Fall 2018 Newsletter Volume 26 Issue 4

This issue of the Newsletter is available in PDF.

For previous newsletters, click here.


CourtneyB crop

Dear AWIS-SD Members and Friends,

I hope this year has treated you well as we close out 2018. I wish for a happy 2019 to everyone with career growth, as well as personal development. If you are looking to advance your professional and personal skills, please consider joining a committee or the AWIS-SD Board. We will be holding elections later this month.

We are looking for co-chairs for several committees, including Corporate Sponsorship, Newsletter, Scholarship, and WIST. If you cannot take on a leadership position at this time, our committees are always looking for new members as well.

Joining a committee and taking a leadership role will enhance your communication skills, leadership skills, as well as team building skills. The AWIS-SD Board is also looking for Members at Large, as well as a new President. As my company and my career are rapidly expanding, I need to pass on the President role to a new person to lead this great organization.

If you or anyone you know is interested in any of these positions, or want to find out more information on what these roles entail, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Please consider joining and filling one of our rewarding positions in AWIS-SD, where we thrive for equity for women in STEM.

Also, check out the AWIS-SD calendar as we have many exciting events coming up. Happy Holidays!

Warm wishes,


Courtney Benson

President, AWIS-SD

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Outreach Committee at the 2018 Maker Faire

by Vanessa F Langness

The AWIS-SD Outreach Committee organized an activity for the October 2018 Maker Faire, which allowed makers of all types including artists, scientists, and engineers to showcase their creations. During this two-day event, our volunteers taught visitors about the physics of light by creating rainbows, rainbow paper, and giant bubbles.

Rainbows are created through a phenomenon called diffraction. When white light enters a prism, the light bends. Red wavelengths bend the least, whereas violet wavelengths bend the most. Since they bend at varying degrees, a prism can be used to see the different colors that make up white light. Rainbows are formed because raindrops effectively act as tiny prisms. Visitors at our booth were able to use prisms to see these principles in action.


MakerFaire rainbow

Caption: AWIS-SD Outreach demonstrated the properties of light using a prism.


Visitors learned about another optical phenomenon called thin-film interference. This phenomenon causes bubbles and oil slicks to appear to have a swirl of rainbow colors. When white light bounces off of the upper and lower boundaries of a thin film, some wavelengths become out of sync and destructively interfere with each other, while other wavelengths constructively interfere to amplify certain colors. The colors that are amplified or cancelled out are determined by the thickness of the film. Visitors learned about this optical phenomenon by creating giant bubbles, which have swirling colors due to thin film interference.


MakerFaire bubbles

Caption: AWIS-SD Outreach’s activity to demonstrate thin-film interference.


Visitors were also able to create a thin-film interference souvenir by coating a black piece of cardstock with a thin film of clear nail polish. This created rainbow paper which showed all of the beautiful colors seen in an oil slick or in bubbles.  This activity was a great demonstration of the STEAM movement, which was a major focus of the Maker Faire. The STEAM movement integrates STEM subjects with the Arts. AWIS-SD Outreach Committee members Vanessa Langness and Chistina Grobin were co-organizers for this event.


Academia to Industry (A2I) coffee club – An evening with Diane Shanahan

by Dieanira Erudaitius


A2I coffee club held its monthly meeting on Wednesday, September 5, 2018. There were six attendees that comprised of professionals from industry and academia. Our guest speaker for this meeting was Diane Shanahan, the Director of Regulatory Affairs at BASF Enzymes. We were also privileged to have another BASF employee, Margo Woodring, New Business Development Analyst at the meeting as well.

Transition to Industry: Using one thread to create a sweater

Shanahan obtained her degree in biology, although she initially was interested in forestry science. Shanahan described that as a child she would climb trees and marvel at their beauty. Her affinity to nature is what drew her towards the field of forestry. She later broadened her interest to botany and eventually decided to obtain a bachelor’s in biology.  

Shanahan effortlessly described her career path through a beautiful story full of imagery and analogies, which engaged each of us at the table. Having a non-traditional career path, she explained her journey as a single thread, which embarked on a voyage full of twists and turns that weaved her unique sweater. The thread resembled her pathway and the sweater was symbolic of her career.

Shanahan explained that although an outsider perspective may describe her thread traveled haphazardly, she noticed it did follow a pattern. One such pattern was that Shanahan alternated between small and big companies throughout her career. Shanahan began at a big company called Monsanto. She was hired as an intern prior to graduation and was later hired full time to do research as a scientist. While she enjoyed the work, she had a desire to work for a smaller company and maybe become an entrepreneur. After recovering from a sports injury, Shanahan became interested in chiropractic medicine. After 2 years of study in that field, she came to realize that while she loved learning, it wasn’t her passion to practice as a chiropractor. She then had an opportunity to become a co-owner for a small bakery business. Here she gained skills in sales, distribution, and marketing of baked goods.

As a co-owner of a small business, Shanahan was required to wear many different hats. The business eventually came to an end after the other co-owner decided that his product expectations and visions for the type of artisan bread was ahead of the times and market adoption was too slow.  At this time, Shanahan decided to pursue science again. She was hired for an entry-level research position at Mycogen, a small biotech start-up. Once back in the lab, she then started working her way up and progressed rapidly.

While working at Mycogen as a scientist, she enjoyed her work in research with microbes. One day, HR approached her and asked her to transfer to regulatory.  She absolutely loved doing science and initially said “No” to the offer. Eventually, she was able to make a deal with HR that allowed her to return to R&D if she wasn’t comfortable in the regulatory position. Having this option to fall back on was comforting to Shanahan and she decided to give it a try.

Why did she stay in regulatory?

Working in regulatory allowed Shanahan to understand a little more about her personality. The position allowed her to still have her fingers in science and at the same time it gave her the understanding of how science works with the law. She enjoyed the work a lot. She did not mind the structure nor detail, which are both extremely important in regulatory. She was required to have a broad understanding of the science and at the same time the ability to explain to scientists how regulatory studies were conducted to meet requirements. She had to guide the scientists but not be the subject matter expert in their areas of expertise. Shanahan was able to still tap into her curiosity, stay creative, and become fascinated with the integration of law and science. In regulatory, she was able to maintain her career mission which is always to “to do the right thing”.

During interviews

Shanahan noted that leaving research related jobs in her past to pursue other entrepreneurial jobs presented a resume with disjointed job experiences. At one time this could be seen in a resume as a distraction or lack of focus.  Currently, this is more acceptable and can be a plus. She explained that each job in its own way became quite relevant to the careers she was interested in. Furthermore, she was able to gain a number of skills that were all transferable to her current position.

What her current position looks like

Shanahan is very happy with her current regulatory position and loves what she does. She is not sure where her future may take her or how the rest of her sweater will be sewn.  Shanahan does not describe herself as much of a risk taker and is thankful for the opportunities that were presented to her. Shanahan does not think that she would be in regulatory had she not been given the opportunity and the option to return to R&D. Shanahan also explained how mentorship is extremely important and how grateful she was to her boss when she began her position in regulatory.

Shanahan enjoys working at BASF and likes the variety in her day to day work that enzymes afford because enzymes can have such different personalities and can be used in many different applications.

Advice to A2I members

  1. Find a good mentor
  2. Understand that there are many routes to obtain your goal, and it is not always necessary to follow the traditional pathway
  3. Ask yourself: If you had to knit a sweater with one common thread that tells your story, what would your story look like?
  4. Understand what you want. Do you have a job or career? Do you prefer working at large or small companies?
  5. Evaluate your personality so you find what positions fit you well.
  6. Where do you see yourself going and are you willing to change?
  7. Stay accountable. If you don’t know something, it is better to get back to the person later with the correct answer than always re-tracing your footsteps to correct what you have said.
  8. Life can’t be seen as a cookie cutter; one size doesn’t always fit all.


 A2I with Shanahan

Caption: AWIS-SD A2I members with speaker Diane Shanahan.


About BASF Enzymes

BASF Enzymes harnesses the power of enzymes to create a broad range of specialty products that meet high-value commercial needs. BASF offers enzymes for various markets including animal nutrition, grain processing, home care & industrial & institutional solutions, oilfield solutions and pulp & paper. BASF Enzymes has a site located in San Diego with ~150 employees supporting functions in: R&D, pilot plant & production, QA/QC, regulatory, IP, business, business development.

For additional information about BASF Enzymes please visit:


To apply to become a member of our team:



AWIS-SD Outreach at 52 Weeks of Science - Clairemont: DNA Extraction from Strawberries!

by Ye Zhang

On Sunday, October 14, 2018, 52 Weeks of Science celebrated the first year of their program in the community of Clairemont at Madison High School. The beautiful and inspiring campus welcomed hundreds of families and students. More than 10 booths from local scientific companies, non-profit organizations and universities attended, using hands-on activities and demonstrations to educate the local community with interesting facts about science.

AWIS-SD took advantage of this opportunity to share some fun biological knowledge with the Clairemont community. During this half-day event, our volunteers guided students, kids and their families through the process of strawberry DNA extraction while explaining the concepts of DNA structure, as well as how each step could contribute to the successful extraction of DNA. The Outreach committee provided graphic protocols and professional lab supplies, such as Falcon and Eppendorf tubes, to create a “lab environment” experience for the attendees. In the end, the extracted DNA was collected in a cell culture tube as a souvenir for the attendees to bring back home. Impressively, many parents attending the event were aware of the importance of scientific education, and encouraged their children to ask the volunteers many “what” and “why” questions.


52weeks DNA

Caption: AWIS-SD Outreach volunteers demonstrating how to extract DNA from strawberries. Photo credit: Ye Zhang.


The event was a great success and AWIS-SD Outreach looks forward to participating in this event again next year. AWIS-SD Outreach Committee member Ye Zhang was the event organizer, along with volunteers April Cresse, Francesca Boscolo, Joanna Bundus, Justine Paradis, and Nirakar Rajbhandari. Catherine Etchechury attended as a high school volunteer, and Robin Wygal attended as the AWIS-SD Outreach Committee representative.


52weeks group

Caption: AWIS-SD Outreach booth with Ye (event organizer, middle) and the volunteers (left to right: Catherine, Joanna, Francesca, Justine, Nirakar and April). Photo credit: Ye Zhang.


A2I: A Day in a Life Event at 1798 Consultants

by Dieanira Erudaitius

On September 13, 2018, Academia to Industry (A2I) coffee club visited 1798 Consultants, a strategic reimbursement healthcare advisory firm located in downtown La Jolla. The half-day event allowed attendees to get a glimpse of the typical day at a consulting firm. The company visit was a very insightful experience that was organized in an intimate setting, which allowed attendees to actively participate in each of the planned activities. 

The event began with brief introductions between the employees at the consulting firm and AWIS-SD attendees. Many of the attendees were interested in transitioning out of academia and were curious about what a career as a consultant looks for a scientist. Following the introductions was a unique presentation titled ‘U.S. Healthcare 101’. Here, attendees learned the history and evolution of healthcare in the U.S., which provided a foundation to understand the current healthcare system.  

Following the informative presentation, attendees were split into two groups for the next two activities. One activity was a case study that walked the attendees through a sample project that a consultant would typically work on. The goal of the healthcare consultant is to streamline the process from the time that the patient becomes ill, visits the physician, is diagnosed, takes the first dose, and continues to through the ongoing disease. The case study was a very engaging activity, where participants were questioned on how to approach various problems in a strategic manner. Guided by questions, attendees learned that viable solutions must be beneficial to each of the key stakeholders, commonly referred to as the ‘5Ps’. The five ‘P’s include: product, patient, payer, pharmacy, and provider. The case study was a great example for what type of work is completed by consultants at this company and was useful in teaching attendees how to best meet the client’s needs.

The second activity was the ‘value proposition discussion’. This discussion was a useful activity that allowed individuals to practice ‘selling themselves and their skills’ obtained in academia that are directly relevant for a consulting position. This activity was extremely beneficial for those aiming to transition out of academia into an industry setting. The value proposition development worksheet was kindly provided by the company and included here in the newsletter. Attendees were asked to fill out the worksheet and engage in a mock interview. Following the interview, detailed feedback and constructive criticism was provided to each individual.  This activity was extremely useful in teaching individuals on how to present skills in a constructive manner that demonstrates their value to the company.   

In addition, 1798 Consultants kindly accepted two attendees to gain experience as a business analyst intern to further the glimpse of transitioning into consulting as a scientist. Overall, this event provided attendees the opportunity to gain perspective of the healthcare industry, network, understand of the roles and responsibilities of consultants at 1798 Consultants, learn on how to transition from academia, and finally, it allowed attendees time to network.


AWIS-SD Family and Friends event at the Botanical garden

by Amy Thorne

On Saturday July 28, the AWIS-SD Events committee held the annual Family and Friends Event at the beautiful San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas, CA. The San Diego Botanic Garden is a 37 acre urban oasis, with four miles of trails meandering through restful vistas, flowering trees, majestic palms, and the nation’s largest bamboo collection. In 2017, it was named a Top 10 North American Garden Tourism Award Winner, indicating it as one of the “top 10 North American gardens worth travelling for.”

The event was a huge success with a full registration of 40 people. Admission to the garden through the AWIS-SD family event was free for AWIS members and their guests. The event took place in the Seeds of Wonder area with a potluck-style lunch at the picnic tables underneath a large canopy. There were lots of activities for the whole family to enjoy including potting succulents to take home, painting stations, and of course, the opportunity to roam around the garden at one’s leisure.


familyevent 1     familyevent 2     familyevent 3

Caption: AWIS-SD family and friends event at the San Diego Botanic Garden.


A huge thank you to the events committee and especially Adina Gerson-Gurwitz and Ksenya Cohen-Katsenelson for leading this event! 


Brewery Tour and Beer Tastings at Green Flash Brewery

by Ray Seraydarian

On Thursday, September 27, AWIS-SD Events Committee organized a brewery tour and beer tastings at Green Flash Brewery in Sorrento Valley / Mira Mesa area of San Diego that was sponsored by QIAGEN. Two biotech groups joined our events — Stacy Pham’s Beer and Wine in Biotech meetup group, and B3 group.  In addition to good beer, good company, and good conversation (and also good food from a local food truck), out of all attendees, 25 people participated in a combined guided tour and beer tasting through the brewery hosted by Green Flash employee Devin, who combined passionate beer-geek knowledge, beer-geek science, and beer-geek humor.  I had a great time, even though I didn’t drink the beer.

We thank the members of the Events Committee, especially Ksenya Cohen-Katsenelson, Adina Gerson-Gurwitz, Amy Halsey-Thorne, and Valeria Viscadi, for their work making the arrangements for this successful event.

Gentle reminder:  Out of 25 AWIS registrants, only 16 actually attended.  This wouldn’t have been too bad, except that some people might have missed the event because the online registration showed that all AWIS spots were filled on the day of the event.  For future events, if your plans change and you cannot attend an event for which you have registered for, please email the Events committee.


BreweryHappyHr Sept2018

Caption: Brewery tour at Green Flash Brewery.



by Alyson Smith

  • Carlsbad-based International Stem Cell Corp. administered stem cell therapy to the 10th Parkinson’s disease patient in its Australian clinical trial. They transplanted neural stem cells derived from immune-matched human eggs into the patient’s brain with the goal of replacing neurons lost to the disease. The therapy appears to be safe and preliminary results show signs of disease reduction.
  • The Salk Institute has reached confidential settlements with two of the three female faculty who sued the Institute last year for gender-based discrimination. Katherine Jones and Vicki Lundblad, the plaintiffs, released a joint statement with Institute president Fred “Rusty” Gage announcing the settlement. The suit of Beverly Emerson, the third plaintiff – who left Salk last December when her contract expired – may go to trial in December.
  • Former Scripps Research postdoc James Allison shared the 2018 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Tasuku Honjo of Japan. Allison and Honjo discovered separate pathways to release molecular brakes on T cells and unleash their ability to kill cancer cells. Their findings have fueled the development of safer and more targeted cancer therapies.
  • On August 1st, Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientists recorded the ocean surface temperature as 78.6 degrees – the highest reading in 102 years of daily measurements at the Scripps pier. High ocean temperatures throughout the summer attracted large crowds and wildlife such as stingrays to San Diego county beaches. 
  • Amazon opened a “Tech Hub” campus in University City. Joining 16 other Amazon Tech Hubs in the U.S. and Canada, this campus will create around 300 new jobs in software development, machine learning, cloud computing, and digital entertainment.
  • Scientists at Scripps Research and Human Longevity developed the “metabolome” – a profile of more than one thousand metabolic products including proteins, fats, and uric acid – as a new tool to assess cardiovascular health. The scientists found that an abnormal metabolome correlates more strongly with cardiovascular problems than body mass index (BMI), a more traditional method of assessing disease risk.
  • Frank Bennett, vice president of research at Ionis Pharmaceuticals, will share a 2019 $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences with Adrian Krainer of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. They received the prize for developing Spinraza, the first drug that can treat spinal muscular atrophy, an often fatal genetic disease.



  • Dieanira Erudaitius, co-chair of A2I, is now a Fellow at Cato Research.
  • Min Zong recently started a new job as a Scientist at Sorrento Therapeutics.
  • Stephanie Verbrugghe, an industrial pharmacist by training, started Farbridge Pharma Consulting, LLC, in 2017 after moving to San Diego. Farbridge is a company providing GxP Quality Assurance services, helping companies willing to start clinical trials on both sides of the Atlantic, and providing trainings to professionals to advance their career. A first GMP training session is planned for Q1 2019. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.
  • Miriam Cohen is now a Senior Medical Writer at Paragon.



1) STRATEGY SESSIONS: Decoding Career Options in STEM

Date: Monday, December 03, 2018, 6:00 - 8:00 PM

Venue:  Hera Hub, 4010 Sorrento Valley Blvd, Suite 400, San Diego, CA 92121

Event details and registration:


Calling for volunteers!

Venue: Dolores Magdaleno Memorial Rec Center, 2902 Marcy Ave, San Diego, CA, 92113

Date: Tuesday, December 11, 2018, 4:00 - 6:00 PM

Event details and registration:

Date: Tuesday, January 8, 2019, 3:30 - 6:00 PM

Event details and registration:


See more AWIS-SD events here.

About the Authors

Vanessa L

Vanessa Langness moved to San Diego after completing her BS at MSUDenver where she double majored in chemistry and biology. She is now a PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Program at UC San Diego. She is using neurons derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) to study the role of cholesterol in Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis. Vanessa is an active member of the AWIS San Diego Outreach Committee.

Dieanira headshot

Dieanira Erudaitius obtained her PhD in Bioengineering from the University of California Riverside. The focus of her doctoral research was investigating the underlying mechanism behind selective cancer cell susceptibility to hydrogen peroxide generated during ascorbate therapy. Dieanira joined AWIS in 2016 and is currently serving as co-chair of Academia to Industry Coffee Club.

YeZhang headshot

Ye Zhang is currently a 4th year PhD student at Biological Sciences Division, UCSD. She studies the functional interaction between compartmentalized Drosophila olfactory receptor neurons. Through self-initiated volunteer roles and consulting experience, she hopes to leverage her scientific training to help better bridge academia and industry. 


Amy Thorne headshot

Amy Thorne is a scientist in the Immuno-Oncology R&D group at Inovio Pharmaceuticals. She received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from The Ohio State University in 2012 and moved to San Diego in 2014 to pursue a post-doctoral position at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at UCSD. She has been a member of the AWIS events committee for one year. In her free time, she enjoys scientific editing, traveling, and spending time with her family in the great outdoors.


Ray S headshot 

Ray Seraydarian earned his BS and M. Eng. degrees in Engineering Physics from Cornell University, and has spent his entire professional career in San Diego working in visible spectroscopy and areas closely involved with nuclear fusion research at General Atomics (GA) and UCSD. He is currently employed by UCLA at GA working on a microwave instrument for the large ITER fusion experiment being built by an international consortium in southern France. Outside of work, Ray enjoys theater, movies, bicycling, downhill skiing, and small boat sailing. Ray is a long standing AWIS-SD member, and he currently serves as a co-chair of the Events Committee.





Winter 2019 Newsletter Volume 27 Issue 1

This issue of the Newsletter is available in PDF.

For previous newsletters, click here.


CourtneyB crop

Dear AWIS-SD Members and Friends,

Happy 2019! I hope everyone is off to a great start, personally and professionally. 2018 was a great year for AWIS-SD and 2019 will be even better!

We have a lot of great events planned this year. We will be hosting our 15th WIST conference in May. If you are interested in helping plan this conference, please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. If you are interested in looking into leadership roles or building your soft skills, please consider joining a committee. We are looking for new co-chairs and committee members for our multitude of committees, including Strategy Sessions, Public Relations, and Events. If you are interested in learning more about our committees and what we do at AWIS-SD, please visit awissd.org.

I would like to thank all of our volunteers that run AWIS-SD. Our organization flourishes with our volunteers’ time and effort and our gracious corporate sponsors.

Warmest wishes,


Courtney Benson

President, AWIS-SD

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


2018 AWIS-SD Open House

by Juliati Rahajeng

The annual AWIS-SD Open House was held at the lobby of the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine on November 14, 2018. Over 120 AWIS-SD members and non-members registered and attended the event. Sandwiches, wraps, cheese platters, fruits, and non-alcoholic beverages were served.

Tables were set for AWIS-SD Committees, which included: Newsletter, Website, Corporate Sponsorship, Public Relations, Outreach, Scholarship, Events, Academia to Industry, Strategy Sessions, and AWIS-SD Leadership Network. Each committee was represented by its co-chairs, who enthusiastically explained the committee’s goals and activities, and how new members can contribute to the success of AWIS-SD’s programming. In addition to the committees’ tables, two of AWIS-SD’s Sponsors, UCSD Extension and Hera Hub, also hosted tables to welcome Open House attendees.

Over 20 silent auction items were collected to help raise funds for AWIS-SD activities, including AWIS-SD annual scholarships, outreach activities, professional development workshops, and networking events organized throughout the year. The silent auction items were donated by AWIS-SD members (Grace Nakayama, Kristina Henthorn, Dorothy Sears, Corine Lau, and Juliati Rahajeng) and local and national organizations/corporations (La Jolla Playhouse, Del Mar Photographics, Bristol Farms, In-N-Out Burger, Curves, The Stronghold, Hera Hub, Alvarado Skin Institute, Picaboo, and PRP Wine International). The silent auction brought in about $900, almost enough to award one AWIS-SD scholarship!

Before the conclusion of the event, AWIS-SD President Courtney Benson recognized longtime AWIS-SD members and outstanding volunteers. Awards were presented to the following:

• 30-year AWIS-SD member: Lynne Friedmann

• 25-year AWIS-SD member: Susan Forsburg

• 10-year AWIS-SD member: Yvonne Lee, Kristina Henthorn, Katherine Ruby, and Maki Kaneko

• 5-year AWIS-SD member: Paige Stout, Christine Esau, Christine Gonzalez, Radhika Gopal, Peggy Marino, and Georgina Salazar

• Rookie of the Year: Alina Luk and Valeria Viscardi

• Leadership Service: Varykina Thackray and Dorota Skowronska-Krawczyk

• Achievement in Outreach or Community Service: Alyson Smith

• Outstanding Volunteer: Dieanira Erudaitius, Adina Gerson, and Alison Huang

• Board Special Award: Juliati Rahajeng

• President’s Award: Robyn Wygal

The event was an absolute success thanks to the 2018 Open House Committee Chair and members: Christina C. Niemeyer, DeeAnn Visk, Kristin Bompiani-Myers, Chistina Grobin, Juliati Rahajeng, Ye Zhang, Kelly Kemp, Jennifer Hanson, Aubrey Haddach, and Deepa Hammaker, and AWIS-SD Sponsors: UCSD Extension, ThermoFisher Scientific, Hologic, Hera Hub, Celgene, Beckman Coulter Foundation, Vertex, Quidel, Qualcomm, General Atomics, Takeda, BioLegend, Innovio, and Lynne Friedmann.


AWIS-SD Outreach Event at Chem Expo 2018 – Identify a Mystery Liquid and Solid

by Anita Pottekat

San Diego celebrated National Chemistry week with Chem Expo on the beautiful campus of Miramar College on Saturday, October 27, 2018. The American Chemical Society (ACS) and many other local organizations like AWIS-SD came together to spread chemistry awareness with various on-stage demonstrations and hands-on activities for middle and high school students. The buzz and excitement around chemistry that filled the campus was truly reflective of this year’s theme: “Chemistry is out of this world.”

chemexpo 1

AWIS-SD enlisted the detective skills of youth and adults alike with our activity station focused on identifying a mystery liquid and solid. First, students were given three known solids or liquids and asked to note their physical appearance. The students tested the solids’ solubility in water and in vinegar, and performed an iodine test to check the starch content. For liquids, the students tested acidity using pH paper and reactivity with sodium bicarbonate. These tests were then carried out with the mystery solid or liquid to scientifically determine the identity of the unknown substance. These activities led to discussions on acid-base reactions, chemical versus physical properties, and how to record observations and draw conclusions. 

To draw connections with real life experiences, the starch content in green versus ripe bananas was also determined using the iodine test. We discussed how the high starch content observed in green bananas is converted to sugar upon ripening. We also demonstrated how vinegar can be used to determine the carbonate content in chalk, a technique commonly used by geologists to determine composition of rocks. This chemical reaction also explains the effect of acid rain on rocks and monuments.

chemexpo 2 001

The color change of the pH paper and the bubbling of sodium bicarbonate with vinegar brought excitement not only in the high and middle schoolers, but also in the parents and young siblings accompanying them. The AWIS-SD booth was busy during the event with over 200 students visiting the booth. The organizers of the AWIS-SD booth, Anita Pottekat and Laure Kayser, are very thankful to all the volunteers without whom this event would not have been possible: Kristin Bompiani-Myers, Isabela Avila, Mariko Hattori, Robyn Wygal, Alina Luk, Danielle Burner, Catherine Etchechury, Leane Nguyen, Beril Polat, Shelby Stavretis, and Sam Karmia.


Holiday Succulent Event

by Ksenya Cohen Katsenlson

On Wednesday November 28, 2018, the events committee organized a succulent planting event for the holidays. The event was sponsored by VWR, which covered the expenses of the entire event, and Hera Hub, which shared its lovely venue. Light snacks were served. The registration was limited to 20 people and the attendance was full. Out of the 20 participants, seven were non AWIS-SD members.

The succulent planting was led by Stacy Pham, Validation Project Manager & Regional Lead at Delta Project Management. Pham has been an essential volunteer with the Events Committee in the past few months helping with organizing and advertising. Pham gave detailed step-by-step instructions on how to plant the succulents, provided information on their care, and answered all questions.

Events succulent IMG 5431

The lovely succulent pots were decorated with holiday decorations provided by VWR. The participants sat around two large tables, which enabled plenty of interactions and networking opportunities. Thank you to all the members of Events Committee for taking part in organizing this successful event: Valeria Viscardi, Ksenya Cohen Katsenelson, Adina Gerson-Gurwitz, and Ray Seraydarian.

Academia to Industry (A2I) coffee club – An evening with Dr. Weiping Jiang

by Qiong Song

Dr. Weiping Jiang, the Vice President of Biomarker Discovery at BioLegend, along with his two junior colleagues from BioLegend, joined AWIS SD for an academia to industry coffee chat at Bella Vista café on November 7, 2018. Jiang shared with attendees his transition from academia to industry, the workflow in industrial biomarker discovery, and other experiences that are of interest to STEM students and postdocs who are looking to transition into industry.

Jiang’s transition from academia to industry started with a family decision. Twenty years ago, Jiang was a faculty member at Penn State College of Medicine teaching graduate/medical students and directing research on proteases, mucins, and carbonic anhydrases. His wife was offered a job from a biotech company near Minneapolis. She accepted the job with Dr. Jiang’s full support and the family planned to reunite after a year when Dr. Jiang found a new job in the area. Two weeks later, Dr. Jiang received an invitation for an interview at R&D Systems, a Minneapolis company with plans to develop products for protease research. After receiving an offer from the company, he decided to close his lab and helped his technician find a job. It took him one month to complete these activities before starting his 20-year journey in the biotech industry, first at R&D Systems and later at BioLegend where he focused on assay development.

Jiang shared the general workflow in a typical reagent company (e.g., Target Identification -> Development à Manufacturing -> Quality Control). Every year, Biolegend offers >1000 new products including proteins, antibodies and assay kits to research community. One key factor of working in the biotech industry is anticipating the needs of researchers, their main customers. Jiang follows >10 journals regularly (JBC, Nature, Science, BMC, etc.) and keeps close contact with experts by regular conversations and attending relevant conferences. His knowledge and intuitive decisions led his teams to launch >2,000 new products in the last 20 years.

A2I DrJiang BioLegend

Jiang also encouraged PhDs and Postdocs to look for jobs in industry since they are needed in many different areas such as product/business development, quality, marketing, sales and technical services and they can have fulfilling careers by helping advance science and medicine. He said, “Best leaders need to know enough science.” He encouraged attendees to contact him for further questions. From him, we can see a dedicated scientist, teacher, and leader working in the biotech industry.



Introducing AWIS-SD member spotlight! Learn about how AWIS-SD helped our committee members, board members, and members grow their professional and personal networks!

What does AWIS-SD mean to you? If you would like to be featured in our newsletter and social media, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.




Scientist, Microprotein Research

Annie Rathore headshot

AWIS-SD Connection

I was the recipient of the 2017 AWIS-SD Scholarship Honorable Mention and was awarded membership to AWIS-SD. I have been a member since and actively involved in mentoring young girls for a successful career in STEM fields. AWIS-SD has been instrumental to me in providing a very supportive environment to network and to seek mentorship.

Professional Connection

As a Life Science Consultant at Deloitte Management Consulting, one of the top consulting firms globally, I'm advising top pharmaceutical companies on their R&D and Innovation Strategies. Prior to that, I completed my Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from UC San Diego and Salk Institute for Biological Studies at the age of 25. As a doctoral researcher, I published extensively on microproteins in top scientific journals and have been honored multiple awards such as Women in Science Award (Salk Institute). I hold a bachelor’s degree from Indian Institute of Technology, where I was also awarded the Khorana Scholarship by Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India.

Personal Connection

Apart from Science, I’m fond of good food and enjoy creating modern Indian recipes. Like most millennials, I’m also passionate about traveling. With 12 countries checked off, I’m looking to add more to the list this year.



Chemistry, Materials Science

Laure Kayser headshot

AWIS-SD Connection

Outreach Committee Member

I became a member of AWIS in 2017 and I have since organized parts of the AWIS STEM Career Conference and Chem Expo at Miramar College. I love AWIS because I get to meet talented women from all STEM backgrounds!

Professional Connection

Post-doc in NanoEngineering

I joined UC San Diego in 2016 after my Ph.D. in polymer chemistry. My research focuses on developing stretchable materials for wearable electronics. I plan on pursuing my career in academia and advancing research in bioelectronics.

Personal Connection

When I am not playing with colorful chemicals, I enjoy biking, hiking, and gardening. And like a lot of other chemists, I spend my free time cooking, baking, and enjoying craft beers.



Science Policy

Adriana Bankston headshot

AWIS-SD Connection

Former Co-Chair, AWIS-SD Public Relations

Founding President of the AWIS-Kentucky Affiliate

AWIS provided an opportunity for me to network with other women in STEM and build a local community.

Professional Connection

Policy & Advocacy Fellow, Society for Neuroscience (SfN)

I have successfully transitioned from academia into a science policy career. SfN members work to raise global support for investment in basic research & neuroscience discovery. I provide staff support for special and on-going projects within this context.

Personal Connection

I enjoy cuddling with my dogs and taking them for walks. I also love photography, baking, reading Dan Brown books, and watching movies with a clever plot that keeps me guessing.



A2I-Takeda tour

by Aarti Narang

On October 12, 2018, Academia to Industry (A2I) club organized a tour of the Takeda facility in San Diego, which was attended by 20 people. The tour consisted of a brief introduction followed by an exposure of the Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics (DMPK) and compound management facilities. The tour ended with a panel discussion.

The introduction by Ruhi Kamran outlined the areas of focus for Takeda Global: immuno-oncology, gastroenterology (GI), and neuroscience. Takeda’s R&D site in San Diego is primarily focused on GI and neuroscience research, and serves as an interface for the dynamic San Diego and San Francisco biotechnology ecosystems. Ruhi explained the three phases of drug development and the amount of time each phase takes. This made the attendees appreciate the breadth of processes involved in drug development. For the tour of the facility, our group was divided into two groups. One group went to the DMPK facility first before going to the Compound Management facility, while the second group toured the Compound Management first.

The tour of the DMPK facility familiarized attendees with the steps of pharmacokinetic studies that take place in Takeda. The scientists assess the chemical properties of the compounds, through in vitro and in vivo safety studies, which are then used to determine the doses that will be administered to humans. These studies provide information regarding the stability and permeability of the drug. Various routes, concentration, and timing of drug administrations are tested in animals and metabolites of the parent compound are assessed using mass spectrometry. Higher doses of compounds are used to determine drug tolerability and toxicology. The half-life and distribution of the drug are critical to determine whether the compounds can proceed to next steps. The translational research and biomarker discovery unit at Takeda attempts to interpret these findings in the context of human disease. During Phase-1, a safe dose of the compound is determined by assessing its biodistribution and metabolism.

The compound management unit is where the samples are coded and stored. The unit also determines the structure of the drugs using state of the art X-ray crystallographic and robotic systems. In this unit, proteins are crystalized and 3D structures are analyzed to study the protein-protein interactions.

The last part of the tour was a panel discussion. The panel consists of Dr. Andrea Fanjul (GI Immunology), Dr. Sreeja Gopal (Early Biomarker discovery), Anne Kanta (Associate Scientist) and Dr. Beibei Cai Senior Scientist (Discovery Toxicology). The panelists provided a description of what their roles entail at Takeda. They also provided unique insights into their career paths and how they attained their current position.



by Sabrina Treadwell

We all have been at one point in our careers asking ourselves questions like: ’What am I going to do next?’ OR ‘How do I going to get to the next step?’ In the December 2018 Strategy Session, a panel of non-academic research professionals shared valuable tips on how to answer these and related questions.

Our panelists were Roanna Padre (Director of Product and Commercial Strategy at GenomeDx), Stephanie Pinkerton (Senior Scientist at Pfizer Centers for Therapeutic Innovation), Liz Wilson (Principal Scientist at Pfizer Centers for Therapeutic Innovation), Adriana Bankston (Policy & Advocacy Fellow, Society for Neuroscience), and Marisa L. Martino (Technical Sales Specialist at Thermo Fisher). Despite having different positions in various companies, everyone agreed that connections are key to their success. Connect with others by attending networking events or mobilizing existing contacts. Employ their experience and influence, be persistent and assertive while seeking the information and support you need to get ahead.

Another piece of great advice was to learn how to promote yourself, something that females tend to be less confident at. This became clear when the panel asked whether or not you should only apply for a job when you have eight out of ten of the desired skills. The answer is NO, the ideal candidate does not exist. Win them over with your technical skills as well as your transferable and interpersonal skills. In addition, interviews go both ways; if you do not get a good vibe from the people you met at the interview, ask yourself whether the culture would be a good fit for you.

The main take home message of this well-received session is: get out of your comfort zone, find your motivation, and find a boss that supports your career.


Inaugural PhD Career Connect Bootcamp by The Known Experience

by Shelby Stavretis and Yuesong Shi

On Saturday, December 1, 2018, The Known Experience held a STEM career bootcamp for graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and advanced-degree graduates at Canyon Vista, UC San Diego. The bootcamp’s Founder & Chief Career Strategist Joe Cribari developed this event to help attendees develop career-thinking acumen to make the transition out of academia. This half-day event was composed of small group discussions and career-related exercises led by professionals from the industry. Following a structured agenda, participants had the chance to receive immediate advice from industry professionals.

The day started with a breakfast mixer where participants had a chance to network with industry professionals, who transitioned out of academia and are currently working in various positions in STEM-related industries. The breakfast mixer was followed by individual reflection sessions. Small groups were formed in which participants worked together on exercises, such as how to overcome major career doubts. Jon, who is a scientist at Illumina, led the discussion of one group and provided thoughtful feedback. He also helped participants in tailoring their answers and raised useful points when they were asked for strategies on how to stand out during an interview process. After the first session, each group moved to a different table to join the next discussion exercise led by a different industry professional. One of the professionals, Marty, shared her experience in transitioning from academia to industry and described her typical work day at Illumina.

This bootcamp offered a great opportunity for participants to reflect on themselves and gain confidence when transitioning out of academia. By the end of the event, the participants were given tools to make their career aspirations a reality. The event also provided a chance to connect with fellow graduate students, PhD graduates, and postdocs.

After the event, Shelby was given the opportunity to interview the organizer, Joe Cribari.


Q: What inspired you to start The Known Experience bootcamps?

A: It was the dynamic and growing community of students, graduates and employers doing cutting-edge research on our Torrey Pines Research Mesa. I came to UC San Diego in 2007 and for over a decade had the distinct opportunity and pleasure supporting students-- especially PhD student researchers and scholars--in successfully transitioning to satisfying careers in diverse industries and professions. I also worked closely with them and their employers following graduation, as a director of employer and alumni relations. This experience uniquely qualified and positioned me to implement and develop an innovative strategy to better connect and nurture a valued ecosystem to help meet the talent and workforce development needs in San Diego.


Q: What do you hope participants gained from the bootcamp experience?

A: That more than ever students and scholars just like them have successful and satisfying careers in a diverse number of industries and professions. The industry professionals understand the many and various challenges current PhD students and postdoctoral scholars face, especially when looking beyond the traditional and often expected trajectory of an academic career. They appreciate your talent and value and are often thrilled to share their career knowledge and best practices, give a behind-the-scenes look into their work, and “open doors” to top employers in San Diego and beyond.


Q: What's your biggest piece of advice for PhDs making the transition into the workforce?

A: Start early in your PhD career, to make the unknown known in every aspect of your career preparation, search and transition. Plus, you don't have to do it alone. Like the professionals that take time out of their busy schedules to help facilitate our bootcamps, there are many more willing to share their experience and provide support. There's nothing more valuable than speaking with someone who is doing what you aspire to do in your career.


Q: What impact do you hope the The Known Experience provides for the PhD community in San Diego?

A: San Diego is a dynamic and growing innovation hub, especially in biotech, data science, and IT. The Known Experience’s mission is to help catalyze and nurture the large and talented PhD research community of students, scholars, professionals, and employers to offer a valued and sustainable ecosystem that leads the way in talent and workforce development. With the logistically close proximity of the entities making up this community, San Diego is uniquely positioned to continue to attract and, more importantly, retain some of the top student and research talent in the world.


Q: What events does The Known Experience have planned for 2019?  

A: We plan to offer our Career Connect Bootcamp every 4-6 weeks. Our next one is scheduled for February 23rd, 2019. We are also looking to co-host, along with Bella Vista Social Club Cafe, at least two larger career and professionally-focused gatherings, which offer our bootcamp participants and other students and postdoctoral scholars on the Research Mesa the chance to connect with local professional peers from diverse industries and professions, employers, and other key workforce development “champions” and stakeholders.

We also plan to launch a podcast this spring, offering interesting and unique career-focused discussions with PhD professionals, startup founders, and employers in San Diego, and beyond!



by Alyson Smith

  • A research team led by Kim Cooper of UC San Diego has developed a method to create gene drives in mice. This technology — first reported in insects by Ethan Bier and Valentino Gantz of UCSD in 2015 — uses CRISPR/Cas9 to accelerate the spread of selected gene(s) through populations of animals. The researchers hope to use gene drives to construct mouse models of complex, multigenic diseases, such as diabetes or cancer.
  • A research team led by Yang Xu of UC San Diego has found that drugs promoting the function of p53, a tumor suppressor mutated in many cancers, can have unintended consequences. When the researchers restored p53 function in liver cancer cells, the cells began producing energy through oxygen-independent glycolysis. This could promote cancer growth in oxygen-poor tumors.
  • The 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government, which ended on January 25th, slowed down San Diego science. It delayed payment of grants (including the salaries of some local scientists) and shut down agencies involved in public stock offerings. Although the shutdown has ended, it could have lasting effects on long-term projects such as international research expeditions from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
  • A research team led by UC San Diego scientists has developed a potential treatment for spinal cord injury. They implanted a 3D printed, biologically compatible implant filled with neural stem cells into completely severed rat spinal cords. The implant helped the stem cells mature into neurons and connect severed nerves while supporting the growth of blood vessels to nourish the new neurons. The treatment restored partial mobility to the rats’ lower limbs. The next step is to repeat this study in monkeys, with a long-term goal of human clinical trials.
  • Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have predicted that climate change will reduce the frequency of hot, dry Santa Ana winds in the coming decades by reducing the frequency of the high-pressure systems that create them. While not removing the risk of wildfires, these changes could affect the timing and severity of future California wildfire seasons.
  • The Allen Institute, founded by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, recently announced the creation of the Allen Institute for Immunology. This initiative will bring together researchers at UC San Diego and four other research centers to study networks of immune cells and signalling pathways in healthy volunteers and patients at risk for developing cancer or autoimmune diseases. The studies will track how the immune system changes over time, especially during disease progression.
  • Former Salk Institute scientist Beverly Emerson settled her gender discrimination lawsuit against Salk in November. As with the lawsuits filed by current Salk scientists Katherine Jones and Vicki Lundblad, which were settled in August, the settlement terms were not made public. Emerson moved to Oregon Health Sciences University in late 2017 when her contract with Salk expired and was not renewed.
  • A study led by Jerold Chun of the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute reported genetic recombination in the gene encoding the Alzheimer’s disease-related protein amyloid precursor protein (APP) in human neurons. Neurons from Alzheimer’s patients had increased genetic diversity in the APP gene, often leading to mutations already linked with Alzheimer’s. Chun and colleagues propose that using HIV drugs to inhibit reverse transcriptase, the enzyme that mediates this recombination, may treat or prevent Alzheimer’s.



1) Speed Mentoring Event

Date: Monday, March 11, 2019, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Venue:  National University, 11255 North Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, 92037

Event details and registration:

2) OUTREACH - Participate as an AWIS SD Judge in the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair 2019

Date: Wednesday, March 13, 2019, 11:30 AM - 2:30 PM

Venue: Balboa Park Activity Center        

Event details and registration:

3) OUTREACH - Expanding Your Horizons Conference - Crime Science Workshop 2019

Calling for volunteers!

Date: Saturday, March 23, 2019 09:00 AM - 03:00 PM

Venue: University of San Diego

Event details and registration:



4) AWIS SD Scholarship deadline is March 28, 2019

More information:



See more AWIS-SD events here.

About the Authors

Juliati R

Juliati Rahajeng received her PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Nebraska, Medical Center in 2011. She joined UCSD School of Medicine as a postdoctoral researcher one month after her graduation. Juliati has been a member of AWIS-SD for the past 3 years. She is currently the co-chairs for the Newsletter committee and the Academia 2 Industry Coffee Club. She is also an active member of the Scholarship committee and she was a member of the AWIS-SD Open House 2015 committee.


Anita Pottekat headshot

Anita Pottekat received her Ph.D in Biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and moved to San Diego to do her post-doctoral research at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI). She is currently working as a Scientist in the Array Content division at Illumina Inc. Her passion for teaching and promoting STEM in women brought her to AWIS and is currently serving on the outreach committee. Outside of work Anita enjoys dancing, travelling, gardening and spending time with her family.


Ksenya C K

Ksenya Cohen Katsenelson received her Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. To further enhance her research career, she relocated to San Diego for a postdoc at UCSD. She has a strong background in signal transduction pathways, and a broad range of experience in biochemistry and molecular and cell biology techniques. Outside the lab she loves hiking and boogie boarding with her husband and daughter, and enjoys social events with friends.


Qiong Song headshot

Qiong Song is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the School of Medicine, UCSD. Her research focuses on studying pathogenesis of a group of rare genetic diseases with 3D human stem cell culture. She received her PhD in Bioprocess Engineering from the State University of New York in 2015. Qiong loves learning and problem solving. She serves as one of the Academia 2 Industry co-chairs since 2018.


sabrina crop

Sabrina Treadwell received her Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from the University of East Anglia and the Institute of Food Research in the UK in 2013. She joined UC San Diego as a postdoctoral researcher in 2014 to pursue her interest in Gastroenterology and Glycobiology. In early 2017, Sabrina transitioned into a new role as a project manager at UC San Diego leading an exploratory clinical research study. Sabrina joined AWIS-San Diego in 2015 and has since been an active member of the Strategy Sessions committee for which she currently serves as co-chair.


aarti narang headshot 1

Aarti Narang is a Neuroimmunologist with an interest in promoting opportunities amongst women of all nationalities and color. Aarti did her PhD in Immunology from Medical University of South Carolina where she developed complement therapeutics for treatment of spinal cord injury paralysis that have been licensed to Alexion. She is now studying mechanisms of Neural regeneration to gain a better understanding and develop better therapeutics for people with neurodegenrative diseases. Along with her scientific career she has led several teams and is passionate about helping women connect and grow!


 Shelby Stavretis headshot

Shelby Stavretis received her Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and her B.S. in Chemistry from Butler University, Indianapolis. The focus of her doctoral research was investigating molecular material with neutron scattering. Outside of science, Shelby loves going on road trips and hikes with her dog.


Yuesong Shi Headshot

Yuesong Shi is currently a Ph.D. student major in Materials Science & Engineering at UCSD. Her research is focused on developing engineering tools and design to interface with the biological system. With an interest in creative medical devices, she is hoping to bridge research with real-world problems.


Alyson Smith headshot

Alyson Smith recently earned her Ph.D. in cell biology from The Scripps Research Institute, studying the role of structural and motor proteins in maintaining the shape and durability of red blood cells in the lab of Velia Fowler. Prior to her graduate work, she earned a B.A. in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology from the University of California, Berkeley. Alyson is currently pursuing a career in biotech intellectual property law. An interest in science communication and outreach motivated Alyson to join AWIS-SD shortly after she began her Ph.D., and she is now an active member of the Outreach and Newsletter Committees. Outside of AWIS-SD, Alyson enjoys baking, reading, writing, and running.





Spring 2019 Newsletter Volume 27 Issue 2

This issue of the Newsletter is available in PDF.

For previous newsletters, click here.



CourtneyB crop

Dear AWIS-SD Members and Friends,

Congratulations AWIS-SD! We received the AWIS National Star Award for 2018, as well as the Shooting Star Award for member recruitment. This is an honor recognized by National AWIS as one of six AWIS chapters to receive the new Shooting Star Award.

Summer is just around the corner! As the semester and fiscal year winds down, I encourage you to think about joining an AWIS-SD committee. We are looking for new members as well as leaders for our committees. Some of these committees include the Events Committee that hosts happy hours, networking and social events for AWIS-SD, Strategy Sessions Committee that organizes career building workshops, and Public Relations Committee that promotes our online presence, creates new AWIS-SD promotional goodies, and communicates with members and non-members. We have various other committees, so if you are interested, please go to www.awissd.org to browse the committees under “About Us.”

One of the largest events that we organize is our WIST conference, which will happen this Fall. This will be a great opportunity for career development and for engaging with incredible mentors in STEM. We are still looking for volunteers to join the various WIST committees. Feel free to email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or WIST 2019 chair Robyn Wygal at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

We have already had numerous great events this year. I would like to especially thank and congratulate our Outreach Committee for organizing so many fantastic events in the spring. The amazing work that our Outreach Committee does in our community is what initially brought me to AWIS-SD and makes me proud to be a part of such a great organization. I would also like to thank our volunteers that enable AWIS-SD to run so smoothly. Without everyone on our Board, Committees, and our Corporate Sponsors, our organization would not thrive like it does. Thank you.


Sincerest wishes,


Courtney Benson

President, AWIS-SD

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


AWIS-SD participates at the 2019 San Diego Science and Engineering Festival Expo Day

by Chistina Grobin

An intrepid band of volunteers led by AWIS-SD Outreach Committee members Bridget Kohlnhofer and Chistina Grobin met at a rainy Petco Park on Saturday morning, March 2nd. The event organizers were quick to handle the off-loading and delivered all the OOBLECK materials to the booth. Copious amounts of cornstarch were soon flying as volunteers stirred and kneaded the growing goop. Sturdy banners that have served AWIS-SD well were hung in the booth and none the worse for the weather! The same could not be said for OOBLECK information sheets which melted in the rain. Our booth placement near the main stage and on a grassy slope was perfect for the mess we created and optimum for being “in the thick of things”.


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Soon, EXPO Day participants streamed into the stadium area. Children were fascinated by the plastic dinosaurs trapped in the OOBLECK. Older kids took turns smacking the liquid into a hard solid, and learning about this peculiar property of OOBLECK. Parents smiled and squealed with their children’s delight. Some adults took on the challenge of being strong enough to keep the OOBLECK as a ball shape and then have it melt in their palms. Highlights of the day included a rousing rap about studying DNA from the main stage and lengthy conversations about studying science. Thank you so much to our volunteers: Katherine, Corine, Alyson, Kellie, Britney, Fahad, Vanessa, Danielle, Hitomi and Rosana. It was a great day for all!


2019 Greater San Diego Science & Engineering Fair Judging

by Alyson Smith

The 65th annual Greater San Diego Science & Engineering Fair (GSDSEF) was held on March 13, 2019, at the Balboa Park Activity Center. The main science fair judging took place in the morning. After lunch, local professional societies had the opportunity to award additional projects. As in past years, AWIS-SD recognized outstanding projects by female students. A team of 20 volunteer judges from diverse scientific backgrounds and professions (led by Alyson Smith, Pam Bhattacharya, and Maddy Yeh) judged projects for AWIS-SD.

This year, AWIS-SD volunteers interviewed and evaluated 50 female students in the Senior Division (9th-12th graders) and nearly 300 female students in the Junior Division (7th and 8th graders). New and returning judges alike noted high levels of creativity, enthusiasm, and quality of research from students of all backgrounds. This year’s projects aimed to answer interesting questions in Animal Sciences, Plant Sciences, Microbiology, Chemistry, and many other fields of science and engineering. Many judges reported learning something new from the student’s innovative research.

After two to three hours of interviews and deliberation, 10 winning projects (2 senior and 8 junior) were selected. Congratulations to Arushi Dogra and Emily Tianshi of the Senior Division and Soleil Matsumoto, Maura Roberts, Noorah Dhamim, Melia Crimaldi, Lilli Lawrenz, Victoria Ehsan, Roeszele Nieves Ellis, Priyanka Soe, and Kristen Noriega of the Junior Division. Thank you to the volunteers who gave their time, energy, and expertise to judge the large number of projects. Congratulations to all the 2019 GSDSEF AWIS-SD winners! 

We hope to have even more volunteers to judge science fair projects next year. The more judges that participate, the more attention we can give to each student. Please help us spread the word about this opportunity to meet, mentor, and recognize the next generation of San Diego women in STEM!

2 Judging Photo use 


AWIS-SD Speed Mentoring Event

by Ray Seraydarian

On Monday March 11th, AWIS-SD held our perennially popular Speed Mentoring event at National University on Torrey Pines Road, just a bit north of UCSD. Mentees sat at tables with a mentor to learn more about career-advancing topics in academia and industry such as clinical research, marketing, project leadership, regulatory affairs, and others. Attendees preregistered online, selecting their preferred mentoring topics, and the Events Committee matched them up in advance such that for any of the four, 15-minute sessions a reasonably small number of people were sitting with a mentor. After the last mentoring session, a light dinner was served, and mentors and mentees could freely network and talk one-on-one.

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The Events Committee thank all our mentors:  Laura Bordone (GNF), Simone Brandalise (Aerotek), Barbara Calabrese (UCSD), Suni L. Dungan (CTK Biotech), Stephanie Leyva (Clinical Operations), Kristina Manvelian (Nabriva Therapeutics), Yvonne Oden (BioSurplus), and Juliati Rahajeng (Cato Research).  The author (RS) thanks the other three Events Committee members — Adina Gerson-Gurwitz, Ksenya Cohen-Katsenelson, and Valeria Viscardi, for their hard work identifying and recruiting the mentors, performing the pre-event mentor-mentee matching, and other arrangements for this successful event.

Paging the Ghostbusters-Logan Heights Branch Library

by Maddy Yeh

March 5, 2019, was marked by rain but that did not stop families from coming to Logan Heights Branch Library to learn about different topics of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math at the STEM in Your Backyard Event. Attendees filtered into a large room complete with tables with various demonstrations. AWIS-SD Outreach captivated the families with - you guessed it - Slime. This activity caught young peoples’ attention, and soon a crowd formed around the table. Excited faces and pleas were met with one of two reactions from parents: "go ahead" or "absolutely not"! One can hardly blame the parents whose children are begging to play with the messiest thing around. The women scientists dazzled families by helping the children make and understand this gooey phenomenon.

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Thanks to AWIS-SD Outreach committee members Maddy and Kina who organized this events and volunteers Gema, Hitomi, Kendra, and Yessica, who helped make this event so much fun! When the crowds had cleared out, the goopy mess clinging to every surface left AWIS-SD with one question... Who you gonna call (to clean this up)?


Academia to Industry (A2I) coffee club – An evening with Stephanie Verbrugghe 

by Qiong Song

In a heavily regulated industry, pharma companies, big or small, cannot overlook the importance of good practice guidelines (GxPs). On February 13, 2019, the A2I coffee club enjoyed an active learning session about GxP in the pharma industry with Stephanie Verbrugghe. In this coffee chat, club members gained insights into the pharmaceutical industry’s regulations, workflow, as well as insights about career possibilities available to an employee, entrepreneur and GxP Quality Assurance consultant.

Verbrugghe is a Belgian industrial pharmacist who moved to the US in 2017, founded her own company: Farbridge Pharma Consulting. Her company focuses on GxP quality assurance in the areas of manufacturing, distribution, pharmacovigilance, and clinical trials. She was able to leverage specific skills and exceptional knowledge learned through years of GxP experience in Europe to ease the US companies' access to the EU clinical trials and market (and vice versa).

In the US, GxPs were established by the US Food and Drug Administration, and have equivalents worldwide in an effort to ensure the safety of medical related products. The “x” stands for various aspects, such as GLP for Good Laboratory Practices, GMP for Good Manufactory Practices, GCP for Good Clinical Practices, GDP for Good Distribution Practices and GVP (or GPvP) for Good Pharmacovigilance Practices. GxPs are generally complex to interpret and difficult to put into practice, thus professionals experienced in GxPs are highly desirable. Despite their complexity, GxPs have a defined structure and can be broken down to several elements. Verbrugghe used a flip chart with hand-drawn diagrams, and explained in detail the main elements and workflow in the practice. 

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We all felt her passion in the life sciences and quality management sectors, and enjoyed her warm and engaging lecture. She said founding her own company was her dream and she is very happy to have fulfilled it. She also pointed out that networking is a key element to be known as an entrepreneur and a professional. A happy client is the best advertisement. Moreover, well established channels of communication with health authorities are essential in regulatory affairs. This echoes the idea that transferable skills (communication, project leadership) are valuable in the transition from academia to industry for our club members (who typically have Masters or PhDs), along with knowledge and technical skills.


Outreach at Expanding Your Horizons Conference

by Jessica Cassin

The AWIS-SD Outreach Committee organized an activity for the February 2019 Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) event. The EYH conference, which draws over 600 girls between 6th- 10th grades, offers an opportunity for them to take part in hands-on workshops to foster their enthusiasm for STEM and to meet women leaders in STEM. Over the course of the day we had three groups of around 15 sixth grade girls visit the AWIS workshop. We put together a “crime scene” activity in which the girls learned about fingerprinting, identified an unknown solid, and performed ink chromatography and DNA fingerprinting at each of four stations to determine who had committed a crime.

At each of the stations, volunteers demonstrated the science behind crime scene identification. At the solid analysis station, girls learned about the properties of solids and how to identify them by observing physical state, chemical structures, color, smell, pH and the unknown solid’s reaction with various liquids. The girls were fascinated to see that starch reacts with iodine to form a dark blue paste while baking soda and vinegar form a bubbly fizzy reaction.

 6 EYH 2019 1 use         6 EYH 2019 3 use

At the DNA fingerprinting station, the girls had great success identifying subjects. The girls practiced using pipettes and loading DNA gels. During the fingerprint activity, girls learned about the shapes found in fingerprints (whorls, arches, loops). Finally, the girls used special paper to separate the component pigments in ink samples. In all three stations, the girls compared the sample found at the crime scene to the “suspect” samples and identified which “suspect” had left the sample.

In addition to a fun exposure to science, the girls also got the opportunity to interact with female scientists active in research. Any free moment was spent asking the volunteers what they did, why they liked science, and how the girls could continue in the field. The girls who participated in our workshop were very enthusiastic and curious. Their enthusiasm was matched by that of the fabulous group of women who volunteered their Saturday to mentor these girls! During the periods between workshops, the volunteers had the opportunity to share about their career, what it means to be a woman in science, and even offer technical advice to each other on experiments!  The day was a success not just in terms of mentorship, but also for the volunteers who were able to meet and interact with other women who share their love for science and mentorship.

AWIS SD Outreach committee member Jessica Cassin was the point person for this event. Fellow AWIS members and members of the science community, Kristen Breit, Cristina Rodriguez, Mikella Nuzen, Kendra Hailey, and Veronica Gomez volunteered their time to lead the four workshops. We would also like to thank the AWIS community who rallied behind the event, filling a few last minute vacancies to make sure this event was a success!


PhD Career Connect Bootcamp by The Known Experience

by Angela Macia and Alison Huang

Overview of the event

On Saturday, February 2, 2019, The Known Experience held a PhD Connect Bootcamp for graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and advanced-degree graduates at Canyon Vista, UC San Diego. Joe Cribari, the founder of The Known Experience, hosted this event to help attendees develop the strategy to smoothly transition from an academic profession to an industry career. The half-day event included small group discussions led by industry professionals, covering three major topics including career exploration, development of self-competitive advantage, and creating a personal value pitch. Each topic was moderated by an industry expert. Participants received immediate feedback from the lead and had in-depth discussions with other attendees. During the discussion session and breakfast mixer, participants networked with industry professionals with diverse backgrounds, including a consultant, industry scientist, product manager and technical support manager from companies like McKinsey, Thermo Fisher, and Illumina. 

Perspective from a Cancer Biology PhD Student

I found the program to be very well-structured and engaging. Joe led us through three major topics, and during each section, we were able to take time to brainstorm and self-reflect on our career desires. In addition, the handout we were given provided valuable instructions. During the discussion, I was able to further understand and validate my skill sets and abilities which are transferable to the biotech industry. More importantly, I learned to present these qualities in a more impressive way. Joe also provided tips on how to perform an effective informational interview and to clear the knowledge fog of a particular position. I have been wanting to work on this but did not know how to get started. The instructions of how to set up an informational interview and the question list Joe provided are very helpful to me. The opportunity to network and connect with so many industry professionals from diverse companies in one morning was also extremely beneficial. They were engaged in the discussion, genuinely shared their career navigation process, offered practical tips, and helped participants form actionable plans. I particularly benefited from talking to Matthew from Thermo Fisher and Stacy from Illumina. I have been interested in particular positions in these two specific companies and attempted to do research online by myself. However, nothing is more effective and critical than talking to the insiders directly. I gained more confidence to transition to industry. In particular, I am now equipped with more knowledge and tools after attending the PhD Connect Boot Camp.

Perspective from a Molecular Biology Postdoctoral Scholar

This PhD career boot camp was a dynamic and efficient way to learn about the most important topics on career transitioning. Joe provided us with a simplified guide where we would start by self-reflecting ideas to then communicating them with the rest of the group. With this method, we were not only getting great tools to thrive in each of the steps on the career transitioning journey, but also keeping everyone engaged, participative, and open to constructive assessment among peers. With this boot camp, I learned about my own motivation and goals, as well as other people’s objectives and passions. Additionally, networking and interacting with experts in their field, gave us the opportunity to know more about the where, the why and the how from their own perspectives. I was very satisfied with this training, and I would definitely recommend it to someone interested in transitioning from academia to industry.


 AWIS-SD Scholarships 2019

by Dorota Skowronska-Krawczyk

The AWIS-San Diego Scholarship Program, now in its 19th year, strives to encourage and reward outstanding women pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields at San Diego colleges and universities.

On April 6th, 2019, the Scholarship Committee met for several hours to choose the 2019 Scholars. Out of 67 outstanding applications, the committee selected five for the $1000 award and seven for Honorable Mentions and one-year San Diego chapter membership.

Here is the list of the selected remarkable students:

2019 Awardee

  • Kim Kelley, Mira Costa College
  • Desirae Mellor, UCSD
  • Barbara Perez, Mesa College
  • Sofia Sanchez, USD
  • My Tran, SDSU

Honorable Mentions

  • Anamika Agrawal, UCSD
  • Cecilia Barnhill, USD
  • Jeongin Choi, San Diego City College
  • Claudia Palomino La-torre, UCSD
  • Hannah Rutledge, UCSD
  • Aurian Seleh, UCSD
  • Sabrina Younan, SDSU

Congratulations! Stay tuned for the next issue of newsletter for us to share their personal stories of accomplishments!



by Alyson Smith

  • Jessica Meir, astronaut and assistant professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School, will spend six months on board the International Space Station starting in September. Meir, who earned a PhD studying comparative diving physiology at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, joins a long tradition of UCSD alumnae and female faculty to travel to space.
  • Salk Institute emeritus professor Sydney Brenner died at age 92 on April 5th. In a decades-long career, Brenner helped to found modern molecular biology and genetics by cracking the genetic code, discovering messenger RNA, developing next-generation sequencing, and establishing the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as a model organism. Brenner joined Salk Institute in 1976 and also served on the faculty of Scripps Research.
  • The TED Audacious Project has awarded the Salk Institute over $35 million to genetically engineer crops to absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Salk plant biologist Joanne Chory will lead the initiative, which aims to create plants that can together remove up to 25 percent of human-produced carbon dioxide.
  • To celebrate Pi day, San Diego Gas & Electric has pledged up to $314,159 to fund classroom projects in science, technology, engineering, and math in San Diego County K-12 public schools. The utility company will match funds raised by local teachers on DonorsChoose.org.
  • Animal Planet has announced a new series that will introduce viewers to the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, featuring individual animals and the keepers who care for them. The series will air later this year.
  • UC San Diego and Caltech seismologists have developed new algorithms to identify low-magnitude earthquakes in southern California seismometer readings. They found that the region experienced ten times more earthquakes between 2008 and 2017 than previously thought. The scientists hope to use this new information to study fault activity and predict major earthquakes.
  • Using data from NASA’s Kepler telescope, San Diego State University astronomers have discovered a third planet in the Kepler-47 solar system, 3,340 light-years from Earth. Kepler-47 is the only known system that has multiple planets orbiting two stars.



1) AWIS-SD Happy Hour

Date: Monday, June 03, 2019 05:45 PM - 08:00 PM

When: Monday June 3rd. 5:45-8pm

Where: New English Brewing (11545 Sorrento Valley Rd. Suite 305)

Free for AWIS SD members, $5 for non-members. Register at



2) STRATEGY SESSIONS: How to Manage Future Plans & Prepare for the Unexpected

Date: Thursday, June 06, 2019 06:00 PM

Venue: Hera Hub, 4010 Sorrento Valley Blvd, Suite 400, San Diego, CA 92121

Click on following link for more information and to register


3) Academia to Industry Coffee Club June Meeting

Date: Wednesday, June 05, 2019 05:00 PM

Venue: Bella Vista Social Club and Caffe

Click on following link for more information and to register



See more AWIS-SD events here.

About the Authors


 Chistina Grobin crop

Chistina Grobin was introduced to AWIS through the Back-to-Work Initiative and currently serves on the Outreach Committee. Chistina is an adjunct instructor of chemistry for Mesa College. She had a research career at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill but is seeking new opportunities in California hiking country.


Alyson Smith headshot

Alyson Smith recently earned her Ph.D. in cell biology from The Scripps Research Institute, studying the role of structural and motor proteins in maintaining the shape and durability of red blood cells in the lab of Velia Fowler. Prior to her graduate work, she earned a B.A. in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology from the University of California, Berkeley. Alyson is currently pursuing a career in biotech intellectual property law. An interest in science communication and outreach motivated Alyson to join AWIS-SD shortly after she began her Ph.D., and she is now an active member of the Outreach and Newsletter Committees. Outside of AWIS-SD, Alyson enjoys baking, reading, writing, and running.


Ray S headshot

Ray Seraydarian earned his BS and M. Eng. degrees in Engineering Physics from Cornell University, and has spent his entire professional career in San Diego working in visible spectroscopy and areas closely involved with nuclear fusion research at General Atomics (GA) and UCSD. He is currently employed by UCLA at GA working on a microwave instrument for the large ITER fusion experiment being built by an international consortium in southern France. Outside of work, Ray enjoys theater, movies, bicycling, downhill skiing, and small boat sailing. Ray is a long standing AWIS-SD member, and he currently serves as a co-chair of the Events Committee.


 Maddy Yeh headshot

Yasan (Maddy) Yeh recently received her Ph.D. in Bioengineering from UC San Diego, where she applied nanotechnology to cancer therapy. She is currently working for a biotech startup, and is an active member of AWIS San Diego Outreach committee.


Qiong Song headshot

Qiong Song is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the School of Medicine, UCSD. Her research focuses on studying pathogenesis of a group of rare genetic diseases with 3D human stem cell culture. She received her PhD in Bioprocess Engineering from the State University of New York in 2015. Qiong loves learning and problem solving. She serves as one of the Academia 2 Industry co-chairs since 2018.


JessicaCassin headshot

Jessica Cassin is a postdoctoral fellow at UCSD in the lab of Dr. Pamela Mellon. She received her Ph.D. in Human Genetics from the Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine. Her current research focuses on identifying novel genes in the hypothalamic–pituitary–gonadal axis in order to both discover new mechanisms of the pathway, as well as elucidate genetic causes of the disorder Isolated GnRH Deficiency. When she is not in the lab, she enjoys spending as much time outdoors enjoying the beauty around San Diego, hiking and kayaking. Jessica loves traveling but if she must be inside, she will be reading, cooking, or knitting.


AngelaMacia headshot

Angela Macia is a postdoctoral researcher at UCSD working in Dr. Alysson Muotri’s laboratory. She received her Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Granada, Spain, in 2015. Angela has a strong background in transposable elements, and a broad range of experience in both human pluripotent and adult stem cells. Her research focuses on modeling neurological diseases, such as Autism Spectrum Disorders, investigating how transposons contribute to the disease by using patient-derived neurons and 3D organoids. She is passionate about how AWIS-SD creates opportunities for women and girls in STEM and she has been part of the Corporate Sponsorship committee since 2017. Besides volunteering for AWIS-SD, Angela enjoys traveling, reading and cooking.



Alison Yi-Jou Huang obtained her BS in Life Science at National Taiwan University, and currently she is a PhD candidate in Cancer Biology at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. The focus of her doctoral research is studying how different mutations contribute to leukemia development using genomic tools and murine models. Outside of work, Alison is an amateur photographer and barista. Alison joined AWIS in early 2018 and is currently serving in Public Relations and Strategy Session Committee.


Dorota headshotJan2018

Dorota Skowronska-Krawczyk is a biochemist and molecular biologist. She received her MSc in Molecular Biology at the University of Warsaw, Poland, and PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. She is currently an Assistant Professor at University of California San Diego, Viterbi Family Department of Ophthalmology. Her primary research interest is to understand the molecular mechanisms of aging using eye as a model system, see http://dsklab.ucsd.edu. Dorota joined AWIS in 2017 and immediately got involved in activities of Scholarship Committee. She currently serves as the chair of the Scholarship committee.  





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