Rafael Dilan Gracia
Unique Journey to a Career in Biotech
A key theme of Rafael Dilan Gracia’s career has been using science and engineering to connect with his community. It started with a high school science fair project in which he explored how coral reefs protect the coastal area near his home in Arroyo, Puerto Rico, followed by other science and engineering projects, and now continues in his work as a process improvement engineer for Amgen in Puerto Rico. There, he regularly participates in activities to give back to the community.
“It’s so important to pay it forward and collaborate with and contribute to our community,” says Dilan, who has been working at Amgen for 3 years since graduating from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, in 2016.
ABE spoke with Dilan about his early interest in science, his current role at Amgen, and his thoughts for students interested in the biotech industry.
How did you first become interested in science?
My first interest in science and engineering was back in my high school in Arroyo when I had the opportunity to participate in different science fairs and also engineering projects. After also having conversations with my teachers, I realized that I wanted to pursue a career in engineering. I then decided to study industrial engineering at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez. I selected industrial engineering based on my interest in looking for better ways to do things.
What was your path like from university to your position at Amgen?
I had a fulfilling experience in industrial engineering at the university. When I got there, I tried to be involved in student associations and special projects to develop a professional background and set of experiences. I also looked for opportunities in the industry.
As a student, I had the opportunity to do different internships and co-ops: one in aerospace, one in pharma, one in electronics, and one in biotech with Amgen. After I graduated, I decided to pursue a career with Amgen because I identified myself with Amgen’s values, mission to serve patients, and professional development opportunities. I liked that I would be doing what I enjoyed while contributing to society.
What do you work on at Amgen?
My first role here at Amgen Manufacturing Limited (AML) in Juncos, Puerto Rico, was as part of the Emerging Talent Rotational Program, in which you rotate for 2 years in three different business areas. I first worked in facilities and engineering, then with the quality organization in our drug substance facility. My final rotation was with the formulation team in our drug product facility, looking for opportunities to improve processes in formulation. After finishing the rotational program, I joined the AML continuous improvement team.
What do you like the most about your job?
I enjoy working with highly prepared people here at Amgen—looking for ways to improve processes and add value to the organization, becoming more efficient in our processes to help patients. It is great to work in a place where I identify with our mission to serve patients.
Is there anything you wish you had known about in high school to better prepare you for the biotech industry?
It’s important to have a diverse background in science even if you are on an engineering team. Science with engineering is a good combination, and having broader exposure to science in college would have helped better prepare me.
What advice do you have for students now?
The years it takes to get the degree are an investment in your future professional career. While at university, take advantage of internships, co-op opportunities, student associations, and special projects. Take the chance to contribute to the community, and participate in development activities and forums. This will help you have a diverse background and identify what you want to do when you graduate.
What do you think is the future of the field you are in? What trends do you see?
The industry is moving more toward artificial intelligence and data analytics. These are important elements of the industry now and in the upcoming years. Programming is another important element. We are currently looking for applications of machine learning to improve our processes and using data analytics to better analyze and make decisions.
What are some of the community service activities you are involved with at Amgen?
We are very committed to our community. I participate in several different community service activities. One example is called “Comparte una Comprita,” in which we collect food and articles for college students that are in need. We started this activity 3 years ago and this year we were able to contribute to students in seven different universities in Puerto Rico. In addition, we have Relay For Life, in which Amgen has a very active participation each year.