of Dr. Osifchin and his colleagues. I could not have hoped for a better externship experience.

  • Chemical Engineering
  • Internships/Externships
  • Career Services

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