Spring 2017 Newsletter Volume 25 Issue 2

This issue of the Newsletter will be available as a PDF soon.

For previous newsletters, click here.




Dear AWIS-SD members and friends:

We did it!  Another successful WIST conference was well-attended on May 20, 2017.  Here is the serious picture of the WIST Committee taken in front of the Faculty Club before the conference.

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Here is the silly picture taken moments later. 

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I am so proud of all of our volunteers in all committees.  Each and every one of you, who volunteers for a committee, is part of what makes AWIS-SD so great.  This issue of the newsletter highlights everything that AWIS-SD does and does so well.  Please take a few moments to review the articles and gain insights into all the facets of AWIS-SD.

We also could not do all of our work without the generous contributions of our sponsors.  Thank you to all AWIS-SD sponsors.  Again, without you, this would not be possible.

Finally, if you have not yet joined an AWIS-SD committee, I urge you to do so—by actively participating in an AWIS-SD committee, you will get the most out of your AWIS-SD membership.




DeeAnn Visk, President AWIS-SD

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WIST - Keynote addresses inspired us all

by Corine Lau and Juliati Rahajeng

Morning keynote address:

Gillian Wilson, PhD, led us to a journey of the unlimited sky. Wilson is the interim Deputy Director of the University of California Observatories, and a professor of physics and astronomy at UC Riverside. She grew up in Scotland and obtained her PhD at the University of Durham, UK.

Wilson found her passion in astronomy and cosmology when pondering big questions such as “How many stars are out there?” and “What is going to happen to the universe?” According to Wilson, the universe began 13.7 billion years ago following the Big Bang, which did not result in a tremendous sound as movies often portray. The universe is in a state of expansion, and the rate of expansion is increasing. However, the growing universe is expected to slow down. Now the question becomes: will the universe keep expanding or will it turn into a big freeze eventually?

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Dr. Gillian Wilson describing her love for astronomy and cosmology. Photo credit: Corine Lau.

Wilson took a unique approach to address the question on universe expansion.  She studies distant regions in the universe where clusters of galaxies are closer to each other than average. Interestingly, galaxies in these clusters do not expand, nor do they produce stars, thus providing a good model for studying universe evolution. To find these clusters of galaxies, Wilson relies on the most sophisticated telescopes available, including the Hale telescope at the Palomar Observatory, NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer Space telescopes, and the twin 10m Keck telescopes located in the summit in Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

Wilson leads a 25-member international team in the SpARCs survey and reporting on new cluster galaxy discoveries. Together with the GCLASS survey, more than 200 such clusters of galaxies have been discovered. Wilson’s latest endeavor is to engage public interest in science through art and music. The play “Star Maps, Earth Code, and the musical performance “Colliding Worlds” are the recent results of cosmology colliding with performing arts! 


Afternoon keynote address:

Homa Akbarian, PhD, gave an inspiring keynote speech about her journey to leave her beloved home country to pursue her dream for a better future. Akbarian was born in Tehran, Iran. With only a passport in her hand and no exit permit, it was impossible for her to leave Iran to get a better education abroad. Even though her father told her that it was nearly impossible to get the exit permit since there were hundreds of people applying for only a few available daily, she insisted on going anyway. After a lot of physical struggle and the help of a kind-hearted stranger, Akbarian got the exit permit and flew to Germany.

Her fight did not end there. She was determined to learn German, spending 10-11 hours each day. Her diligent studying enabled Akbarian to obtain a certificate that led to a German Federal Research Foundation Graduate Fellowship at Universitat Siegen. After earning a Master’s degree in Physical Chemistry, she accompanied her husband to Los Angeles to pursuit his career. Akbarian then enrolled as a PhD student in Inorganic Chemistry at UCLA. Two impressive tributes followed: Akbarian earned UCLA’s Award for Outstanding Dissertation in Inorganic Chemistry, and UCLA’s Award for Excellence in Research when she graduated in 1996.

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Dr. Homa Akbarian encourages the audience to 'take the risk and never give up'.  Photo credit: Corine Lau.

After her graduation, Akbarian received three to four job offers and decided to work for Clorox Company as a Scientist II in the New Products Department. She worked her way up the corporate ladder for the next 12 years. Then, she was offered a leadership position in the Regulatory Department. In 2007, Akbarian’s husband accepted a faculty position at The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and she gladly followed.

Because of her experience in regulatory affairs, Akbarian obtained a position as the Director of Technical Transfer and Technical Assurance at Neutrogena, a skin care product division of Johnson & Johnson. After working for more than five years at Neutrogena, she transferred to the company’s Medical Device and Diagnostic division, where she has worked for the past five years.

Based on the many challenges in her life, Akbarian offered the following advice:

  1. Take the risk and never give up.
  2. Focus on what is in your control and don’t worry about what is out of your control.
  3. Change teaches you to first survive, then thrive, manage, and lead in our rapidly changing environment.
  4. Love what you do and do it well.
  5. Continue learning instead of being intimidated, and use the opportunities to reboot your brain.



2017 AWIS-SD Scholarship Recipients

by Joan Allmaras

AWIS-San Diego annually awards scholarships to recognize the accomplishments of women in STEM fields at the community college, undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral levels studying at any school within San Diego County. These scholarships would not be possible without the generous donations from corporate sponsors, including Thermo Fisher and UCSD Extension. More than 100 applications were received from applicants in fields ranging from engineering to earth science to psychology. Of those applicants, seven outstanding young women received a $1,000 scholarship.

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This year's AWIS-SD scholarship recipients whose accomplishments were recognized at WIST.  Photo credit: Corine Lau.


Arian Reyes is pursuing a degree in computer engineering at San Diego City College. She is actively involved in the INSPIRE engineering program at UC-Irvine, HACKJUNTOS at Qualcomm, and the Adelante Training program at Northrup Grumman. In addition, Arian serves as the Vice President of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. She plans to transfer to UCLA this fall to continue her education in computer engineering.

Viridiana Apodaca is also a student at San Diego City College and is an active member of the MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement) Program. She was selected for the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program, and plans to transfer to UC-Santa Barbara in the fall to continue her studies. Her ultimate goal is to obtain a Master’s degree in chemical engineering.

Chrestina Mansoor is an undergraduate student at San Diego State University studying civil engineering. An Iraqi immigrant, she was inspired by the destruction she witnessed firsthand during the Iraq War to develop safer infrastructure. As a result, Chrestina has participated in several research projects, such as the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet Inspection and the Wind Turbine Project. She is also an active member of the SDSU MESA program and has been nominated to represent the organization at their annual Statewide Leadership Conference.

Rani Shiao is an undergraduate student at UCSD pursuing a dual bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and earth science. She volunteers in the Tuszynski lab and the UCSD Center for Neural Repair as well as the Norris lab at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD. She plans to pursue a master’s degree, researching the effects of serotonergic inputs on neuropathic pain following spinal cord injury.

Chidinma Okonkwo is also an undergraduate student at UCSD, studying biochemistry/chemistry. She is a scholar in the NIGMS-funded Initiative for Maximizing Student Development and has been working in the Ghosh lab for the last year. In this role, Chidinma examines the importance of protein structures of a bacterial protein and the molecular interactions to understand approaches that might be necessary to prevent bacterial infection. Upon graduation this spring, she plans to continue her education with graduate studies in biochemistry.

Kathryn Shaw is a Master’s-degree student at CSU-San Marcos, studying the psychology of phantom vibration syndrome. Her early research experience examined the immune functioning of young adult survivors of child abuse as well as projects focused on adolescent caregivers. In addition, she has worked at a suicide hotline, crisis treatment facility, and as a teaching assistant. She plans to ultimately earn her doctorate in quantitative psychology.

Shereen Ghosh is a doctoral student at UCSD, one of the highest-ranked in her class. She is currently working in the Gleeson laboratory on pediatric neurodegenerative disease, in which she has identified a familial mutation as well as a prospective cure. While a Master’s degree student at the Salk Institute, she also worked at Pfizer, and has been involved with high school outreach and teaching assistantships.

Six of the seven recipients were able to attend the WIST Conference to be recognized for their accomplishments as well as network and socialize with fellow scientists.

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Krista Ellsworth from Thermo Fisher Scientific (left), and Shannon McDonald from UCSD Extenstion (right) present their $1000 scholarships.  Photo credit: Corine Lau.


Given the exceptional quality of the applicants this year, the scholarship committee also recognized six additional women with honorable mention:

Luz Robelido, San Diego City College

Mariah Moschetti, University of California-San Diego

Ruichen Sun, University of California-San Diego

Lorrie Yates, California State University-San Marcos

Karli Chudeau, California State University-San Marcos

Annie Rathore, Salk Institute


WIST workshop - The Transition from Bench to Non-Bench Careers

by Mai Khuong

As a graduate student wanting to transition away from the bench after graduation, I was delighted to attend the Non-Bench Careers workshop held during the WIST conference on May 20, 2017. Panelists Dr. Alessandra Blasina, Dr. Miriam Cohen, and Dr. Shannon Muir shared their experiences with transitioning from the laboratory bench work to their current industry non-bench careers.

Blasina made the transition after spending more than 15 years at the bench at various biotechnology companies (Pfizer, Shire Pharmaceuticals, and COI Pharmaceuticals). She now works as a Regulatory Affairs Associate at Agility Clinical, Inc, where she oversees compliance with all industry laws and regulations.

Cohen transitioned to business after spending more than 10 years at the bench in academia. She said that five of those years were spent as a “glorified post-doctoral fellow.” She now works as a medical writer at Arbor Scientia, writing material for promotional medical education. Her duties include creating PowerPoint presentations, interactive models, and visual aids for her clients.

Unlike other panelists, Muir transitioned away from the bench and into science policy shortly after receiving her PhD. As a California Council of Science and Technology Science (CCST) Policy Fellow, she worked on policies that ranged from online prescriptions to electronic cigarette usage.

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The panelists give their experience and advice on transitioning from bench to non-bench positions. Photo credit: Mai Khuong.


Based on their individual experiences, all three panelists shared their insights and advice on how to transition. Here are two main takeaways from the workshop.

1. Be involved in organizations.

All three panelists joined non-profit organizations prior to transitioning into their non-bench careers. They consider their involvement extremely valuable in making their transitions. Blasina joined San Diego Regulatory Affairs Network (SDRAN) and participated in its mentoring program.

Through the program, Blasina learned that skills for a new job are acquired gradually as one begins working in a particular position. Rarely does one possess these skills ahead of time.

Cohen served on AWIS-SD’s Corporate Sponsorship Committee. While on the committee, she gained leadership skills and successfully wrote funded grants, which aided in her job search for a medical writing position.

While a graduate student, Muir affiliated with the UC San Diego Graduate Student Association and the UC Student Association Board of Directors. Muir’s involvement with those organizations greatly aided her transition into science policy.

2. Be willing to learn on the job.

The transition from bench to non-bench is not always easy. Once you get the position, be willing to learn and assume new roles. Blasina took any opportunities that came her way. As a Regulatory Affairs Associate, she assumed project management roles and even became a United States agent for global life science companies conducting business in the United States. By doing so, she expanded her skill set and became more valuable as an employee. As a CCST Science Policy Fellow, Muir observed that colleagues willing to set their ego aside and learn new skills became the most successful. In her role, Muir had to become the world’s leading expert on whatever topic landed on her desk. For that reason, her enthusiasm became a great asset.  


 Reflecting on WIST 2017

by Christina Niemeyer

Every other year I say I am not going and definitely not volunteering for it. This year, I can happily say I did both. My role and participation in WIST 2017 was beneficially to me in many ways, even though I am a veteran, having attended and volunteered for almost 20 years.

One of my favorite aspects of WIST is the networking throughout the day.  That does not mean just looking for the next job opportunity.  It means catching up with people I haven’t seen in a while, and meeting new and future scientists. A topic of our discussion includes how I can help women move into a STEM career. Just one example of networking “working” was at lunch when I was sitting at a table with wonderful women, including one of the speakers. We were discussing how even though many of the themes of the different WIST events are similar, every time I am newly inspired. It was pointed out to me that people get different things out of the talks at different stages of their careers; obvious but not always realized.

I am always a little disappointed that I can’t attend all the concurrent presentations. Luckily, we all were able to hear the two keynote speakers. I learned from Dr. Gillian Wilson that there is a massive amount of information in a gray square with many white blemishes, so there is always something new to be discovered. From Dr. Homa Akbarian, I was reminded to focus on the things I can change. They were very different presentations, yet both were very interesting.

As most of you know, AWIS-SD is volunteer run and it takes a lot of work to manage the various programming.  WIST is the largest of these programs and requires a special committee and 6-9 months of preparation.  We had a fantastic group of women working on WIST 2017.  I will not list them all here, but I can say that when women work together as we did, we can’t help but be successful and help make the world a better place. 

So, when WIST 2019 calls for a planning committee, I will need to pull out this newsletter and the program from WIST 2017, and remember that it is time to volunteer for this wonderful event again. Hopefully, many of you will do the same.  It is not too early to start thinking about it.


March Speed Mentoring Workshop

by Missy Scranton

In March, AWIS-SD held its second annual Speed Mentoring event at National University in Torrey Pines. AWIS-SD Speed Mentoring works to balance real connections with accelerated networking, allowing the mentees to grow their professional network and gain insight into topics to help them develop personally and professionally. Mentors graciously shared their insights and advice with AWIS members in topics ranging from project management to personal finance to making the most of networking opportunities. A list of this year’s mentors as well as a short biography for each are posted below.

Participants were able to personally connect with mentors in small groups of 3-5 mentees per mentor. While sessions were brief (three sessions of twenty minutes each), mentees took full advantage of the hour mixer afterwards to exchange contact information and follow up with further questions. Mentees and mentors both found the experience rewarding to engage directly with AWIS-SD members who are at all different stages of their careers.

If you would like to be a mentor in future Speed Mentoring events or have suggestions for future topics of interest for this event, please contact the AWIS-SD events committee at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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Speed Mentoring round table discussion.  Photo credit: Missy Scranton.


2017 Speed Mentors

Laure Escoubet joined Celgene in 2006 bringing her epigenetic expertise to bear immediately with the identification and validation of promising epigenetic targets in cancer through a functional genomic screen, effectively launching Celgene’s epigenetic drug discovery efforts. She is currently a Director at Celgene and Head of Epigenetic Drug Discovery.

Laurie Itkin is a financial advisor, certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA), author and speaker. Laurie graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania with a B.S. in economics and a concentration in finance.

DeeAnn Visk owns her own business as a medical writer and editor.  She is more than happy to share advice in careers outside of academia and starting a business.

Mahsuni Gokdemir has lived in San Diego for two years and works at Qualcomm as an LTE Modem Firmware Engineer. Currently, she is the technical lead of a project designing LTE modem chips and manages a team of 4-5 people.

Masha Evpak is a scientist-turned-science communicator who teaches the public about biology as The Genetics Gal online. Her experience as a graduate student opened her eyes to the epidemic of low confidence among graduate students and other scientists. Determined to help these smart people realize how awesome they are, she now runs boot camps helping graduate students regain their confidence!

Corine Lau is a Cancer Genomics Scientist at Human Longevity Inc. Prior to transitioning from academia into industry full-time, Corine consulted in scientific writing and scientific curation in a home-based setting. She completed her postdoctoral training at UCSD in eukaryotic nuclear assembly. She is a long-standing volunteer of AWIS-SD, and currently an AWIS-SD Newsletter Committee co-chair. 


 2017 STEM Career Conference: Discover Your SuperHEROINE Roadmap to Success

by Elizabeth Jacobs

The AWIS-SD Outreach Committee successfully hosted its largest ever event, the 2017 STEM Career Conference, on February 4th at San Diego State University. The single-day, conference style event titled ‘Discover Your SuperHEROINE Roadmap to Success’ was designed by committee members Bridget Kohlnhofer, Robyn Wygal, Sigrid Katz, Anne Kornahrens, Abbie Ferrieri, Diane Retallack, Yike (Lindy) Jiang, and Elizabeth Jacobs. The conference was made possible by generous partnerships with Sony, Pfizer, Expanding Your Horizons (EYH), Society for Women Engineers (SWE), Elementary Institute of Science, Yesteryear Comics, San Diego Comics, Villainous Comics, Fleet Science Center, Biocom, and SDSU Department of Regulatory Affairs. Young women from local high schools and colleges participated in panel discussions, hands-on workshops, and networking events that all emphasized the significance of collaborative discussion and networking as a powerful tool for career progression. 

The event began with a keynote address delivered by Debra Kimberling, Advocacy Director for the Society of Women Engineers, to the entire audience of students, parents, mentors and panelists. This inspiring introduction to the importance of networking, communication, and social support provided the framework for the following sessions and activities. Focus groups of students and parents next participated in separate directed programming for the remainder of the day and finally congregated for the closing awards ceremony.  Alongside the student activities, which were led by local professional women in STEM, a parallel set of sessions guided parents through the challenges which arise during the high school to college transfer – financing college, student support, internships, academic classes, on-campus jobs, and students’ social pressures.

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Student attendees at the 2017 STEM Career Conference: Discover Your SuperHEROINE Roadmap to Success.


Conference attendees Emma Wu, Natalie Navarette, Alina Luk, Ashley Loza, and Stacy Anselmo were recognized for their outstanding poster presentations with prizes donated by event partner Sony at the networking ‘mocktail’ hour.  A palpable sense of excitement surrounded all aspects of the STEM Career Conference and was captured perfectly by event participants Luis Topete (Director of MESA School Programs) and Andrea Govea (Solar’s Young Women Academy): 

“I work with various middle schools in San Diego with programming that is focused on STEM and that provides outreach and academic support... There are a lot of events happening across San Diego, but when it comes to female-focused events there aren’t that many…but today’s event is an example of what it should be all the time!”  - Luis

“I want to take this opportunity to say how inspiring this program was for the girls [who are] told they shouldn’t be in STEM fields. They are told that they should be focusing on other things, they’re not going to get in to college. Today’s event instead told them what they can do and that if they just believe in themselves and the people around them that will get them there!” – Andrea


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Members of the 2017 STEM Career Conference planning committee: (from left to right) Abbie Ferrieri, Diane Retallack, Robyn Wygal, Sigrid Katz, Anne Kornahrens and Jackie Jordan.


The Outreach Committee would like to thank all event attendees for their enthusiasm and participation throughout the day.  In addition, this event would not have been possible without the support of Lorah Bodie and Lisa Dowdy with the SDSU Regulatory Sciences Program (venue donation), Debra Kimberling from SWE (keynote speaker), Liz Ferguson from EYH (breakfast donation), Elana Parker from Pfizer (lunch donation), Tristan Higgins from Sony (prize donations), Bob Bellman of San Diego Comics (prize donations), and an amazing group of volunteers!

Event recap by numbers:

Student participants – 114 (30, college; 84, high school)
Parent participants – 19
Mentors – 19
Workshop hosts – 4
Event partners – 11
Event volunteers – 30
Value of external event support – $5,055


February Strategy Session - Creating a Powerful Professional Network

by Jennifer Kuo

Speaker and coach, Ann marie Houghtailing, came to share her knowledge and empower women to engage in more personable networking in February’s strategy session. Her attitude and dynamic energy were contagious as she provided techniques to make networking easier. Her invaluable experience and hilarious stories were a treat for all attendees. Here are a few lessons from Houghtailing that I would like to share:

1. Go to networking events with a goal

It’s not about the number of business cards you are passing out but making at least one meaningful connection. What to talk about? Figure out the other person’s story and what they want. Then listen and see how you can offer help in terms of offering a wider network or knowledge. If it works, they will be sure to remember you and will gladly pay it back when you need a favor.

2. Network with a buddy

If you don’t like going to networking events alone, bring a friend. This will not only make you more accountable for attending networking events, but also you can help introduce each other and promote one another’s accomplishments. Breaking into a larger group as a duo is less intimidating than doing it alone.

3. Know how to exit a conversation

You are not bound to stay in the first conversation you get into at networking events. Try, “Thank you. It was great meeting you, and I’ll definitely connect with you on LinkedIn. I’m going to connect with a few more people while I’m here.”

4. Be mindful of other people’s time and respect their availability

Meeting up to chat over coffee is great if time allows, but it may be easier and more doable to schedule 15-minute phone calls and get the questions you have answered. Another great idea is to invite them to a networking event that you plan on attending or go to one you know that they will be at and arrange to chat there.

5. Follow up and maintain contact

When following up by email, be sure to mention how you were connected and why the connection is valuable. Other ways to show that you are thinking of them include: writing meaningful LinkedIn recommendations, nominating co-workers for office awards when appropriate, congratulating people on career transitions, sending relevant articles based on prior conversations, and reach outing to express gratitude when advice was given and made an impact.


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Lin-Chien and Jennifer Kuo with speaker Ann marie Houghtailing.

For more information on Ann marie Houghtailing, visit her website at http://annmariehoughtailing.com/

 The San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering EXPO Day 2017

by Antonia Darragh

The annual San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering is a 10-day festival packed with free science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) events for the community. The festival started off with EXPO day, the largest of the festival’s events, at PETCO Park on Saturday, March 4, 2017. Around 25,000 students, professionals, parents, and members of the community explored STEM through demonstrations and hands-on activities, including cheese microbe communities, DNA-coding beads, and how to make biodiesel from vegetable oil. The festival’s mission is to “engage and encourage kids in science and engineering and work with parents and teachers to inspire today's students to become tomorrow's STEM innovators.”


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AWIS-SD Outreach booth at the Science and Engineering Festival Expo Day 2017. Photo credit: Corine Lau.

AWIS-SD Outreach participates in the festival’s EXPO day every year. This year, Outreach Committee member Antonia Darragh and Outreach Co-Chair Anne Kornahrens organized our booth’s activity on pH indicators. Volunteers asked visitors to hypothesize what solutions were acidic, neutral, or basic. Then attendees added acid or base to neutral purple/red cabbage juice (pH indicator) and examined if the color change matched their predictions. Future scientists were especially enthusiastic about the bright colors that the purple/red cabbage turned, and some parents asked for the pH indicator recipe. One young participant exclaimed, “I’m a scientist!” Visitors also used pH paper to measure hydronium ions in their solutions to quantify pH on a scale of 0 to 14. Another activity involved having visitors paint with a neutral yellow turmeric solution on yellow paper, and then they would watch with amazement as their paintings turned red when sprayed with a base solution. Attendants of all ages related to applications of measuring pH, for example in pools, natural bodies of water, cooking, cleaning, and chemistry class.

Visitors were very engaged by our 17 excellent volunteers, many of whom are students and scientists from a variety of STEM fields. We had blank poster board for people to express what they love about Science and Math. Many wrote or drew positive reflections on their favorite aspects of STEM.


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Our booths “What do you love about Science and Math” free-expression poster board at Expo Day 2017. Photo credit: Anne Kornahrens.

The Outreach Committee would like to give special thanks to the wonderful volunteers and organizers who made this event possible and so much fun!

Interested in participating next year? Stay posted on AWIS-SD outreach volunteer opportunities:

Interested in running this workshop for a different event? Check out http://www.awissd.org/index.php/page/outreach-resources


2017 GSDSEF Science Fair Judging  

by Geetha Subramanian

March 15, 2017 was a warm, pleasant morning with the leaves whispering on the trees as the wind blew from the ocean across the Balboa Park Activity Center.  Many AWIS members and non-members came to judge the science and engineering fair projects as part of the annual greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair (GSDSEF). As I was strolling from the parking lot towards the Activity Center, I noticed the tremendous efforts taken, including many sign boards about the event, special parking lots for the judges, and an amazing number of students representing several schools and judges from various organizations. They were discussing the plans and activities of the day over lunch. I joined my fellow judges for a delicious lunch sandwich, after which our wonderful AWIS Outreach coordinators (Alyson Smith and Anne Kornahrens) gave us the judging assignment for the student projects. 

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Over 30 AWIS-SD volunteers participated in the judging of GSDSEF science fair. 

These science projects were meticulously and creatively crafted by the myriad of female students in 6th–8th grades (Junior category) and 9th–12th grades (Senior category) from all the local public and private schools in San Diego County.  It was a red-letter day for these young students to present their science in an artistic way. I was amazed to see the vivacious problem solving of these young minds with projects ranging from “Lead detection in water” to “Gene therapy via CRISPR/Cas9 mediated Cellular reprogramming for treating blinding eye diseases.”

As judges, we endeavored to be open-minded and evaluate the female students for their originality, creativity, scientific hypothesis, methods and results, and their enthusiasm. We had a record number of AWIS judges (34) divided into groups of two, three, or four, with each group asked to evaluate about 10 (senior) or 30 (junior) projects.


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A view of the marvelous science poster displays. Photo credit: Iovanka Todt and Kristin Bompiani-Myers.

There were a total of 560 posters presented this year in the large Balboa Activity Center hall. It felt like a beehive filled with beautiful young student bees presenting their projects in well-arranged aisles. As part of AWIS, we were honored to judge 330 young women scientists with one finalist chosen for each of our 14 judging groups. We invited these young scientists and their families to an informal dinner and presented their AWIS-SD science fair award on Sunday, Apr 30, 2017.


AWIS-SD Outreach participates in the annual EYH Conference

by Elizabeth Jacobs

On a beautifully sunny and unseasonably warm Saturday in early March, the AWIS-SD Outreach Committee celebrated over 10 years of partnership with the Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) Network by participating in the annual EYH conference. This single-day event invites female middle school students to explore the beauty and mystery of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) alongside female STEM professionals. A total of 13 volunteers (including some non-AWIS members!) led three sets of 20 eager students through four experiments as part of a crime scene investigation. Students used solid and liquid analysis, DNA electrophoresis, and fingerprint pattern recognition to identify the culprit. The scenario was that an athletic competition attendee had attempted to cover up a doping scandal by breaking into a lab. This story piqued interest and prompted enthusiasm since many of the students recognized the role of doping in the 2016 Olympic Games. The AWIS-SD Outreach committee volunteers did an outstanding job leading these future STEM professionals through a tight‑scheduled and intellectually intense day!   


EYH 2017

Elizabeth Jacobs introducing crime scene investigation workshop to EYH students.  Additional volunteers from the AWIS Outreach Committee included Anita Pottekat, Kina Thackray, Diane Retallack, Robyn Wygal, Kirsten Harper and Pam Bhattacharya.


You got your PhD, what’s next?

by Juliati Rahajeng

If only approximately 20% of PhDs obtain tenure track positions in academic institutions, where will the 80% end up? This makes me think that tenure track positions are now the alternative career option. However, throughout my graduate program, I was never introduced to many different career pathways. Therefore, as a post-doc, it is encouraging that the University of California San Diego Postdoctoral Association (UCSD PDA) has been holding the “What Can You be with Your PhD?” STEM Career Symposium annually for four straight years now. The goal of the symposium is to familiarize graduate students and postdocs with the various careers they can pursue with their PhDs.

The symposium started with a keynote speaker, Philip Sheridan, PhD, COO and Co-Founder of Bio4Front. He laid out the critical steps in job search: Self-evaluation, exploration, education and empowerment, and execution. Self-evaluation is important in determining technical, soft, and leadership skills that one has. Soft and leadership skills are important in gaining jobs in biotech companies since many job functions in such companies require cross-discipline interactions and collaborations. Sheridan mentioned that 85% of job application success comes from well-developed soft and people-management skills. Within the exploration step, one needs to look at available career pathways and cultures within various companies. Once determined, getting additional trainings or developing additional skills will help in obtaining the chosen positions. It is also crucial to identify transferrable skills that one has. The final step is to execute on the job search by writing resumes that define who you are and incite interest for one-on-one meetings and by networking.

The symposium was then followed by 10 concurrent panel sessions that included R&D in Life Sciences, R&D in Science & Engineering, R&D in Bioengineering and Bioinformatics, Teaching, Clinical & Regulatory Affairs, Consulting & Marketing, Scientific Writing & Communication, Project Management & Business Strategy, Business & Entrepreneurship, Intellectual Property, and Tech Transfer & Science Policy. There were about three to six panelists within each panel. In the Clinical & Regulatory Affairs panel, there were five panelists that were regulatory professionals in clinical research, drugs, and medical device developments. Joanne McNelis (Clinical/Regulatory Scientist, Cato Research), Evelyn Walenta (Clinical Research Associate, QuintilesIMS), Lily Alvarez (Quality Assurance Manager, MedWaves), and Michelle Mazzoni (VP of Regulatory Affairs and Quality) underlined the importance of gaining additional training by obtaining regulatory certification to transition into the field. It helps to understand the field and shows one’s interest in clinical and regulatory affairs. Allison Komiyama (Principal Consultant, AcKnolwledge Regulatory Strategies) did her postdoctoral training at the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) of the FDA. Everyone in the Clinical & Regulatory Affairs Panel also mentioned that networking is key. Becoming a member and volunteer of a non-profit professional association, such as San Diego Regulatory Network (SDRAN), is also important not only to know people in the field, but also to hone in on soft and leadership skills. 

Another panel that I attended was the Scientific Writing & Communication panel that consisted of AWIS-SD President DeeAnn Visk (Principal Writer, DeeAnn Visk Consulting), Tiffany Cox (Public Information Representative, Qualcomm Institute at UCSD), Jessica Yingling (Founder and President, Little Dog Communications), Heather Buschman (Communications and Media Senior Manager, UCSD Health Sciences), and David Brin (Novelist). Visk works with clients in preparing manuscripts. She gained her experience by writing for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News. She suggested that PhDs who are interested in transitioning into the field not directly start a business like she did, but to gain experience by working for a company in scientific writing and communication first. There are a lot of things to manage alone when one starts a business, including communicating with and invoicing clients, maintaining websites, and marketing. Visk and other panelists shared that joining networking associations and writing for their newsletters, or writing blogs would be a great start in transitioning into the field. Buschman and Cox mentioned that taking writing classes, including Science Writing from the UCSD Extension or a writing class from Lynne Friedman, is helpful in becoming a science writer. Additionally, Yingling and Buschman suggested learning resume writing and interview skills at the UCSD Career Center. 



Scientific Writing and Communication panelists speaking for the UCSD PDA STEM Career Symposium on March 25, 2017 (L - R): Tiffany Fox, Jessica Yingling, DeeAnn Visk, and Heather Buschman. David Brin is not pictured. Photo courtesy of Jean Branan.

Following the concurrent panels, some panelists stayed for the networking reception to continue their conversations with attendees. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to talk to some panelists from panels that I did not get the chance to attend. I also networked with the attendees, who were mostly happy to learn about various career pathways available in the market. 


AWIS-SD participates in the 2017 March for Science

by Christina Niemeyer

On April 22nd, Earth Day, approximately 30 AWIS-SD members, family and friends showed their support for science by joining the San Diego March for Science. The local event coincided with marches in Washington, D.C. and around the world, which was a nonpartisan demonstration in support of science and against its increasing politicization. The San Diego event started at 10:00 at Civic Center Plaza in Downtown with presentations by scientists of all ages, including Seney Larson Moreno, an 8th grader and Greater San Diego Science & Engineering Fair Award Recipient, and Ralph Keeling, director of the SIO’s carbon measuring program. The actual March started at 11:00 and was about a mile walk to Waterfront Park, where approximately 15,000 participants continued to chant and raise awareness of the importance of science. The Post-March Expo included booths by numerous scientific groups including Fleet Science Center, SIO, UCSD and Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. Scott Peters U.S. Congressman, California's 52nd Congressional District, showed his support of science by addressing the crowds at the County Administration Building.

MarchforSci 20170422 094318 

AWIS-SD members and friends at the March for Science, San Diego. 

We started meeting up at 9:30 in front of the San Diego Metropolitan Credit Union, which put us in the thick of things right in front of the Civic Center Plaza. Many members wore their AWIS shirts or a science-based shirt.  A few of us carried signs; some of the best signs overall included: Think like a proton and stay positive; Science not Silence. As a whole we were fairly boisterous, joining with thousands of others in the main chant of the event: “What do we want? Evidence-based Research! When do we want it? After Peer Review”.   Because almost all of us knew at least one other scientist or friend that was marching, our group got separated in the crowds, but overall we had a great showing. Several of us stayed after the Post-March Expo to enjoy the beautiful weather and have a great lunch in Little Italy. Overall, it was a day we showed scientists ask questions, obtain facts, and share their results to make the world a better place. 


News Ticker

by Alyson Smith

  • Around 15,000 scientists and science enthusiasts gathered in downtown San Diego on Earth Day for one of the more than 600 Marches for Science. Marchers advocated for evidence-based government policies, continued funding for scientific research, and increased diversity in STEM. Speakers at the San Diego march included professors and students of all levels from around San Diego County. Representatives from AWIS-SD attended the march, wearing AWIS “Why do you love Science” shirts and “I support women in STEM” buttons. 

  • In collaboration with researchers in Beijing, the Izpisúa Belmonte group at the Salk Institute has developed a new type of stem cell termed extended pluripotent stem cells. In contrast to embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells, this new cell type can give rise to extra-embryonic tissues such as the placenta in addition to all embryonic tissues. These cells can be stably cultured, allowing for the development of new methods in disease modeling, drug discovery, and tissue generation. 

  • Grace Engleman, a San Diego high school student, has founded an all-female robotics team, called ROARbots, at the School for Entrepreneurship and Technology. Engleman was asked to start the team after gaining robotics experience as the only female student on the school’s freshman team. ROARbots participated in EXPO Day as part of this year’s San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering. 
  • A team of researchers from the La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology and Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute have developed a new drug with the potential to reverse type 2 diabetes. This drug increases insulin sensitivity by specifically targeting a tyrosine phosphatase that normally inactivates the insulin receptor. In mice, it prevented high-fat induced onset of diabetes symptoms without affecting weight. The team plans to begin clinical trials in humans soon. 

  • The vaccination rate of California public school kindergartners has risen to 96 percent, an increase of three percentage points over last year and the highest rate since the introduction of the current vaccination regimen in 2001. The increase is linked to a 2015 California law, following the Disneyland measles outbreak, which greatly restricted personal-belief exemptions from vaccination for public school students.
  • Two San Diego biotechnology companies recently received grants from the Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Biopharmaceutical Accelerator (CARB-X), a public-private partnership started by the Obama administration in 2015. Forge Therapeutics will receive up to $8.8 million to continue developing an antibiotic against LpxC, a previously untargeted enzyme in gram negative bacteria. Cidara Therapeutics will receive up to $6.9 million to develop its method of inducing immune cells to target bacterial, fungal, and viral pathogens.

  • As part of an effort to develop new ways of communicating science to the public, London-based artist Ivyone Khoo worked with Michael Latz of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to develop a new exhibit at the Birch Aquarium. This “Infinity Cube” exhibit features projections of videos of dinoflagellates, single-celled, bioluminescent marine organisms. Khoo created the video footage for the exhibit by introducing populations of dinoflagellates provided by Latz to patterned stimuli and filming the resulting bioluminescence. 
  • The Scripps Translational Science Institute hosted the tenth annual Future of Genomic Medicine Conference at the beginning of March. The conference featured discussions on bringing genomic medicine research into clinical practice. Some topics included the future of CRISPR genome editing technology and the federal Precision Medicine Initiative. More than 600 physicians and scientists from around the country attended the conference.
  • A team of scientists at Scripps Health and The Scripps Research Institute has developed a method to artificially construct an entire meniscus, the piece of cartilage in the knee joint. The method uses high voltages to precisely array bovine collagen fibers and simultaneously deposit live cartilage cells. This new technology can potentially replace cadaver meniscus transplants, which are often of the wrong shape and may be contaminated; and synthetic meniscus replacements, which are less durable than live cartilage. 


  • Manal A. Swairjo, PhD, Associate Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry of San Diego State University, recently published two articles:

    Naduni Paranagama et al. (2017) Mechanism and catalytic strategy of the prokaryotic-specific GTP cyclohydrolase-IB. Biochemical Journal 474(6): 1017-1039.
    This paper was featured on the cover of the April 2017 issue of the journal.

    Xianghan Mei et al. (2016) Crystal structure of the archaeosine synthase QueF-like – insights into amidino transfer and tRNA recognition by the tunnel fold. Proteins 85(1):103-116.
    This paper was featured on the cover of the January 2017 issue of the journal. 


  • Academia 2 Industry Coffee Club

    For our July 7th meet-up, A2I has invited Dr. Kristin Bompiani-Myers, Molecular Biology group leader at InhibRx.
    Date: Friday, July 07, 2017 04:30 PM
    Venue: Bella Vista Cafe, La Jolla, CA

  • Family Day at the Coastal Roots Farm
    Every second Sunday of the month the farm is open for a family-friendly morning of activities on the farm, highlighting different activities that happen on the farm: seeding, transplanting, composting, harvesting and more.
    Date: Sunday, July 09, 2017 10:00 AM -3:00 PM
    Venue: Coastal Roots Farm, 441 Saxony Road, Encinitas, CA 92024
    The event is free for AWIS-SD members and their families. 
    Non-AWIS members: $10 adults, $5 children (to help cover cost of food), payment will be accepted the morning of the event.

    Important: Those who wish to attend will need to register with both AWIS-SD 
    AND with the Coastal Roots Farm. 
    Since this event is open to the general public, please register soon!

  • Academia 2 Industry Coffee Club

    For our August 4th meet-up, A2I has invited Dr. Sheena Sahni, Financial Representative at WestPac Wealth Partners.
    Date: Friday, August 04, 2017 04:30 PM
    Venue: Bella Vista Cafe, La Jolla, CA


See more AWIS-SD events here.


About the Authors



Corine Lau  received her Ph.D. in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and her B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of Washington, Seattle. She pursued her post-doctoral training at the University of California, San Diego. She is currently a cancer genomics scientist at Human Longevity Inc. Corine has been involved with AWIS-SD since 2006, and held various AWIS-SD leadership roles including Treasurer, Board member, and Website Committee co-chair. She currently serves as Newsletter co-chair. 



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.




Joan Allmaras is a native of North Dakota, Joan moved to San Diego to attend the University of San Diego, where she earned her bachelor's degree in marine science with a minor in chemistry. Since graduation, she has worked at The Scripps Research Institute and is currently the Chief Administrative Officer of the Scripps Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology and Immunogen Discovery. This fall, she will begin graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, pursuing a master's degree in nonprofit leadership.


MaiKhuong 1

Mai Khuong is a graduate student in the Biology program at UCSD studying mechanisms of chromatin assembly. She has been an active member of the AWIS Newsletter Committee since 2016. In her free time, she can be found training for half and full marathons and writing about them on her blog. She hopes to complete her PhD this summer and transition into a career in the biotech industry.


christina Niemeyer

Christina Niemeyer is Associate at i2 Grants Associates, a woman-owned and operated, California-based team with years of experience identifying and securing grants for emerging companies and non-profit organizations in the life sciences. Christina has served as Laboratory Director at both Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute and Salmedix, where she played a critical role in developing the approved oncology drug Treanda. Christina earned her Ph.D. at Bayor College of Medicine in cell biology and her B.S. from Texas A&M University in microbiology, where she graduated magna cum laude.



Melissa (Missy) Scranton received her PhD in Plant Biology from University of California, Riverside. In 2013, she moved back to her home town to study algal biotechnology at University of California, San Diego as postdoctoral researcher. She is currently a researcher at BASF Enzymes, LLC and a Co-Chair of the AWIS-SD Events committee.



Elizabeth Jacobs is a postdoctoral research associate at The Scripps Research Institute, where she develops antibody-drug conjugates of Duocarmycin SA in collaboration with Bristol-Myers Squibb. She received her Bachelor’s degree through the College Scholars Program at The University of Tennessee in 2009 and completed her PhD at The University of East Anglia in 2014. She has been an AWIS member since 2015 and serves as the San Diego Chapter Outreach Committee Social Media Manager and Public Relations Committee Co-chair. She would like to use her experience in research to promote positive change in early STEM education.


 Jennifer Kuo headshot

Jennifer Kuo is a graduate student in the Biomedical Sciences program at UCSD studying mechanisms of neurodegeneration. She has been an active member of the Strategy Session Committee since 2015 and is currently serving as co-chair. In her free time, she can be found training for triathlons, hiking, or watching Big Bang Theory. After completing her PhD, she hopes to pursue a career in the biotech industry.

Antonia Darragh

Antonia Darragh is a student of molecular biology in the Graduate PhD Program of Biological Sciences at the University of California, San Diego. She works in Scott Rifkins lab using molecular biology tools to study the evolution of the genus of roundworms, Caenorhabditis. Antonia has been on the AWIS-SD Outreach committee since 2014. She enjoys community service and playing sports. For more information on Antonia please visithttps://portfolium.com/AntoniaDarragh.


 GSubramanian1 April 2017

Geetha Subramanian has a double Master's in Medical Microbiology from the University of Madras, and from the Dept of Molecular Biology and Immunology at University of Southern California, LA. Geetha has a broad experience in the biotech industry with versatile skills in micro and molecular biology, molecular diagnostics and pharmaceuticals. She has also been teaching part time in local colleges and tutored students to help them advance in their education and attain their goals.







Summer 2017 Newsletter Volume 25 Issue 3

This issue of the Newsletter will be available as a PDF soon.

For previous newsletters, click here.




Dear AWIS-SD members and friends:

As you read this newsletter, you will get a taste of the AWIS-SD community. Our committees do excellent work, ranging from putting together this newsletter, offering career workshops, to reaching out to the greater San Diego community with STEM events.

Why not take full advantage of your AWIS-SD membership by joining a committee? Visiting the committee page (http://www.awissd.org/index.php/about/committees) and learn about all the different committees. Find one that interests you and join. You will expand your leadership, communication, and organizational skills when you join an AWIS-SD committee.

Our annual Open House is coming up in late October. The Open House needs Co-Chairs and members to organize this local STEM community event. Interested? Email DeeAnn at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Are you a social media person? Consider joining the Public Relations Committee. Learn how to use Hoot Suite to coordinate postings on social media. Email the committee at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Still want to find out more about AWIS-SD? Attend the Meet the Board Event on Tuesday, September 19, to hear the AWIS-SD Board and each committee present their way to continue providing the diverse programming that AWIS-SD has to offer.

August is the month to relax, regroup, and strategically plan ahead. Build your skills by joining an AWIS-SD committee.



DeeAnn Visk, President AWIS-SD

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


From Academia to the Executive Suite: Meet Lori Yang, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of Lectenz® Bio and AWIS-SD Treasurer 

by Pat Rarus

Lori Yang, Ph.D.’s gracious smile and quiet demeanor disguise a scientific Wonder Woman. Our AWIS Treasurer possesses formidable scientific credentials, impressive business savvy and boundless energy. Perhaps most important to AWIS, Lori serves as a role model for female scientists of all ages—particularly young women – who wish to transition from academia to industry.

Recently, Yang, co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Lectenz® Bio, served as a featured panelist at San Diego Startup Week.  Attendees were impressed by how enthusiastically she shared her experience about transitioning from the bench to the C-Suite. Lori also emphasized the importance of women leadership in biotech.

Yang was working as a bench scientist at La Jolla Bioengineering Institute, when she began a long-distance collaboration with Robert J. Woods, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Chemistry, at the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, University of Georgia. Woods focuses on exploring the relationships between the conformations of carbohydrate molecules and biological recognition and activity. Eventually, Woods and Yang decided to co-found Lectenz® Bio (then known as Glycosensors and Diagnostics or G&D), where Yang leads vital scientific discoveries.

Lori Yang

“Lectenz® Bio is developing novel products that employ our unique Lectenz® reagents and GlycoSenseTM technology, to speed up and simplify the detection and discovery of disease biomarkers,” explained Lori.

“These products enable targeting glycan biomarkers of clinical significance for investigation and leveraging them for advancing human health.”

Advancing human health has always been Yang’s mission. Specifically, her expertise involves protein engineering, molecular evolution, and flow cytometry. A graduate of University of Virginia and Yale University, she holds a Ph.D. in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. Yang was a co-leader of Women in Science at Yale and completed her post-doctoral research at the La Jolla Bioengineering Institute. She was also a Research Fellow at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

One of Yang’s foremost career accomplishments was establishing G&D’s satellite operations at Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS in San Diego in 2013. This milestone enabled the beginning of commercialization efforts and rebranding to Lectenz® Bio this year. The company recently received approval of its first patent for a carbohydrate-like small molecule inhibitor.

In her spare time, Yang enjoys yoga, tennis and swimming. Most of all, she loves spending quality time with her husband Andreas Goetz, an Assistant Research Scientist at the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UCSD. Yang said she joined AWIS because, “I wanted to get to know other scientific women. I ran for Treasurer so that I could give back to this great organization.” Yang is not only giving back to AWIS, but also to the community, as she mentors and inspires future female scientists. Thank you, Yang!


Academia to Industry (A2I) Coffee Club: A Visit with Whitney Whitlow

by Joanna Redfern

Whitney Whitlow is a Strategic Solutions Account Executive at Ultimate Staffing in Washington D.C. She met with the A2I coffee club on February 3, 2017. At that time, she was a Senior Account Executive with one of the largest staffing firms in San Diego. As a Senior Account Executive, Whitney partnered with local biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies to assist with their staffing needs. Whitney specialized in the recruiting and staffing efforts of both clinical and non-clinical professionals. Staffing companies typically fill many positions in the second and third quarters of the calendar year (June through October) as companies are looking to fill positions and use up their fiscal year budgets. During the end and beginning of the year (November through April), hiring tends to be slower, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear anything back during those times of the year. Staffing companies fill 60-70% of the vacant positions in the companies they represent.

Recruiting agencies fill three different types of positions for companies. These positions include:

  • Contract – Contract positions are typically for short periods of time (2-3 months)
  • Temp-to-Hire – These posts generally start as 6-month trial positions that are converted to permanent hires if the company likes the contract person’s work.
  • Direct Hire- These positions are for full permanent employment. Companies pay recruiters to find employees. Potential employees do not pay recruiters to find them the jobs.

Employee is in a temporary position when he or she is paid through the staffing agency. In a temp-to-hire position, the employee is paid through the staffing agency until he or she is hired as a permanent employee.

Transitioning from industry to academia is an uphill battle since companies want employees with industry experience, and potential employees in academia want industry experience too! Whitney emphasizes staying up to date on trends in the market. She suggests keeping an eye on industry news and updates in areas such as orphan drug research and medical devices.

Networking is very important for moving from one arena to another.  Having 150+ connections is good, but having connections to people in industry and especially people at the companies you are interested in is even better. If people in your network know people working at companies you are interested in (second level contacts in LinkedIn), reach out to your connections and ask for an introduction. Joining some professional groups in areas that are related to the type of work you would like to do in industry is also a useful way to make contacts with people at companies you are interested in. For example, if you want to move into regulatory affairs, then you should join SDRAN. Other biotech networking groups Whitney listed include Women in Bio, SD Entrepreneurs, SD Life Science Network, Athena, ConnectSD, BIOCOM, and Healthcare Businesswomen Association. Mentorship programs are also valuable for networking.

“Persistence is key to finding a job! “

Questions from A2I Members to Whitney:

  • Is it important for the recruiter to know the applicant (for a position they are working on filling)? Yes, very. The recruiter needs to sell the candidate, so they need to know each other.
  • Does the applicant pay to be represented by the recruiter?

            No, the company pays the recruiter for finding the talent.

  • How important is it to match the skill set of the applicant to the position?

            Usually, the recruiter needs to match 3 or more of the “skills requirements” for a candidate to be considered.

  • Temporary positions are usually more flexible about work experience when hiring.
  • Larger companies can be more flexible with respect to skill sets (especially if you don’t have every skill they are looking for). If you are just starting out in Industry (trying to get your foot in the door), you need to apply for jobs in big companies since they are more flexible with respect to skills.
  • Smaller companies usually want more experienced people.
  • A good personality goes a long way too.
  • How does the recruiter find candidates for positions?

They use records of people they have contact with, but also source candidates from Indeed and LinkedIn. These would-be people who are not in the company system already, but look to be a good fit.

  • What kinds of services will the recruiter provide for candidates in addition to looking for jobs?

A recruiter will help with CVs, go through job postings, and match key words from the job description to the CV.

With respect to CVs, the position you are interested dictates the length of the CV.

  • For a research scientist position– 2 pages
  • For regulatory affairs, it is very important to include any research papers and writing samples you’ve done.
  • Don’t go too far back in job history for work experience (for example, early 90’s may be too far)
  • Bullet point important functions in a given position (for example instrument-use experience, protocol experience)

Recruiting companies will sometimes submit cover letters for the candidate (check with the company to find out their policy on this!)


AWIS-SD Science Awards Dinner

by Alyson Smith

On April 30, 2017, AWIS-San Diego hosted an awards dinner for female students selected from hundreds who presented projects at the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair in March. In total, five high school and nine middle school students received awards. Students completed projects in a range of disciplines including: biochemistry, plant sciences, mathematical sciences, engineering, behavioral and social sciences, and health sciences.

At the start of the awards dinner, students had the opportunity to present their projects and discuss their results with other students, their families, and AWIS-SD members who were in attendance. Following the poster sessions, members of the AWIS-SD board and outreach committee presented each winner with a certificate and a cash award recognizing her achievement. Then, students and their families had dinner with AWIS volunteers. The awards dinner was an excellent opportunity to fulfill AWIS vision by recognizing female students for their scientific achievements and providing them with the opportunity to meet role models.

Through presenting these awards, AWIS-SD hopes to encourage female students interested in science to continue to pursue STEM careers. Numerous AWIS-SD volunteers worked together to make this event possible, and the Outreach Committee is looking forward to another awards dinner next year!


Academia to Industry (A2I) Coffee Club: A Visit with Jeff Orr, Ph.D.

by Gabriela David-Morrison

On May 5, Dr. Jeff Orr came to the AWIS-SD Academia to Industry (A2I) coffee club’s monthly meeting to share his experience in transitioning to the biotech industry in the field of computational biology.

Orr’s academic research background is in biochemistry. As a biochemistry undergraduate and Ph.D. student at Indiana University (IU) Bloomington, he studied the function and interactions of Protein Kinase C (PKC) in Dr. Alexandra Newton’s laboratory. Towards the end of his Ph.D. studies, the structure of a related protein, Protein Kinase A, was published by another laboratory. This research led to Orr’s interest in computational biology, and he started applying computational modeling to determine the effects of mutations on the structure of PKC. A graduate student in a different laboratory at IU Bloomington engaged him in extensive discussions about ribozymes. These discussions piqued his interest in RNA architecture. After finishing his Ph.D. program, Orr decided to pursue a post-doctoral fellowship at Dr. James Williamson’s laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study RNA folding through computational modeling. As the field of computational biology grew, the amount of research data expanded exponentially. To address the data analysis challenges in the field, Orr taught himself how to code from O’Reilly books along with help from other members of the Williamson lab. Three years after joining the Williamson laboratory, the laboratory moved to San Diego and joined The Scripps Research Institute.

Orr’s entrance into the biotech industry was facilitated by his conversations and interactions with scientists who already worked in industry, and he emphasized the value of networking for academics seeking to transition.

His first industry position out of academia was as a Computational Scientist in San Diego-based Aurora Biosciences, which specialized in providing fluorescence cell-based assay development and high-throughput screening services and instruments to pharmaceutical companies. Seven months into his position, Aurora was acquired by Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Vertex combined its chemical informatics specialization with Aurora’s biological expertise to build an extensive drug discovery platform. Within Orr’s first two and a half years with Vertex, he was promoted to a Group Leader position. Now as a Senior Director for Scientific Computing, he leads an international team of scientists and software developers in developing custom software for Vertex’s research facilities. The software that his team develops is used for a wide variety of applications, including research and screening databases, as well as inventory management and order processing.

Orr’s experience in academia and in biotech industry has shown him that, contrary to the impressions of some academics, a person can still do very interesting science in industry. He specifically likes the corporate culture of accountability in setting, achieving, and evaluating goals. He stressed the value of having two-way conversations in informational and job interviews to determine whether or not industry or a specific company would be a good fit for a person, and he reiterated the importance of networking in taking the next step from academia to industry.


A Magical Outreach Event at the Fleet

by Elizabeth Jacobs

One of the most significant aspects of being a scientist was not taught to me by any of my school teachers, but by the first scientist I ever met – my dad. In addition to managing an academic research group, writing grants and teaching courses, he always managed to squeeze in a few hours of the week to visit my second-grade classroom with a hands-on science experiment. Often, after an exhausting hour of excitement and questions which only a group of 9-year olds could generate, he would return to his university teaching obligations and wonder what happened to scientific enthusiasm between grade school and the PhD. Scientists are not strangers to the daily grind of life, desperately dividing the 24 hours in each day between teaching, research, fundraising, meetings, conferences and often family obligations.   It is no surprise that many of us lose sight of why we pursued these careers in the first place. For my father, visiting my school classroom was a reminder that science is more than just grants and papers – science is enchanting!

To live by my father’s example, I seek out volunteer opportunities which focus on STEM education for elementary and middle school students. I was thrilled to be invited back for the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center’s ‘Women Scientists in Action’ camp. This week-long program delivers local female scientists straight from the lab into the classroom, a place many of us last visited at least a decade ago. Each day is filled with hands-on experiments and discussions about women in STEM to some of the most enthusiastic future female leaders from across San Diego County. My goals for this session were to remind the girls how magical science can be, and that women are very much a part of scientific discovery. In a chemistry lesson focused on the magic of Harry Potter, the girls were transported to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for potions class. 

‘’Potions lessons took place down in one of the dungeons. It was colder here than up in the main castle, and would have been quite creepy enough with the pickled animals floating in glass jars all around the walls.’’

From this scene, the young muggle chemists explored the reactivity of acids and bases and learned about molecules which act as pH indicators (amphoteric compounds). In our first experiment, each participant created their own original Marauder’s Map.  

‘’He took out his wand, touched the parchment lightly and said, ‘I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.’

And at once, thin ink lines began to spread like a spider’s web from the point that George’s wand had touched. They joined each other, they criss-crossed, they fanned into every corner of the parchment…’’

Each girl was given a blank map (construction paper) on which they were to write their favorite thing about science using a pot of Basilisk’s Venom (ink) and a quill pen (Q-tip). Once dry, each map was sprayed with a Revealing Solution which developed the science-themed message. The magic (and chemistry) can be explained in terms of acids and bases. Reaction of the Basilisk’s Venom (baking soda solution) with the Revealing Solution (purple cabbage juice) revealed each message in a green ink. Unlike the real Marauder’s Map, this irreversible chemical reaction provided a permanent reminder of the wonderful science we can find in our kitchens.

Our second experiment explored the states of matter (solid, liquid, gas) and how to define their properties and distinguish between materials which exhibit characteristics of several states. Students mixed a solution of Troll Essence (dilute PVA with green food coloring) with Wizard’s Brew (borax solution) to create gelatinous goo resembling the aptly described troll bogies experienced by Harry and Ron during their first year. 

‘’Harry bent down and pulled his wand out of the troll's nose. It was covered in what looked like lumpy grey glue. Urgh! – troll bogies!’’

This classic experiment takes advantage of the properties of borax (detergent) and its ability to interact with PVA (school glue) to form a cross-linked structure more closely resembling a solid. Despite performing this demonstration to numerous audiences, the slimy feeling of mixing glue and borax with your hands and the spontaneous formation of matter with a different property never gets old! The girls could take home their Marauder’s Maps and troll bogies as a reminder that magic often reveals its true nature through chemistry.

My short time with these girls finished with a short question and answer session focusing on the role of women in all areas of science and my own personal experiences which helped me along the way. I was surprised at the creativity and sophistication of each question and, like my father, have been reminded that what I do every day is incredible. I feel that the future of science is bright and that these girls will undoubtedly play a huge part in the advancement of STEM research and education.

‘’Mischief managed.’’

 Liz Jacobs July2017event



Academia to Industry (A2I) Coffee Club: A Visit with Ewa Lis, Ph.D.

by Juliati Rahajeng

Ewa Lis, PhD, CEO and Founder of Koliber Biosciences, came to AWIS-SD A2I meeting on Friday, June 2, 2017 to share her experience in transitioning to biotech industry. Lis obtained her undergraduate degree in organic chemistry from Cornell University in 2002 and her PhD in genetics and molecular biology from The Scripps Research Institute in 2008. For her PhD dissertation, she used budding yeast as a model organism to identify and characterize novel DNA damage proteins.

Upon receiving her PhD, she worked as a Senior Scientist in Biolight Harvesting leading the R&D group in developing algal fuel. Additionally, she co-authored a proposal that resulted in series A funding by CMEA Ventures. In 2010, she became a Staff Scientist at Life Technologies. She was the R&D lead of a team in the Synthetic Biology Division. Then, in 2011, Lis joined Genomatica as Research Scientist II. At Genomatica, a biotech company of about 100 employees, she was responsible for multiple tasks and one of them was to act as the technical lead on a high risk proof of concept project geared towards improving product yields through engineering of methanol oxidation into microorganisms. Lis really enjoyed working for the company because she did very exciting research, the environment was collaborative, and she knew everybody that worked for the company.

In 2014, Lis had an opportunity to start her own company, Koliber Biosciences. The company provides services to accelerate biological research through the use of machine learning and data science technologies. For example, she worked on developing novel ways to analyze histopathology data or designing proteins with improved properties.

When asked about the differences in working for a big biotech company versus a small/start-up company, Lis said that both have pluses and minuses. When working for a big biotech company, one does not have the freedom to work on the most desired type of research, but he or she does not have to worry about funding. However, it is possible that once a person can prove to the company that his or her idea will bring great profit for the company, management may allow him or her to act upon those ideas. On the contrary, working for a small biotech and/or start-up often requires an employee to have good grant writing skills, just like in academic institutions. However, the employee will be able to perform research based on his or her interests.

Lis recommended that A2I attendees to create a LinkedIn account. She thinks that it is a great way to connect with people working in the same research area and also with recruiters. She suggested that people who are currently looking for a job request informational interviews through their LinkedIn networks. Another piece of advice was to take extra courses to increase knowledge. Lis said that she learned about data science from Coursera, which is both very informative and inexpensive. Applying for an industrial postdoc position is one way to gain experience in drug discovery. Many companies, such as Pfizer and GNF are constantly looking for postdocs, which in general last between 2-3 years. Regarding resumes, she emphasized the importance of tailoring one’s resume to the job description. Finally, in addition to LinkedIn and Biospace, she recommended looking for job advertisements at Indeed.com. 


News Ticker

by Alyson Smith

  • A team of scientists including Jun Wu at the Salk Institute has reportedly used CRISPR to genetically modify single-cell human embryos. The embryos were not allowed to develop beyond a few days. As this is the first study of its kind, biomedical ethicists and scientists such as Jennifer Doudna, one of the developers of CRISPR, are calling for more public debate on whether and how CRISPR technology should be applied in the clinic. 

  • Scientists Vicki Lundblad, Katherine Jones, and Beverly Emerson of the Salk Institute have separately sued the Salk, alleging long-term gender discrimination, including lower pay and fewer promotions and benefits. The institute responded by denying any gender discrimination, claiming that Lundblad and Jones have poor publication and funding records, and releasing statements from other Salk scientists denying any discrimination. The scientists are asking for recovery of lost wages and benefits, punitive damages, and an injunction preventing future discrimination.

  • A group of researchers at the Scripps Research Institute published a study reporting that cows can rapidly produce broadly neutralizing antibodies against fragments of HIV, a process that can take years in humans. The cow antibodies have very elongated target recognition domains, making it possible to target regions on the virus not accessible to human antibodies. The researchers hope to develop these cow antibodies into drugs to treat or prevent HIV infection, and to develop drugs for other viral infections. 

  • The federal government has awarded $14.9 million to a team of scientists at UC San Diego, UC Irvine, and UC Riverside to continue to develop a genetic technology called gene drives, which can rapidly spread genetic alterations through mosquito populations. This technology has been tested extensively in the lab against malaria-bearing mosquitos, and the researchers hope to extend its application to other mosquito-borne illnesses and to wild populations, which could more easily develop resistance to the technology.

  • Connect, a local nonprofit that promotes entrepreneurship, has named Jay Flatley, executive chairman of Illumina, as the 16th member of its Entrepreneur Hall of Fame. While Flatley was CEO of Illumina from 1999 to 2016, the company’s sales grew from $1.3 million to $2.2 billion. Connect recognizes business leaders such as Flatley to inspire the next generation of San Diego entrepreneurs. 

  • Human Longevity Inc. of La Jolla has developed a faster and more accurate method for genotyping the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) locus. This locus is important for immune matching before organ transplants, but it contains many short repeats, making it more difficult to sequence. Human Longevity’s method, which accounts for the amino acids coded for by the DNA, will now be offered as part of its standard genome sequencing service.

  • Salk and UC San Diego researchers have developed a technique for imaging DNA inside the nucleus in 3D at high magnification. The technique paints DNA in a living cell with a metal polymer cast, giving the DNA strands enough contrast to be visualized with an electron microscope at 29,000x magnification. The results show that DNA strands are organized very differently than expected based on previous work, and could be used to better understand and treat diseases such as cancer. 

  • Researchers at UC San Diego have developed a smart glove that uses sensors to transcribe sign language into text and wirelessly transmit it to mobile devices. The device, which costs less than $100 to manufacture, could also be used in virtual reality and in human control of robots.

  • A small clinical trial led by researchers at UC San Diego and the University of Michigan found that amlexanox, a drug approved for asthma in Japan, reduced blood sugar levels and liver fat in some patients with Type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease. Patients with higher inflammation in their fat tissue tended to respond better to the drug. More research is needed to confirm these results and identify more reasons why only some patients respond. 

Member News

We are very pleased to announce that three of our members have recently embarked upon their new careers:

  • Ellen Dunn, co-founder and co-chair of the Back-to-Work Coffee Club, started her new job as Laboratory Analyst at Quadrants Scientific, Inc in April 2017.
  • Juliati Rahajeng, co-chair of the Newsletter Committee and Academia to Industry Coffee Club, as well as member of the Scholarship Committee, began working as a Fellow at Cato Research in June 2017.
  • Gabriela David-Morrison, member of the Newsletter Committee, started her new position as Biosciences Account Manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific in July 2017.


Upcoming AWIS-SD Events

  • Academia 2 Industry Coffee Club

    Friday, September 1, 2017, 4:30-5:30 pm
    Bella Vista Café (Sanford Consortium)
    2880 Torrey Pines Scenic Dr, Torrey Pines, CA 92037

    Guest speaker Dr. Helen Mao will talk about her experience transitioning from academia to industry. 

  • Meet the AWIS-SD Board!

    Tuesday, September 19, 2017, 6:15-8:00 PM
    Hera Hub
    4010 Sorrento Valley Blvd #400, San Diego, CA 92121

    This town hall meeting will provide information on local STEM activities that the AWIS-SD Board and Committees organize all year round. Whether you are new to AWIS-SD, thinking about volunteering for AWIS-SD, or just want to voice your opinion about AWIS-SD programming, stop by and chat! Snacks will be provided.

See more AWIS-SD events here.


About the Authors


Pat Rarus 4.7.11

Pat Rarus is a long-term contributor of the Newsletter committee. As the owner-founder of Marcom Consulting Group, Pat has assisted clients with marketing communications projects. The goal:  increase visibility, market share and ultimately sales for profit-making companies. Increase visibility and donors for non-profits. Pat specializes in writing and editing a wide variety of online and print marketing materials: Website copy, including SE0, press releases, blogs, social media, biographies, marketing plans, speeches, ad/brochure copy, taglines/slogans, PowerPoint presentations and much more.


 Joanna Redfern

Joanna Redfernstudied molecular evolution of Ocotillo plants and their relatives during her doctoral studies at the University of New Mexico (UNM). As a post-doc at UNM, she employed next-generation sequencing of soil samples to search for novel ligase enzymes with potential applications in biofuels. Presently, she teaches Introductory Biology at both Miramar and Cuyamaca Colleges. Joanna also started the AWIS-SD Academia 2 Industry Coffee Club in January 2016.


GDM LinkedIn

Gabriela David-Morrison received her PhD in Developmental Biology in 2016 from Baylor College of Medicine, where she studied the mechanisms of neuronal development. She moved to San Diego two months after graduation and became a scientific editor for BioScience Writers and a member of the Newsletter Committee. She is currently a Biosciences Account Manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific, where she applies her technical background to provide solutions and services for the promotion of biomedical research. She is passionate about advancing scientific research and gender and racial equality, and she enjoys dancing and exploring San Diego’s hiking trails and beaches.



Elizabeth Jacobs is a postdoctoral research associate at The Scripps Research Institute, where she develops antibody-drug conjugates of Duocarmycin SA in collaboration with Bristol-Myers Squibb. She received her Bachelor’s degree through the College Scholars Program at The University of Tennessee in 2009 and completed her PhD at The University of East Anglia in 2014. She has been an AWIS member since 2015 and serves as the San Diego Chapter Outreach Committee Social Media Manager and Public Relations Committee Co-chair. She would like to use her experience in research to promote positive change in early STEM education.



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.


Alyson Smith








Fall 2017 Newsletter Volume 25 Issue 4

For previous newsletters, click here.




Dear AWIS-San Diego Family and Friends,

This will be my last letter as President of AWIS-San Diego for the AWIS-San Diego newsletter.  It is a good time to reflect on what we have accomplished in the last year. I am extremely proud of all that we do, especially since we are all volunteers. In the spirit of thankfulness, there are many heartfelt thanks that need to be said.

Here are some of the fantastic volunteers that were recognized at the end of last month‘s Open House. We (the AWIS-San Diego board) have a lot of exemplary volunteers, so deciding on the ones to recognize is a challenge.

Here are some photographs taken at the 2017 Open House:

Sigrid DeeAnn

Sigrid Katz still looks surprised at her award, the Achievement in Innovation Award; it was a challenge to keep her from finding out ahead of time, but trust me, the initial look on her face was totally worth it; (l to r: Sigrid Katz and DeeAnn Visk).


DeeAnn Barbara

Barbara Armstrong, one of our long-term members who has devoted many hours to the website, received her 30-year membership milestone award; (l to r: DeeAnn Visk and Barbara Armstrong).


Liz Juliati DeeAnn

Elizabeth Jacobs and Juliati Rahajeng were recognized with the Leadership Service Award; (l to r: Elizabeth Jacobs, Juliati Rahajeng, and DeeAnn Visk).


Abbie DeeAnn Radhika

Abigail Ferrieri and Radhika Gopal both received the Board Special Award; (l to r:  Abigail Ferrieri, DeeAnn Visk, and Radhika Gopal).



The beautiful Open House venue was provided by Qualcomm.


DeeAnn Sabrina

Sabrina Treadwell was awarded the Outstanding Volunteer Award; (l to r: DeeAnn Visk and Sabrina Treadwell).


DeeAnn Alyson

Alyson Smith was given the Achievement in Outreach or Community Service Award; (l to r: DeeAnn Visk and Alyson Smith).


DeeAnn Diane

Diane Retallack received both her 15-year membership milestone award and the President’s Award; (l to r) DeeAnn Visk and Diane Retallack.

Saranya Canchi was one of the two winners of the UCSD Extension Scholarship.


Corine Newsletter OH2017

Corine Lau gives out information about the Newsletter Committee at the Open House.


While there is not room to recognize every volunteer who received an award, please know that your work is valued.

A big thanks to all the 2017 board members who have worked very hard this year to maintain all of our programming. In addition to selecting which stellar volunteers to recognize at the Open House, the AWIS San Diego board finalized our strategic plan for the next three years. The document was derived from all the input we received during our annual leadership retreat in January. Here is the 2017 to 2020 AWIS-San Diego Strategic Plan in its entirety:


AWIS-SD strives to promote gender equality across science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at all career levels. By promoting STEM equality through equal pay, respect, opportunity, representation, value, and responsibility, we envision a professional future where all individuals can achieve their full career potential and attain job satisfaction.


To provide insight, tools, skills, resources, networking, and knowledge to aspiring STEM professionals, particularly women. By providing a safe environment to discuss future missions, AWIS-SD allows all individuals to cooperatively approach addressing STEM gender equality.

What we do

Our mission is to support women in all stages of their STEM careers by creating seminars, providing networking opportunities, crafting educational programming, and offering scholarships. By organizing science-themed events, we seek to engage the local community and provide visibility to our members as STEM role models. Membership in AWIS-SD also affords the opportunity to discuss goals and visions in a safe environment, attain leadership skills, and be part of a diverse team dedicated to STEM career equality.


We seek to continue and expand our excellent programming to support gender equality at all stages of career development, from young children to STEM leaders. By maintaining our current membership base and expanding to new demographics, we hope to increase our visibility and promote our vision. Creating new partnerships, reaching out to our sponsors, and promoting member involvement will allow us to continue our star chapter programming.


Finally, a thank you to all of our sponsors are in order. Our Gold Level Sponsors are ThermoFisher Scientific, UC San Diego Extension, and Hologic. Our Silver Level Sponsors are Celgene, Beckman Coulter Foundation, and Hera Hub. Our Bronze Level Sponsors are FEI Company, General Atomics Science Education Foundation (GASEF), Kyowa Kirin Pharmaceutical Research Inc., Qualcomm, Quidel, Sony Interactive Entertainment, TriLink BioTechnologies, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and WD-40 Company.

To sign off, here is my tag line:

Thanks so much for all the hard work you do for AWIS-San Diego.




DeeAnn Visk, President AWIS-SD

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


Creating Career Success- August Strategy Session Recap

by Jennifer Kuo

Take a moment and think about what you want to do. For some, the answers may come easier than for others. Knowing what you want is the first step and arguably the most important step. The next step is figuring out a career path and how to transition from point A to point B. At our August Strategy Session on August 7, 2017, four working professionals shared their career experiences with us. This included how they navigated their careers and what each of their current position entails.

The panelists included the following four speakers:

Amy Duncan, MBA, CEO and Chief Marketing Consultant at Goldfish Consulting, Inc.

Dr. Elena Dimitrijevic, Ph.D., Medical Scientific Liaison at Allergan, Inc.
Dr. Soni Sankapal, Ph.D., PMP, Project Manager at BD Biosciences
Dr. Shreyasi (Shelley) Das, Ph.D., Technical Writer at Thermo Fisher Scientific


SS Aug 2017

Caption: (From left) Amy Duncan, Elena Dimitrijevic, Soni Sankapal, Shelley Das share how they got to their current jobs and the challenges they face in a panel discussion moderated by Lin-Chien Huang.


For a career in the consulting field, a candidate needs not only technical expertise but also value-added skills and experience for clients. Duncan began her career with scientific training in a lab and later moved to tech support and project management. She then obtained her MBA degree.

Duncan’s experience in sales allowed her to deeply understand the needs of customers and market trends. Through Goldfish Consulting, Inc., she now offers her knowledge as an independent consultant and a valuable resource for C-suite executives. She advised us to choose high-visibility projects that will showcase your success. Duncan added that we should think daily how our work projects are adding to what we can place on our resumes.

Dimitrijevic shared with us her life as a medical science liaison (MSL). Her scientific training helps her understand medical products well, and she shares her expertise with healthcare practitioners, physicians, and clinical development teams. In addition, Dimitrijevic is able to help answer off-label use questions, communicate findings from conferences and literature research, recommend sites for clinical trials, and manage complications that physicians encounter when using her company’s product. The perks of her job include the ability to travel and be in control of her schedule and meetings. While most MSLs have a clinical background, there are certificate training programs one can take to gain knowledge in clinical trial management.

Sankapal, a project manager at BD Biosciences, said if you are considering project management, you should learn the terminology. Sankapal advised us to read job descriptions and understand the language that project managers use in order to network well. Her day consists of prioritizing requirements in order to keep a project timeline on schedule and understand how project team members are doing through reading status reports, holding meetings, and managing resources. Since it is a people-oriented job, the challenge is learning how to manage conflicts and keeping people on schedule with their projects.

As a technical writer, Das explained that there are different types of writing such as copywriting, scientific writing, and marketing-oriented communication. She started at an advertising agency to get into the field and was then recruited by Thermo Fisher. “Once you have experience and connections, it is much easier to move around and try different kinds of writing styles,” Das explained. Her advice is to embrace switching jobs rather not fearing such changes. Das also emphasized the different choices available as one builds her career. This could mean advancing as a technical writer or moving into marketing or business development. Another option is freelance writing. Regardless of your choice, there are many opportunities for those who are skilled in technical-scientific writing and editing.  


Happy Hour at Rough Draft Brewery

by Melissa (Missy) Scranton

This past September, AWIS-SD hosted its biannual happy hour at Rough Draft Brewery in Mira Mesa. The brewery has become a go-to venue for AWIS-SD events due to its convenient location, tasty food, and refreshing beers. In addition, its laid-back tasting room setting provided a great space to mingle with old friends and make some new connections as well. Many current, new and returning AWIS-SD members exchanged interests and information over cheese platters, warm flatbreads and cold beer tasters. Happy hours are great places to find scientists at all stages of their careers who work in a variety of fields. Every happy hour is an opportunity to meet someone with a unique occupation or career path. It is always interesting to see where a background in science can lead!

Happyhr Sep2017 2 smaller

AWIS-SD happy hours are held every September and April. The Events Committee invites every AWIS-SD member to participate at one of these happy hour functions. You’re sure to hear an interesting story or perhaps share one about yourself with your fellow members.


Book Review: Mehendi Tides

by Linda L. Manza

As scientists, we are always reading some articles. Usually, it’s to remain current in our field.  However, sometimes we are able to read just for the pleasure of it. This was the case when I had the opportunity to read an early release of Mehendi Tides written by Dr. Siobhan Malany. 

Malany bookcover MehendiTides

Mehendi Tides is the story of Kate and her two best friends, Nasreen and Krishna.  At sixteen, Kate traveled to India and Pakistan with Nasreen and Krishna, who are visiting extended family. Ten years later the lives of the three women have gone in different directions, but the impact of their experiences during the trip and the bonds of their friendship remain strong. The description of the sounds and sights of the bustling bazaars, colorful silks, aromatic spices and the relationships between the people bring the culture of these faraway lands to life. This is truly enjoyable reading!


SiobhanMalany headshot2017

Malany is the Director of Translational Biology in the chemical genomics center at Sanford Burnham Prebys’s East Coast facility. Malany’s team, working closely with medicinal chemists and screening automation scientists, focuses on receptor target pharmacology. It also develops phenotypic cell-based models merging human stem cell-derived cell biology, imaging platforms, and genomic approaches for target pathway and therapeutic discovery for cardiometabolic and liver diseases.

Malany completed a postdoc at UCSD and served on the AWIS-SD board from 2008-2009. Prior to being a board member, she was the Co-chair for the chapter’s newsletter and is credited with converting the PDF version of the newsletter into the online, clickable Constant Contact version. An avid writer, Malany also wrote articles for the San Diego Woman Magazine and took a creative writing course at Mesa College that persuaded her to write Mehendi Tides, her debut novel inspired by her travels to Asia as a teenager.


Kristin Bompiani-Myers Visit to A2I Meeting

by Juliati Rahajeng and Joanna Redfern

On Friday, October 6, 2017, Kristin Bompiani-Myers, a Board member of AWIS-SD, visited with Academia to Industry (A2I) Coffee Club members at Bella Vista Cafe to share her experience in transitioning to industry. Bompiani-Myers was hired as a research scientist at InhibRx about one year ago (2016).

Bompiani-Myers earned her Ph.D. from Duke University in Genetics and Genomics in 2012. Upon receiving her advanced degree, she became interested in applying for jobs at pharmaceutical or biotech companies. Still, Bompiani-Myers’ advisor recommended that she gain additional experience with a postdoc position. As a result, Bompiani-Myers started work as a postdoc at the Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in June 2012. At TSRI, she utilized high-throughput screening to identify inhibitory small molecules toward botulism enzymes. In addition, she collaborated with chemists and pharmacologists to synthesize and identify lead small molecule compounds and tested them for ADME properties.

In August 2014, Bompiani-Myers became a Cancer Therapeutics Postdoctoral Fellow at UCSD. She studied the role of copper homeostasis in cancer cell growth, metabolism, and chemotherapeutic drug sensitivity. To deliver on her stated goals, she performed genome editing in human cancer cell lines using CRISPR-Cas9 technology. The fellowship program at the UCSD Moores Cancer Center focused on training postdocs in drug discovery and development. For that reason, Bompiani-Myers obtained funding to take classes at the UCSD Extension, including Epidemiology, Patient Oriented Research, and Biostatistics.

Through her postdoctoral mentor at UCSD, Bompiani-Myers was introduced to the CEO of InhibRx where she currently works as a research scientist. She had two very casual interviews at InhibRx before she was offered the position. InhibRx was established about six years ago, and currently employs about 40 people. The company is primarily funded by the government, the Small Business Innovation Research (SIBR) program, and other private sources. Currently, the company consists of several departments, including Molecular Biology, Protein Engineering, and Antibody Discovery, Cell Biology, New Technology Development, and antibody humanization.

Unlike many larger companies, InhibRx does not have annual reviews of employees, and generally has a very relaxed atmosphere. There is an emphasis on encouraging scientists who work at InhibRx to pursue ideas they develop regarding the research the company is involved in.

Bompiani-Myers started at the Molecular Biology department when she joined the company. Her duties included managing the DNA preparations and managing people who have different scientific backgrounds.

Currently, she works in the Infectious Disease department where she spends more time at the bench. Bompiani-Myers also writes progress reports and grants, and as the chemical hygiene officer, manages chemical waste. She enjoys the variety of her responsibilities. While Bompiani-Myers did not come to the company with a background in antibody research, she learned all about the field as it is a major part of the research and development at InhibRx. The company focuses on developing single-domain antibodies from llamas that are known to only consist of heavy chains. Bompiani-Myers said that these nanobodies are better than other antibodies because they are more thermostable, easier to express, and can recognize unique epitopes compared to traditional monoclonal antibodies.

Bompiani-Myers’s advice for women looking to transition from academia in to industry is to make sure you let your advisor(s) and others you work with know that you are interested in industry while still a graduate student/post-doc. This allows advisors and others who may have industry connections to keep you in mind when they hear about suitable openings.


Outreach at the Maker Faire

by Vanessa Langness

The AWIS-SD Outreach Committee organized an activity for the October 2017 Maker Faire, which allows makers of all types including artists, scientists, and engineers to showcase their creations. During this two-day event, our volunteers demonstrated chemistry concepts to community members by making art with shaving cream and food coloring. First, the volunteers demonstrated how food coloring, which is polar, diffuses quickly in water, which is also polar. However, when food coloring is dropped into oil, it does not diffuse because the oil is non-polar and hydrophobic.

maker farie 1

These same concepts were used to create shaving cream art. Hydrophobic ingredients in shaving cream prevent diffusion of food coloring, so designs can be drawn with food coloring by dragging a toothpick through the shaving cream. The design can be transferred to a piece of paper, which volunteers explained is made of cellulose and has polar hydroxyl groups.

Kids and parents alike were amazed when the shaving cream was wiped away, and they could see that their food coloring design was transferred to the paper. Similar techniques were used for centuries by artists to create beautiful marbled patterns. This activity was a great demonstration of the STEAM movement, which is a major focus of the Maker Faire. The STEAM movement integrates STEAM subjects with the arts for a deeper, richer interdisciplinary connection.

maker farie 2

AWIS-SD Outreach Committee members Vanessa Langness and Mary Swinton were co-point persons for this event. Outreach Committee Member Laure Kayser, Outreach Committee Co-chair Kina Thackray, and past AWIS-SD president Grace Nakayama participated as did many other AWIS-SD members and community volunteers.


Annual Open House highlights: volunteer awards and silent auction

by Christina Niemeyer

AWIS-SD hosted its 2017 Open House on Thursday, October 26 at Qualcomm, our Bronze Sponsor. The event ran from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. Sandwiches, hors d'oeuvres, and drinks were provided. This free annual event gave individuals an opportunity for networking with others in the scientific community as well as a chance to learn more about our volunteers and volunteer opportunities. Each AWIS-SD committee had a member at a table who described the mission, goals, and opportunities for new members. Hera Hub, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and UC San Diego Extension, all Sponsors of AWIS-SD, were also represented.

openhouse2017 1

Caption: AWIS-SD Treasurer Lori Yang and board member Kristin Bompiani-Myers welcome guests at the membership table.

During the event, several of our outstanding volunteers were recognized. The Achievement in Innovation Awards went to Sigrid Katz and Takako Noguchi. Rookie of the Year Awards went to Myan Do and Maria del Pilar Martinez Viedma. Varykina Thackray and Alyson Smith were given Achievement in Outreach or Community Service Awards. Outstanding Volunteer Awards were bestowed upon Sabrina Treadwell and Miriam Cohen. Leadership Service Awards were presented to Lin-Chien Huang, Juliati Rahajeng and Elizabeth Jacobs. Abigail Ferrieri and Radhika Gopal were granted the Board Special Awards. The President’s Award was conferred to Diane Retallack and Raymond Seraydarian.

In addition, UC San Diego Extension awarded $1,000 Scholarships to two of our members: Saranya Canchi, who plans to take courses in statistics for big data sets and data analytics, and Rhiannon Killian, who plans to use this scholarship for courses in project management and process improvement.

Also recognized during the Open House were our longtime members.  Sandra Slivka and Barbara Armstrong have been AWIS-SD members for 30 years, Judith Finlay for 25 years, Christina Niemeyer and Jan Gates for 20 years, and Karin Lucas and Diane Retallack for 15 years. Michelle Temple-Wong, Linda Manza, April Cresse, Christine Federovitch, DeeAnn Visk, Kellie Church, and Lihua Wu have been members for 10 years. Individuals honored for five-year membership included Cheryl Eisen, Christine Pham, Tobey Tam, Gloria Lefkowitz, Laura Ruff, Ana Laura Guerrero, Virginia Hazen, Kerstin Kirchsteiger, Aleksandra Baranckzak, Lori Yang, Castle Funatake, and Eva Goellner. We hope to honor all of them in another five years, as well as a whole new set of five-year members.

A silent auction was held during the event. Several companies and AWIS-SD members donated items. The donated items included a children microscope, a painting, guest passes to the Japanese Friendship Garden, Legoland, the Maritime Museum, the USS Midway Museum, the San Diego Natural History Museum, and the New Children’s Museum. Also included in the auction were credits towards Masan NYC Portrait Artwork, makeovers and photo shoots with Jesse Angel, Picaboo gift certificates, a gift basket from Dream Diners, a bottle of St. Petersburg vodka, and a bottle of Wilson Creek sparkling wine. Hera Hub provided one full month access to tits co-working space and two free hours of meeting room space. Curves donated two months of fitness membership.

openhouse2017 2

Caption: Annual AWIS-SD open house provides an opportunity for members and non-members to learn more about how the organization supports women in STEM.

Overall, approximately 125 individuals attended the Open House. We would especially like to thank Qualcomm for sponsoring the venue. The event was considered a success due to the enthusiasm of attendees, interactions at the various tables, and the networking that transpired.


At Vertex, Science Leads the Way

by Pat Rarus

AWIS-SD members explored the exciting world of drug discovery on Friday, October 6, as several of us visited Vertex Pharmaceuticals in the Torrey Pines area of San Diego. Headquartered in Boston, Vertex is a global biotechnology company developing transformative medicines for the severely ill.

Vertex’s tagline is, The Science of Possibility,” and the company has demonstrated that leadership by launching two cystic fibrosis (CF) medicines between 2012 and 2015. The company’s goal is to treat the underlying cause of CF for the vast majority of people with the disease.

The informative tour on October 6 was arranged by the AWIS Academia 2 Industry Coffee Club. As its name implies, the group introduces AWIS-SD members who work in university labs to the business side of scientific research and development.  Kudos to Co-Chairs Takako Noguchi, PhD., Juliati Rahajeng, Ph.D., and Joanna Redfern, Ph.D. for overseeing this interesting outing and ensuring that every detail was handled flawlessly.

Vertex tour 001

The tour consisted of visits to four key areas of Vertex: The Discovery Core lab, Instrumentation Research and Development (IR&D), Chemistry and Biology. The departments work closely together at every turn. “We have an incredibly collaborative environment and excellent teamwork from beginning to end,” said Sandie Lechner.

Vertex’s Amy Arthur led the tour that I attended, beginning with the Instrumentation Research laboratory. The department has 15 engineers and scientists who build and design instruments that cannot be purchased “off the shelf.” The department even has its own machine shop, according to Minh Vuong, Ph.D., senior director of IR&D., who described his innovative lab. “Sometimes we need to measure biological parameters that otherwise cannot be measured using commercial equipment. That is why we need to build the custom equipment,” Vuong explained. “This might include specialized optics for detection, for example.”

“Drug discovery is greatly speeded up by automating industrial scale biology,” Vuong continued. He added that his work is always challenging, and he enjoys the fast-paced atmosphere. “Often we don’t even have the luxury of time to build a prototype.”

My particular tour continued on to the Chemistry, Biology and Cell Core areas. AWIS-SD attendees asked questions of the scientists who included Juliana, Fabrice and Yi-Lin in Chemistry, and Ji Young and Sheena in Biology. Adrienne Neal explained the functions of the Cell Core area.

After the tour, we all convened in the training room for additional questions. Later, lunch was provided in the cafeteria, and AWIS-SD attendees were encouraged to network with Vertex employees.

After witnessing the business side of drug discovery, some AWIS-SD attendees wondered about transitioning from academia to private industry. Karen Sylvester, Director, Human Resources, said that temporary employment was a good way to make such a transition. “For the next step in your career, you might consider one of our temporary opportunities,” she explained. “It’s a great way to get your foot in the door.”

Sheena Saayman, Research Scientist II, who guided the Biology Department part of the tour, told an inspiring story. “I’ve worked at Vertex for a year and a half,” she recalled with a grin. “Before that, I was part of a similar tour that all of you took today. I was impressed with the company and hoped that one day I might work here. Now I do!”  

Saayman then added: “People here are passionate about their work. The company is highly collaborative, and people work together well. I’m so glad to be here.”

Vertex is consistently recognized as one of the industry’s top places to work by Science Magazine, The Boston Globe, Boston Business Journal and the San Diego Business Journal. The company’s research and medicines have also received esteemed recognitions, including the Robert J. Beall Therapeutics Development Award, the French Prix Gallian and the British Pharmacological Society awards.

Thanks to Vertex for its great hospitality, and thanks also to AWIS-SD’s Academia 2 Industry Coffee Club, who made this such a successful and informative tour!


Member News

  1. Dorothy (Dody) Sears, UCSD Associate Professor of Medicine and former AWIS-SD President, is a Project Lead on a newly awarded, 5-year program grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Aging (P01 AG052352). Sears and her colleagues, Jacqueline Kerr, Andrea LaCroix, and Loki Natarajan, will use this $9 million grant to study the short-, medium-, and long-term effects of sedentary behavior interruptions on biomarkers associated with age-related, chronic disease in postmenopausal women as part of their Sedentary Time & Aging Research (STAR) Program.

  1. Dorota Skowronska-Krawczyk, UCSD Assistant Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, and AWIS-SD Scholarship Committee co-chair, together with artist Eva Henry, have created PROJECT VISIONS to combine science and art to illustrate images of the eye under the microscope.


  2. Ping Xu embarked on her first industry position as a QC manager in cell line production at ScienCell Research Laboratories in October 2017.

  3. Leslie Crews, Board Member at Large and longtime Strategy Sessions committee member of AWIS-SD, recently joined the faculty in the Division of Regenerative Medicine at UC San Diego as an Assistant Professor. She is excited to have the opportunity to expand her studies on multiple myeloma biology and therapy, and looks forward to building a program in multiple myeloma translational research with her clinical collaborators at the Moores Cancer Center. For more information about research in the Crews Lab, please visit www.crewslab.com.

  4. Mai Khuong, member of the Newsletter Committee, started her new position as a Technical Applications Scientist at Thermo Fisher Scientific in September 2017.


News Ticker

by Alyson Smith

  • A team of researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute have found that during Alzheimer’s disease-related inflammation, mouse models and human patients express a protein called CTGF in the brain’s blood vessels. As inflammation is one of the first steps in Alzheimer’s progression, the researchers are developing a method to image the CTGF levels in living human brains to provide earlier diagnosis and to specify which regions of the brain to target with future therapies.
  • The Scripps Institution of Oceanography has received a $2.8 million NSF grant to develop the Scripps Ocean Atmosphere Research Simulator (SOARS). This large ocean simulator, or flume, will allow researchers to study the biology, chemistry, waves, wind, and temperature at the surface of the ocean. This will provide insight into the interactions of these factors in various climates, and how they are affected by pollution and climate change.
  • Broadcom Ltd., a Singapore-based electronics company, has offered to buy Qualcomm Inc. for $130 billion in an unsolicited takeover bid. Qualcomm, one of the largest private employers in San Diego, has not yet decided whether to accept the proposed takeover, which would be the largest in the electronics industry to date.
  • KPBS Radio has sponsored a new podcast entitled “Rad Scientist,” which features San Diego scientists and their research, with a goal of bridging between San Diego’s scientific community and non-scientists. Margot Wohl, the host of the podcast and a neuroscience Ph.D. student at UC San Diego, has hosted UCSD pathology professor Pascal Gagneux and Salk plant researcher Liang Song.
  • Qualcomm has given UC San Diego $200,000 to build an outdoor cage for test flights of unmanned aerial vehicles. The facility will allow for testing of drone control, altitude control, and collision avoidance. The facility will become a part of UC San Diego’s expanding robotics systems research program, which also includes development of driverless cars.
  • The National Institutes of Health has awarded $25 million to researchers at the Salk Institute, UC San Diego, and the University of Southern California to identify all cell types in the mammalian brain. This project, part of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative, will focus on distinguishing neurons in the mouse brain based on differences in gene expression and epigenetic modifications and on tracing connections between neurons.
  • UC San Diego has reported a record in undergraduate enrollment for the fifth straight year. The total undergraduate population is currently 36,624, and is expected to rise to 40,000 within five years. To accommodate this increase in the student population, the university is investing $1.7 billion in expanding student housing and classroom space.
  • Collaborating with researchers at the University of Sao Paolo in Brazil, scientists at the UC San Diego School of Medicine have discovered how the Zika virus is transmitted from a pregnant mother to a developing fetus. They found that microglia cells in the yolk sac can become infected with the virus early in development. When these microglia later move to the brain to perform immune functions, they can infect brain cells and cause neurological damage. This discovery indicates a potential therapeutic target for Zika infections in pregnant women.


Upcoming AWIS-SD Events

See more AWIS-SD events here.


About the Authors

 Jennifer Kuo headshot

Jennifer Kuo is a graduate student in the Biomedical Sciences program at UCSD studying mechanisms of neurodegeneration. She has been an active member of the Strategy Session Committee since 2015 and is currently serving as co-chair. In her free time, she can be found training for triathlons, hiking, or watching Big Bang Theory. After completing her PhD, she hopes to pursue a career in the biotech industry.



Melissa (Missy) Scrantonreceived her PhD in Plant Biology from University of California, Riverside. In 2013, she moved back to her home town to study algal biotechnology at University of California, San Diego as postdoctoral researcher. She is currently a researcher at BASF Enzymes, LLC and a Co-Chair of the AWIS-SD Events committee.


Pat Rarus 4.7.11

Pat Rarus is a long-term contributor of the Newsletter committee. As the owner-founder of Marcom Consulting Group, Pat has assisted clients with marketing communications projects. The goal:  increase visibility, market share and ultimately sales for profit-making companies. Increase visibility and donors for non-profits. Pat specializes in writing and editing a wide variety of online and print marketing materials: Website copy, including SE0, press releases, blogs, social media, biographies, marketing plans, speeches, ad/brochure copy, taglines/slogans, PowerPoint presentations and much more.



LindaManza received a Ph.D. in Pharmacology and Toxicology from the University of Arizona, a M.S. in Toxicology from San Diego State University, Graduate School of Public Health, and a B.A. in Biological Sciences and Chemistry from the University of California Santa Barbara. Linda works as an independent consultant in toxicology and quality assurance. Linda is currently an AWIS-SD Newsletter Committee member and is a member of the National AWIS Chapters Committee.


 Joanna Redfern

Joanna Redfernstudied molecular evolution of Ocotillo plants and their relatives during her doctoral studies at the University of New Mexico (UNM). As a post-doc at UNM, she employed next-generation sequencing of soil samples to search for novel ligase enzymes with potential applications in biofuels. Presently, she teaches Introductory Biology at both Miramar and Cuyamaca Colleges. Joanna also started the AWIS-SD Academia 2 Industry Coffee Club in January 2016.



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.

 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.


christina Niemeyer 

Christina Niemeyer  is Associate at i2 Grants Associates, a woman-owned and operated, California-based team with years of experience identifying and securing grants for emerging companies and non-profit organizations in the life sciences. Christina has served as Laboratory Director at both Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute and Salmedix, where she played a critical role in developing the approved oncology drug Treanda. Christina earned her Ph.D. at Bayor College of Medicine in cell biology and her B.S. from Texas A&M University in microbiology, where she graduated magna cum laude.





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