Dr. George Matcuk, PGSS 1993

Dr. George Matcuk

Dr. George Matcuk attended PGSS in 1993 and chose to return as a biology TA from 1996 to 1998 and as Residential Life Director in 1999. Inspired by his wonderful experiences at PGSS, he matriculated at Carnegie Mellon University, where he double majored in biology and chemistry before going to Stanford University to pursue his MD. He is currently a musculoskeletal radiologist practicing at Cedars-Sinai medical center in Los Angeles. He has also been a volunteer mentor for 8 more recent PGSS alumni during their senior year in high school. (Interview by Amy Wu, PGSS 2019)

 

  1. Could you please describe your background and what got you interested in PGSS in the first place?

    1. “I was always interested in science when I was in high school,” Dr. Matcuk recounts. Through both his own experiences with Science Olympiad (doing Anatomy and Physiology, Cell Biology, Road Scholars, and other events) and annual presentations at the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of the Sciences as well as familial influences (his father was a pharmaceutical sales representative who worked with doctors, loved medicine, and helped guide Dr. Matcuk toward that field), Dr. Matcuk was able to further his lifelong passion for learning, a passion that led him to PGSS. Dr. Matcuk describes his experience at PGSS as pivotal to his future growth as a person and a professional.

  2. Reflecting on your PGSS experiences, what made them so pivotal?

    1. Dr. Matcuk began, “It was really my first exposure to college-level material and just living away from home for an extended period of time and having that college type environment.” But beyond that, Dr. Matcuk also describes his exhilaration at being around so many passionate fellow students, eager to learn and do science. His experiences at PGSS were crucial in solidifying his passion for STEM.

  3. What was your favorite memory of your time at PGSS?

    1. Dr. Matcuk fondly recalls his final week at PGSS and the collegiality and bonds that were forged from working together as a team to finish the final project. The equal contributions of everyone on the team made it an important early exposure to the concept of science as a team sport. Dr. Matcuk would later continue pursuing the project, one on the vestigial wings of Drosophila melanogaster (a.k.a. the fruit fly), even after the end of PGSS, eventually presenting it at the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of the Sciences his senior year.

  4. Can you tell me about your experiences as a mentor, TA, and residential life advisor within PGSS?

    1. As soon as Dr. Matcuk was able to, he submitted an application to become a TA for PGSS. Why? Because his 5 weeks at PGSS were “some of the best summers of [his] life.” Through these roles, Dr. Matcuk was able to have a profound impact on the lives of those who came after him and still stays in touch with those he TAed with. Dr. Matcuk was responsible for the iconic Casino Nights many of us still remember. As Dr. Matcuk put it, “A lot of us in high school, maybe were a bit nervous or shy particularly at things at dances,” but at PGSS dances, everyone was fully present in the moment because they felt so comfortable around their peers.

  5. After PGSS, how did your experiences at CMU shape you, both personally and professionally?

    1. Dr. Matcuk greatly enjoyed his time at CMU, where he was a biology and chemistry dual major and “got to work with both those departments.” He learned much about how to do science, conduct research, and write up reports and papers, which prepared him well for medical school. He was able to place out of several classes (e.g. genetics) that first year at Stanford School of Medicine.

  6. What inspired you to pursue a career in medicine and specifically in radiology?

    1. Dr. Matcuk says he was always geared a bit towards medicine based on his upbringing and experiences with PGSS and science in general. When he got into Stanford, he really loved it there since it reminded him so much of PGSS, being among all those smart and talented people and working together in study groups. He made many friends in medical school and explored his career interests like surgery and cardiology, a field he also conducted research in. As he started going through rotations, he began to reflect on his roots. One of things that brought him to medicine in the first place was his love of anatomy and physiology and how the body worked. He liked knowing a lot about a lot of things, and radiology was the perfect field for that since it provided the opportunity to learn about, consult with, and work with all these other subspecialties. As someone who always liked computers and knew many computer science majors at CMU, the technical aspects of radiology appealed to Dr. Matcuk.

  7. I see you have done research work in musculoskeletal radiology. Could you please discuss your work and offer any advice you may have for younger alumni looking to get involved in research?

    1. Dr. Matcuk says, “Research is one of the best ways to learn.” Some people pick a very narrow field and keep publishing in that area, but Dr. Matcuk takes a different approach. He has published many papers, many of which are educational reviews. Dr. Matcuk is driven by his curiosity and desire to learn more about the topic, and educational reviews allow him to both consolidate his own knowledge and, in the true spirit of collaborative science that PGSS fostered, share that knowledge with others. Dr. Matcuk also described his interest in basic science research, citing a desire to learn new techniques, be on the cutting edge of science, and “push the envelope”.

    2. “Research is always a little intimidating,” Dr. Matcuk says. “The hardest paper you ever write is the first paper you do.” His suggestion for how to overcome this hurdle is to jump right into it and do it. “Get that first paper out, learn how to use EndNote and other citation management programs that will allow you to organize your references, use PubMed and download articles through your institution to get things together, and learn to cite your evidence line by line.” Once you’ve done it once, you can build confidence, something that can be helpful when going through the long, and daunting, review process. But it is a valuable skill because it allows you to learn how to continually improve your papers. With each subsequent paper, Dr. Matcuk says, the process becomes easier and easier.

  8. What are your proudest accomplishments, both personally and professionally?

    1. Personally, he is very proud of his son and daughter, both high school students who have accomplished much in both the academic and athletic spheres. Dr. Matcuk is a proud father and enjoys spending time with his children.

    2. Professionally, Dr. Matcuk cites his many publications as his proudest accomplishment. Thanks to the breadth of the musculoskeletal radiology field, he has met and mentored many people from medical students to radiology residents and fellows. Dr. Matcuk greatly enjoys mentorship and research as well as seeing patients. After all, serving patients is ultimately why people enter the medical field, Dr. Matcuk says. He describes reading and imaging as like detective work and talks about how he enjoys the gratification of being able to diagnose and treat patients as they come in and watch them walk back out, feeling better than they had when they came in.

  9. What advice would you give to younger alumni who are just starting out in their careers, especially pertaining to medical or other science-related careers?

    1. “Find something that you love and that you’re passionate about and keep an open mind,” says Dr. Matcuk. When he went into medical school, he never thought he would become a radiologist or do work with a biotech start up, yet he greatly enjoyed the experience. “There are so many great fields, so find something that you’re happy with and passionate about. You don’t work a day in your life if you’re happy doing what you’re doing,” Dr. Matcuk advises.

    2. In medicine, specifically, it’s hard to get into, and it’s a hard field to follow.  Sometimes it feels like you have blinders on, but sometimes it’s better to take the blinders off and find your own way.