By Arianna MacNeill
IPSWICH — Nathaniel Swanson's love of chemistry started at Ipswich High School. Now, the UMass Lowell graduate is moving on to his dream job to work in cancer treatment.
Swanson, 22, was picked as one of four out of more than 1,000 applicants for a two-year rotational program at Genentech Inc. in San Francisco.
There, Swanson, who majored in chemical engineering, wants to focus on ways to treat cancer. He plans to move out there to start his new job in mid-August.
Focusing on cancer treatment hits home for Swanson, whose grandfather had bone cancer.
"It was just really devastating," he said, adding that his aunt had stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. "Probably half of the deaths in my family have been attributed to cancer."
Genentech was one of the first companies to make human insulin, Swanson said.
"They've really concentrated their efforts on cancer and they've come out with a lot of really useful cancer drugs," Swanson said. He learned about the company while studying in Lowell, he said, noting that working there "was a dream of mine."
Swanson had to clear two phone interviews and then a full-day on-site interview, he said. The in-person interview lasted about eight hours and he was grilled on some "really tough" technical questions.
"It was definitely the most difficult interview I've ever had," he said.
Throughout his two years of rotations, Swanson will work with different groups in different areas of the company where he'll learn about what goes into developing pharmaceutical drugs.
When he finishes, Swanson said he's guaranteed a job at Genentech and will help manage creation of a drug through the clinical trials and after.
Going into chemistry was not anticipated. When Swanson was in high school, he remembers that the thought of taking chemistry sophomore year "scared me and other people."
But that changed for him with having chemistry teacher Mary Ham.
"She really inspired me in chemistry," he said. "That's part of the reason why I studied chemical engineering."
Ham, who has taught for 25 years, said hearing about her former student get this opportunity is "extremely gratifying." As a teacher, she only sees her students for a short spurt every day, but hopes they go on to be successful.
Plus, chemistry has a reputation for being difficult. Not everyone goes on to pursue chemistry, she said, but students may learn other important life lessons, like perseverance and time management.
"I feel like I've done something good," she said. "I've contributed to his success – that's my way of touching the future."
Swanson also credits his courses at UMass Lowell, where he was able to get hands-on experience working in labs – he had about a year of work experience upon graduation.
Genentech, he said, is one of the "best companies in my field," he said, calling it "innovative."
"So I'm super excited for the road ahead," Swanson said.