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Student Q&A

Janine Sangstack and Tyler HouckThe Cal Poly CAB has been given the chance to select students to obtain paid internships at Genentech. Dr. Chuck Huston, one of our Advisory Council members, has committed assigned space for Cal Poly students. The internships take place at the Genentech facility in Vacaville, Calif. 

Below is an interview with students Janine Sengstack and Tyler Houck. The two were awarded the internships last summer. 

For more information please contact Dr. Jimenez-Flores (

Janine Sengstack

What did you do there?

My partner and I designed experiment protocols, executed data collection, created and presented posters of our research, and wrote reports on the findings. We studied the efficacy of several disinfectants on human skin microflora, the effects of anaerobic and aerobic environmental conditions on growth of different microorganisms, and technicians’ ability to identify bacterial contaminations.

A typical workday included: planning our experiments, working in the lab for several hours, attending team meetings and events for interns like guest speakers from upper management, analyzing data, and writing reports. In my limited free time, I would research the molecular mechanisms behind Genentech’s medicine and learn more about what causes the diseases in the first place. I was never bored; there was always something fascinating to learn.

What was the work environment like? Was it ever intimidating?

I felt incredibly welcomed, like I was an important part of the Quality Control team and Genentech as a whole. I never felt intimidated or scared to ask someone a question, even if they were a high level supervisor. Every person I interacted with at Genentech was interested in my projects and enthusiastically wanted to help me.

One reason Genentech employees are happy and helpful is that all employees are working towards the same goal: doing now what patients need next. Everyone is an important player in making a difference in a patient’s life. Also, Genentech supports camaraderie and friendship amongst employees. Every Friday afternoon, all employees were encouraged to come to the cafeteria to socialize with their colleagues and people from other departments. Genentech even provided snacks and beer on tap. One time, I sat with my boss and the Vice President of the site and discussed both of their landscaping plans for the summer.  

What are some of the most important things you learned from the experience, professionally and personally?

I learned more about a wide breadth of topics than I ever have in my life. I learned not only to be an independent leader who was responsible for planning and executing multiple, several week long experiments, but also how to be an active member of a greater team. I learned how pharmaceuticals are developed and produced, how a successful business is run, how the business interacts with worldwide partners and how regulatory agencies like the FDA participate in the drug development process. During my internship, both the FDA and the Mexican health agency inspected the site. These were particularly intense and fascinating times because I could see what the agencies look for, how important careful traceability and documentation are, and how well Genentech executes its production and business practices.

Would you want to work for Genentech in the future?

Absolutely, in a heartbeat. I already applied for an internship there for next summer. Longer term, after I graduate Cal Poly, I will pursue my PhD in molecular biology/biochemistry. Then I’d like to work in the drug development and research sectors of Genentech or a similar biotechnology company.

I would like to thank Dr. Jimenez-Flores and Chuck Huston for this amazing experience. I am forever grateful for this fantastic internship. 

Tyler Houck

What did you do there?

I conducted three independent research projects as part of a quality control microbiology team with my intern partner, Janine, from Cal Poly. We worked at one of Genentech’s manufacturing sites in Vacaville, CA. The site has two cell culture manufacturing and purification plants, each fostering many hundreds of thousands of liters of cell culture at a time for the production of several immunotherapy pharmaceuticals. Quality control microbiology is a group within the larger quality department with one large goal: the drug substance that is shipped out the door is precisely what we say it is, free of contamination, 100 % of the time. It is easy to imagine the severity and risk of a microbial contamination in a 75 kiloliter bioreactor of warm, nutritious, cell culture producing a pharmaceutical for breast cancer patients all over the planet (even in the presence of an antibiotic). As an intern, I did a combination of lab work and desk work, attended lab meetings, training, intern poster sessions, and intern events with senior Genentech leadership. Genentech also very often put on impressive, company-sponsored events both on and off site. Janine and I worked a minimum of 40 hours a week on our three projects. The topics of our projects were the following: (1) microscopic visual examination of cell culture in relation to cell viability and microbial contamination, (2) disinfectant efficacy testing against human skin microbiota, and (3) the effects of aerobic and anaerobic environmental conditions on the recovery of strict and facultative aerobes, anaerobes, and microaerophiles. Projects were completed under good manufacturing processes (GMP) conditions, the most stringent form of documentation, testing, and manufacturing regulation -- nearly a ‘new language’ to learn in performing lab work. 

What was the work environment like? Was it ever intimidating?

The work environment at Genentech is (officially) summed up in two words: casual intensity. This is precisely what it felt like. I was consistently surrounded by motivated, focused, and intelligent team members and leaders. Even more noticeable though, was the genuine positivity of Genentech employees that resulted in an environment that I looked forward to everyday. Every single day. Coworkers’ willingness to help, even if it meant going out of their way, was overwhelming, and certainly facilitated my scientific growth. I never found the environment itself intimidating, but speaking to certain members of senior leadership was naturally a bit intimidating. 

What are some of the most important things you learned from the experience, professionally and personally?

The most valuable asset of the internship was the awareness gained from being in the presence of biotechnology and drug manufacturing. The processes of drug discovery, clinical trials, and manufacturing are incredibly tightly controlled and regulated, expensive, and long.
My boss and mentor speaks and writes in English (when I write ‘English,’ I mean English. Not the American form). I learned valuable vocabulary and standards for scientific writing in English, the international ‘scientific language.’ 
I learned that the career of extraordinary scientists and engineers is almost never defined by discovery or landmark accomplishments. Exceptional scientists do everyday, challenging science and decision making that often supports a larger process and involves teaching others.

Would you want to work for Genentech in the future?

I would absolutely work for Genentech in the future. I often tell people that if my development path does not take me back to Genentech in the future, I will be surprised if I ever work for a better company.

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