New Podcast Series '2400 Chew' Explores Career Stories from Muhlenberg Alumni

The bi-weekly podcast, which debuted this September, documents conversations with Muhlenberg alumni about their current work.

By: Tami Katzoff  Tuesday, September 17, 2019 09:20 AM

Episodes drop every other Tuesday at noon, and new and archived episodes are hosted on Podbean and can be found on iTunes. The next episode, available on September 24, will feature Lara Bushell '96, an episodic post-production producer at a facility called Point.360 in Burbank, California.

Read a selection of the debut episode with Matthew Bourbeau ’98, a principal scientist in the Discovery Chemistry group at the biotechnology company Amgen, and click the player below to listen to the full conversation.

Tami Katzoff:
From Muhlenberg College, this is 2400 Chew. I'm Tami Katzoff, associate director of career services at Muhlenberg College, and in each episode of this podcast, I talk to one Muhlenberg graduate about their current work and the industry in which that work is done. For this episode, I spoke with Matthew Bourbeau, class of 1998, who is a principal scientist in the Discovery Chemistry group at the biotechnology company Amgen.

I sat down with Bourbeau in the George Rathmann Research Labs at Amgen's campus in Thousand Oaks, California. And as I do with all of these interviews, I began the conversation by asking how and when he became interested in his occupation.

Matthew Bourbeau:
That's a good story. So I didn't start at Muhlenberg thinking I was going to be a principal scientist at Amgen. I started at Muhlenberg thinking I was going to be a doctor. You know, it's a common theme: Those of us that choose the path of organic and medical chemistry didn't necessarily plan on going there initially. It sort of found us. In my case, the start of finding it was in second-year organic chemistry. The teacher at the time, a professor, is regrettably deceased at this point. His name was Charles Russell. [He was] really an outstanding educator, certainly one of the best I've come across in my career, and I just kind of got hooked on organic chemistry. This is a class that most people dread. I enjoyed it….I decided that it might want to be something I looked into a little more closely because it was a subject that really resonated with me at the time. So I started doing some extracurricular research in Charlie's lab and found I liked that.

Between my junior and senior year at Muhlenberg, I took part in a fellowship program at North Carolina State University. The National Science Foundation funds these undergrad-centric research programs…The idea is to try to get them to bring in folks like me who were coming from a place like Muhlenberg. That gives you a real chance to see what it's like to actually be operating in that sort of environment. Grad school is an interesting place. It's, how we say, not for the faint of heart, so it gives you a chance to see if it's something that might resonate for you, and for me it did. So I came back to Muhlenberg, and I spent a lot of time thinking about the sort of work I wanted to do in a graduate program. I ultimately wound up going to the University of Virginia, where I worked for a fellow named James Marshall, a very well-known organic chemist. The focus of my doctoral work was to develop the synthesis of a class of compounds; they're referred to as natural products. These are compounds that are extracted from natural sources ... found to have potentially medicinally relevant value.

What are some of the big challenges that someone in your position faces on the job?

I think it's funny how much of what you deal with, I think, as a manager is probably similar regardless of careers. I mean, a lot of what you deal with is interpersonal things and communicating data between people, making sure everybody's aligned, making sure we're pointing in the same direction, that people aren't acting on agendas that aren't necessarily in the interest of the broader project team.

I mean, I get to sit down and think about data too. It's just, you know, that's actually the fun part: sifting through data looking for patterns.

But the challenges are more universal, you're saying?

A lot of them are, yes. I mean, the one thing that's sort of unique to science that's people sometimes have a hard time wrapping their head around is we fail most of the time. Most ideas you have don't work, or they don't work out. Sometimes they fail catastrophically. Sometimes you'll work on a program for a number of years only to be derailed very late in the game, and no one's happy about that, but you can't really let that sort of stuff upset you as a scientist. I think you have to accept the fact that success is going to be in small doses, and you need to celebrate the successes when you do have them.

This selection is part of a longer conversation; to hear the full story, download or subscribe to the full episode on Podbean or iTunes. This episode was engineered by WMUH General Manager Paul Krempasky and this series is a production of WMUH 91.7 FM, the Only Station that Matters.