Fall 2019 Newsletter Volume 27 Issue 4

This issue of the Newsletter is available in PDF.

For previous newsletters, click here.



CourtneyB crop

I hope this year has been great as we end 2019. I wish for a happy and prosperous 2020 to everyone. AWIS-SD held so many great events this year. We held our biennial Women in Science and Technology (WIST) conference in October at Thermo Fisher Scientific, our Platinum Sponsor, in Carlsbad. This was a fantastic conference organized by our WIST committee led by Robyn Wygal, with the theme “Sharing Strategies for Success.” Our keynote speaker was Dr. Steffanie Strathdee, an infectious disease epidemiologist at UCSD. She gave a heart-felt talk on her race to save her husband from a super bug that he contracted while they were on vacation, by using phage therapy. Her talk was an inspirational start to the conference, which was filled with networking, roundtable discussions, as well as interactive sessions.

We are starting a new committee in the Spring called Career Advancement (early to mid-career). This committee will host discussion sessions related to challenges that may come up once you transition from academia to industry. If you have a topic you would be interested in hearing more about (conflict resolution, managing up/down, etc.), or you know someone that would be a great speaker for this, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., as I will be one of the co-chairs of this new committee. The first session will be held in March.

As I close out this letter, I would like to say what a pleasure it has been serving AWIS-SD as President for the past two years. I have met so many great people and made so many amazing connections with everyone. I would like to congratulate Dr. Kina Thackray on becoming our next President for 2020-2021. I know she will do great things as President of our local organization to carry out our mission. I wish you all the best. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Warmest wishes,


Courtney Benson

President, AWIS-SD

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WIST Conference - A Newcomer’s Perspective

by Jennifer Overklift

The 2019 WIST Conference was my first ever professional networking event. I was nervous. I have always been introverted, so the idea of meeting with strangers and trying to convince them to sit down for an interview with me was quite daunting. However, from the time I entered the conference to the time I left, I was able to not only accomplish my goal of finding interviewees, but also learn how to succeed in the working world. 

The first thing I noticed when the conference started was that everyone was shy. I had come in expecting to get lost in the crowd as everyone mingled. But the calm environment put me at ease. It was also relieving to know that almost everyone I met seemed to be just as reserved as I was. The variation in networking experience, combined with the diversity of the conference attendees, helped me feel more comfortable throughout the entire event.

I also realized how easy it was to actually meet people. This was not unexpected, but I did not realize how genuinely helpful people would be. Often, after conversing with someone, they would recommend someone else for me to talk to, based on what they learned about me. Many of them even took the time to personally introduce me to others. I was able to sit down with numerous people working in the career field I plan on entering after college, or currently attending college studying the major that I want. Best of all, everyone was open to being interviewed about their experience.

I went to three roundtable talks throughout the day, all of which discussed topics that were relevant to me, even as a high school senior. The speakers leading these talks provided many valuable insights and encouraged all of the attendees to think critically about how the topic related to their lives. I learned about the importance of self-advocacy, mentors, and volunteering. I came out of each talk feeling more knowledgeable of the topic discussed, but also of myself as a working professional. The talks also allowed me to make additional connections with people I might not have met otherwise.

I ended the day having gained new connections and knowledge about everything from the major I plan to pursue to how to succeed in the working world. I felt exhausted from learning so much, but overall happy to have been able to have this experience. The conference allowed me to gain experience networking and to learn valuable lessons from professionals with years of experience. I look forward to attending again next year.


WIST Conference - Environmental Science and Ecology Roundtable 

by Jennifer Overklift

The second session roundtable was on Environmental Science and Ecology. Speakers Becca Lewis, professor at SDSU, and Romina Schiess, a chemist for the County of San Diego, discussed a variety of topics including employment in the field of ecology, communication, mentorship, and leadership.

The talk began with Lewis discussing the diversity in science backgrounds of people employed in the field of ecology. Ecology employs people with degrees not just in the natural sciences, but also in mathematics and business. They also explained that Environmental sciences combined physical sciences with humanities.

Schiess explained that a big part of her job involved learning how to read people. In order to do inspections on businesses, she had to learn to communicate with others based on their personality. She prefers using the Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness (DiSC) method in order to read people. DiSC uses four different personality traits to characterize people. This method allows Schiess to work with people based on their communication and working style.

Lewis also highlighted the importance of having multiple mentors, and how even having a bad mentor can teach you ways to be a better one. She explained that mentor should be spelled with a lower case “m,” meaning you should have multiple mentors, not just one. Utilizing mentors can help you get valuable feedback and give you someone to bounce ideas off of. Schiess also added that her mentor was someone she could always consult regarding job changes, work environment, and how to communicate effectively with supervisors. Lewis explained that one of her biggest challenges was learning what she looked like as a leader, and not comparing herself to what other leaders looked like. Asking for specific feedback from some of her mentors helped her improve as a professional.

As someone planning to study Environmental Science in college, this talk provided me with a lot of insight into the career field. Schiess stated that funding could sometimes be cut back depending on the political climate. She also said that her job made her feel like she was helping others because she was able to determine when beaches were safe to swim in.

Both Schiess’ and Lewis’ perspectives on careers in Environmental Science and Ecology were refreshing yet practical. The overall message of the talk was that finding mentors and asking for personal feedback is important, and that both Environmental Science and Ecology are diverse fields with endless career options.


WIST Conference - Unconscious bias workshop

by Corine Lau

The mid-day session began with Katherine Nguyen Williams, PhD and Laurie A. Lindamer, PhD holding a workshop on “assessing and addressing unconscious bias for professional success.” The purpose of the workshop was to understand the meaning of unconscious bias, how to recognize it, and what we can do to minimize it, as it can impact our professional careers.

Lindamer began by defining bias, which is a tendency resulting in judgment without question. For example, we may associate a person or a group of people with a certain assumed behavior based on their gender, ethnicity, social status, beliefs, and physical or mental abilities. Unconscious bias, also called implicit bias, occurs when we make these associations without awareness, intention, or control.

Unconscious bias is inevitable. As Williams explained, we learn at a very early age to associate objects or people with certain attributes, like good cops and bad thieves, so that we can process information automatically and make decisions quickly. However, our judgment can be wrong during times of exceptions. Nonetheless, everyone’s unconscious bias is different based on his/her life experiences.

To illustrate one’s unconscious bias, first we have to be aware of it. Our first activity was to write down words and descriptions that identified each of us, and if any of these aspects place us in the ‘majority’ of the group. As attendees of a ‘women in science and technology’ conference, most of us identified ourselves as women in science. Then we dived into another activity to measure our level of unconscious bias using an Implicit Association Test developed by Harvard University (http://implicit.harvard.edu). Of the many tests available, our speakers challenged us to do gender vs science or liberal arts test. Using our phones, we had to click as quickly as possible whether we associate gender with liberal arts subjects like music or history, or with science subjects like biology or physics. After 6-7 rounds of these quick association tests, we were given a qualitative tendency score towards associating females with liberal arts subjects, and males with science subjects.

Unconscious bias is impossible to eliminate, but there are many strategies we can develop to address and to minimize unconscious bias at a personal level, as well as at an institutional level – for example, keeping an open mind and being aware of our unconscious attitudes towards others of different beliefs or origins. Take the time to assess the entire situation before making judgements based on the people involved. Once we recognize our own unconscious bias, we can also help others to do the same. In the workplace, screening job candidates by blocking out their names and promoting diversity and inclusion can help avoid gender and race bias.

The take home message of this session is that the more we are aware of our unconscious bias, the better we can learn to minimize the impact it could have on our personal and professional interactions.


About our speakers

Katherine Nguyen Williams, PhD

Williams is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCSD and the Director of Strategic Development and Clinical Innovations at Rady Children's Hospital–San Diego.  Williams earned her doctoral degree at Loma Linda University (LLU). She is the author of Psychology Today: The Modern Child and Modular Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Children and Adolescents with Depression: A Clinician’s Guide to Individualized Treatment. Williams's clinical teaching and supervision is in the area of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, as well as clinical psychological assessment.

Laurie A. Lindamer, PhD

Lindamer is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCSD and serves as the Director of the Education and Dissemination Unit for the VA Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health (CESAMH) and Director of Education for the VA San Diego Healthcare System (VASDHS) Mental Health Care Line. She received her PhD in clinical psychology from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Lindamer’s research interests have been directed at designing and testing psychosocial interventions for health behaviors for persons with psychiatric disorders, and the implementation of evidence-based practices and health technology.

Academics to Industry (A2I) - Coffee with Dr. Jill Wykosky

by Nora Shafee

On Wednesday September 11, 2019, AWIS A2I members were given a wonderful opportunity to host our monthly meeting at Takeda Pharmaceuticals. The meeting took place at their brand new, state-of-the-art facilities located at 9625 Towne Centre Drive, in the UTC area of San Diego.

We arrived at the building entrance around 5:15 pm, registered and were led to “The Grove”, their central meeting space and cafeteria. We sat comfortably around a big coffee table. The room was very spacious with glass walls which allowed natural light to shine in. Soon after, Dr. Jill Wykosky walked over to greet us with a big smile and welcomed us to Takeda.

A2I coffeechat

Wykosky is the Director and Head of Biology in the Gastroenterology Drug Discovery Unit. She leads a group of scientists working on drug discovery for GI disorders. She also serves as a Portfolio Leader for GI Motility Disorders. After inviting us to coffee from their shiny new nitro coffee kegerator, she started to share with us her career journey.

Wykosky obtained her PhD in Molecular Medicine from Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Her studies focused on the characterization of novel targets for brain tumor drug development. The research led her to discover a previously unknown function for a soluble ligand in tumor cells.

After completing her PhD, Wykosky pursued her post-doctoral work at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in San Diego. Her work on therapeutic resistance to small molecule inhibitors in brain tumors allowed her to apply her multi-disciplinary knowledge, which includes oncology signal transduction, cell and molecular biology, and in vivo models of brain tumors. Wykosky's research efforts were focused on translational neuro-oncology emphasizing the use of clinical materials with basic laboratory science.

Wykosky began to look for career opportunities in industry following her post-doctoral training. Like other women in STEM, she had to juggle a busy schedule between career and family. She remembered that her opportunity to join Takeda came after the birth of her son. At the time, Takeda was venturing into a new innovative target discovery following an acquisition and they needed someone to lead new GI studies. Wykosky knew she was facing a steep learning curve due to the new company focus and would have a hectic schedule with her new baby. But she was thrilled to accept the challenge and embraced the opportunities that came with it.

After joining Takeda, she was tasked with starting a GI research group and given projects to lead. That was 6 years ago. Now Wykosky is successfully leading a productive GI disorder research team comprised of 17 members. Wykosky reminded AWIS members to be open to changes and ready to be flexible in research focus when joining industry. She pointed out that if we encounter something unfamiliar, we just have to be honest and open to admit that we do not know it. If we are open to learning, then other team members or supervisors are typically willing to teach us.

Wykosky’s word of advice to AWIS members was to be “comfortable being uncomfortable” because it will take us far. The highly collaborative multi-disciplinary industry environment requires the ability to quickly adapt and adjust our scientific creativity to new project directions. Adaptability is key given the dynamic and evolving nature of the biotech industry.


Book Review - The Autobiography of a Transgender Scientist

by Emily Bentley


For decades, people urged Ben Barres to write an account of his unusual life. He transitioned to male at the age of 43, having already become a tenured Stanford neuroscientist while presenting as a woman. After his transition, he commented that others now “treat me with much more respect; I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.” Challenging this unequal treatment, he became a crusader on behalf of women in science, demanding they receive equal treatment, protection, and respect.

In The Autobiography of a Transgender Scientist, Barres recounts this story. His writing style is straightforward and scientific – just the facts. His candor is often charming and funny. When he shares righteous anger, I often found his scathing criticisms so delightful that I read them aloud to whoever was nearby. Ironically, Barres’ call for justice contains no hint of apology. In my organizational efforts on behalf of women in science, I often talk myself into accepting compromise, partial improvement, or even a minimal display of effort from the powers that be. But Barres’ demand for true equality is profound and unrelenting. “Dear Sir,” he writes in one correspondence, “You have a hell of a lot of nerve inviting me after sending me that speaker list. [It] looks like out of your last 35 speakers, only 1 has been a woman??! I wouldn’t visit your school if you were the last school on earth.”

In her foreword to the autobiography, MIT professor Nancy Hopkins describes asking Barres how he was able to be so persistent. He replied: “[I]t’s not particularly stressful for me… [What’s] stressful to me is having such an unfair world.”

Barres spends the first 60 pages of the book giving an account of his life, primarily describing his scientific training. While growing up as “Barbara,” Barres experienced both persistent gender dysphoria and several examples – recognized only in hindsight – of sexism. Several times throughout his life, his discomfort living as a woman was so severe that he contemplated suicide. However, he suggests that his internal sense of being male protected him from many of the psychological effects of gender discrimination, which plagued women scientists at the time of his training in the 70s. For a reader following his journey uncovering the neurological role of glial cells (often thought of as support for the more famous neuron), the widespread acceptance of his gender transition by his mentors and colleagues is the only satisfying conclusion one could ask for.

Next, Barres moves on to discuss his neuroscience career in detail. In his Neuron essay “How to Pick a Graduate Advisor,” Barres criticizes mentors who fail to adequately credit their trainees when presenting their work. “The output of a truly great lab is not measured only in Nobel prizes and research articles but just as importantly in how many successful scientists it trains,” he argues. By this metric, the Science section of his Autobiography marks Barres as a great scientist indeed, as he introduces topic after topic with the name of the trainee who performed the work. The details of this section may only be of interest to other neuroscientists, but its outlines reveal the great curiosity and the strategic questioning that drove Barres’ lab forward for decades.

Finally, and very briefly, Barres discusses his Advocacy: the areas he wants to see academia improve. His most famous work, “Does Gender Matter?” published in Nature in 2006, described his objection to arguments that women are underrepresented in science because they are, on average, less capable scientists. Chiefly, Barres argues that “individual merit cannot and will not be recognized in the face of pervasive negative stereotyping.” Here, Barres extends this argument to other minority groups, and concludes “Every one of us has the responsibility to work to recognize and lessen these barriers lest the passion for science that drives many of our best and brightest diverse young scientists is extinguished.”

While I would argue that reading his autobiography fails to give a full account of Barres’ life – he alludes to much of his other writing while promising not to repeat himself – it tells his story from beginning to end. Barres passed away in 2017, having written the book as he was dying of pancreatic cancer. He leaves behind a lengthy list of successful trainees, many of whom continue to study the neurobiology he pioneered, and a public record of mentorship available to young scientists everywhere. His work, here and elsewhere, remains an inspiration.


AWIS-SD Visit to Celgene Corporation

by Nora Shafee, Qiong Song and Takako Noguchi

A small group of AWIS-SD members visited Celgene facilities at 10300 Campus Point Dr, San Diego, CA 92121. The tour took place on November 6, 2019 and was hosted by Laurie Phillips PhD, Celgene’s Senior Director Discovery Operations and Strategy. Phillips was very kind to accommodate us despite her busy schedule handling Celgene’s merger with Bristol-Myers Squib. Celgene’s acquisition by Bristol-Myers Squib was announced in early 2019 and was expected to be completed by the end of November.

Phillips met us at 9:15 a.m. in the lobby and invited us to their conference room for a discussion and information-sharing session. For this session, she brought together an impressive line of Celgene’s successful women scientists and leaders to be the panel members. They were Mercedes Delgado, PhD (Senior Manager Project Management), Christina Trout, PhD (Manager Research Alliance), JC Xu, PhD (Senior Director R&ED China Strategy) Lisa Morrison, PhD (Principal Scientist), and Natalie Hawryluk, PhD (Director Global Health). Their fields of expertise included medicinal chemistry, immuno-biology, preclinical development, protein homeostasis and cancer biology. The one-hour discussion was focused on the topic of “Working in the Biotech Industry.”

The participants asked questions ranging from career decisions, hiring practices, work culture and family-career balance. The discussion session was very motivating and extremely informative. We all learned a lot from it and enjoyed getting to know the panel members. Overall, it was agreed that any challenges faced by women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) could be encountered with strength, perseverance and persistence.

After the panel discussion, Phillips led us to a tour of Celgene laboratories. We were briefed with specific rules during the tour to ensure compliance with Celgene’s policies and safety regulations. The sprawling facilities were equipped with advanced state-of-the-art equipment manned by attentive and focused scientists. We were guided through their chemistry laboratories, cell culture facilities, and other impressive laboratory spaces and technologies. We were awed by the discoveries and innovations made in these laboratories by their dedicated scientists, who specialize in more than 40 disease areas. Phillips reminded us that one of the main personality traits needed when working in the industry is the ability to quickly learn new techniques and adapt to new experimental directions in accordance with current company directions.

Following the tour, Phillips provided us with boxed lunches and paired each of us with a mentor. She arranged it in such a way that our fields of interest matched those of the mentors’. We were then asked to find a quiet space to have lunch and talk. The scientists that were invited to be mentors were Emily Rychak, PhD, Senior Scientist (Protein Homeostasis), Sanaa Torres, B.S., Scientist (Protein Homeostasis), Josh Mugford, PhD, Principal Scientist (Protein Homeostasis & Sequencing), Denise Hickey, Vice President Deputy Chief Patent Counsel, Jen Riggs, PhD, Associate Director Medicinal Chemistry, and Kamran Ghoreishi, M.S., Senior Scientist (Exploratory Toxicology). The one-to-one style arranged by Phillips was very effective in encouraging networking and providing a personalized mentoring session. Everyone had a great time and wonderful conversations. After lunch, we said good-bye to our mentors and planned to keep in touch.

All participants then assembled for a final session in the conference room. Phillips presented an overview of Celgene and its drug discovery efforts. Celgene’s focus is a singular mission of improving the lives of patients worldwide. The company fulfills this mission by instilling trust in their colleagues, patients, partners and the public at large through their words and actions. Celgene is now part of Bristol-Myers Squibb and continues to lead in addressing the needs of patients with serious diseases.

Celgenetour Nov2019

AWIS-SD would like to thank Celgene Corporation for giving us the chance to tour its San Diego facilities. We also extend our sincere gratitude and appreciation to Dr. Laurie Phillips for all her hard work in planning and leading the exciting and informative tour.


Strategy Sessions- How to Interview Successfully

by Corine Lau

On Monday, August 5, 2019, the Strategy Sessions Committee hosted Denise Brannon to conduct mock interviews with about 10 AWIS-SD attendees. Brannon is a seasoned regional recruiting manager for Kelly Scientific Resources. She specializes in recruiting, sales, and services.

Brannon began the session by understanding where we were in finding our next position, whether it was seeking advancement or career transitions. We were then summoned one by one to the “interview room.” This was a great opportunity for us to talk about our career achievements, goals, strengths and weaknesses. Brannon was the perfect mock interviewer. She was interested in what we were doing and she used her experience in recruiting and team building to provide guidance on how to bring out our strengths. One suggestion she had on tackling behavioral type of questions such as “how do you deal with conflicts,” is to provide specific examples from your work experience. It is acceptable to bring a notepad with bullet points prepared to help cue those types of questions.

While we were waiting to be interviewed, AWIS-SD attendees also tested each other on our responses to difficult questions or non-traditional interview settings. Video interviews have become a popular screening method. However, answering questions at a computer screen while being videotaped may create additional anxiety for the interviewee, not to mention the likelihood of having “technical difficulties.” 

Overall, it was a great session practicing how to communicate effectively during an interview to bring out the best in us.  Effective job interviewing is a life skill that we all need to perfect no matter what career stage we are at!  Thank you, Sabrina Treadwell and Myan Do from the Strategy Sessions Committee for putting this event together!


AWIS-SD Outreach at Chem Expo 2019: Crime Scene Analysis with Chemistry

by Michelle Muldong

This year’s 32nd annual Chem Expo was held on October 26, 2019, on the campus of San Diego Miramar College. Local companies and organizations exhibited chemistry demonstrations and hands-on activities for San Diego students ranging in age from elementary school to college. The campus was buzzing with excitement and curiosity from the numerous students visiting each booth as they were able to see how chemistry can be applied in real life, day-to-day contexts.

AWIS Outreach volunteers were ready to go with an activity called “Crime Scene Analysis”, which consisted of testing the chemical and physical properties of known solids and liquids. Students were able to learn about pH, solubility and starch content using iodine and vinegar. Through observations of the different chemical reactions, students were successfully able to determine the unknown. The booth was inundated with students anxious to solve the chemical mysteries. One seven year old boy ran up to the booth eager to independently mix the compounds, turning down any help from his dad.  After dropping vinegar onto baking soda and asked to describe what just happened, he excitedly answered, “An explosion!” An explosion of excitement indeed.


The organizers of this outreach booth, Jenny Cornell and MIchelle Muldong, would like to extend special thank yous to the volunteers for their time and enthusiasm: Antonia Darragh, Alexandra Dawson, Ellen Eberhard, Ivy Fernandes, Jamillah Murtadha, Hao Pham, Katherine Tian and Jaine Tores. This event couldn’t have been successfully accomplished without them. AWIS would also like to extend a big thank you to the ACS organizers as well as the Miramar College Science faculty group who helped provide extra supplies and volunteers. Overall, the event was a fun-filled and successful day. AWIS can’t wait to do it again next year!


About the Authors


 Jennifer overklift headshot

Jennifer Overklift was born and raised in San Diego and is scheduled to graduate from Clairemont High school in June 2020. She hopes to pursue a degree in environmental science and plans to be a scientific writer once she enters the workforce. Some of Jennifer’s hobbies include reading, running, and swimming. Jennifer also has a passion for wildlife conservation. She is currently interning at AWIS San Diego as a Communications Specialist. 


Corine Lau Headshot 2016

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 clinical oncology lead 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 and WIST planning committee. 


 EmilyBentley headshot

Emily Bentley is a Ph.D. candidate in Molecular Biology at Scripps Research, where she studies the biophysics of intrinsically disordered proteins with a particular interest in transcription. In addition to her year of participation on the AWIS-SD Newsletter Committee, she also serves as the Chair for the Scripps Research Network for Women in Science. She spends her free time playing viola with the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus and tutoring English language learners in reading.


 Nora Shafee headshot

Norazizah Shafee is a scientist at UC San Diego and a Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology at the University Putra Malaysia. During her graduate studies at the University of Malaya, she investigated the mechanism of cellular responses to viral infections. Intrigued by the way certain cells self-destruct upon sensing potential virus attack, she decided to investigate why these cellular responses were de-regulated in some cancer cells. She pursued this interest during her post-doctoral training at UC Irvine, where she helped develop a mouse model of breast cancer and provided initial evidence of cancer stem cells as a potential cause of chemoresistance.  Combining her background in anti-viral responses and cancer cell biology, Nora is currently focused on characterizing cellular responses towards oncolytic virus infections. Nora joined AWIS and became a co-chair of the Academia-2-Industry committee in January 2019.


 Michelle Muldong headshot

Michelle Muldong is a Research Associate at the University of California San Diego’s Moores Cancer Center. She works in Dr. Christina Jamieson’s lab studying bone-metastatic prostate cancer performing in vivo and in vitro experiments utilizing patient derived samples. Michelle obtained her B.S. from the University of California San Diego with a degree in General Biology. She has been involved in AWIS since September 2019 and is passionate about teaching the next generation about STEM. Outside of lab Michelle enjoys hot yoga, hiking, snowboarding, iced coffee & hanging out with her French bulldog/Boston Terrier mix pup- Stitch!


Contribute to the Newsletter

If you are an AWIS-SD member, we encourage you to contribute to the newsletter. Please send articles, photographs, and member news as MS Word attachments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. News articles should not exceed 250 words, event summaries should not exceed 500 words, and feature articles (special-interest stories and profiles) should not exceed 1000 words. The submission deadline for the next issue is January 15, 2020.


 AWIS-SD Newsletter Committee

Co-chairs: Alyson Smith, Jean Spence, and Corine Lau

Members: Pat Rarus, Juliati Rahajeng, Emily Bentley, and Swathi Hullugundi

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Summer 2019 Newsletter Volume 27 Issue 3

This issue of the Newsletter is available in PDF.

For previous newsletters, click here.



CourtneyB crop

Dear AWIS-SD Members and Friends,

I hope everyone is having a great summer so far. Save the date! We are hosting our Women in Science and Technology conference (WIST) on October 19, 2019. If you are interested in helping plan this conference, we could still use some volunteers; please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. WIST is a one-day symposium that focuses on career and personal development. There will be a prominent keynote speaker and lots of peer networking. The conference will include workshops, roundtables, and seminars for individuals at all stages of their careers in both academia and industry.

AWIS-SD is offering two $1000 scholarships for credit towards UCSD Extension classes. Applications are due August 18, 2019. Please see awissd.org homepage for details on the scholarships.

If you are interested in looking into leadership roles or learning more about what we do, please consider joining a committee. We are always looking for new co-chairs and committee members for our committees, including Strategy Sessions, Public Relations, and Events. Please visit awissd.org for more information.


Best wishes,


Courtney Benson

President, AWIS-SD

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AWIS-SD Happy Hour

by Ray Seraydarian

On Monday, June 3, 2019, AWIS San Diego chapter enjoyed a happy hour at craft beer purveyors New English Brewing in Sorrento Valley. This casual social event was sponsored by Synthego, a California genome engineering company, whose local rep is Rita Rozmarynowycz. Synthego graciously provided salads and sushi rolls from Ahi Sushi of UTC. About 15 people enjoyed food, beverages, and lively conversation in a private room.

We thank members of the Events Committee, especially Tiffany Chow, Adina Gerson-Gurwitz, Ruth Kabeche, and Valeria Viscardi for their work in making the arrangements for this successful event.


Strategy Sessions: How to achieve financial health

by Myan Do

The Strategy Sessions committee hosted Jennifer “JJ” Jank on June 6, 2019, for a workshop on learning basic finance for every-day life. JJ is a Certified Financial Planner™ and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® professional. For more information on JJ and the services she offers, visit:

JJ focuses on women and their financial needs, and her goal is to empower women through financial education, including unforeseen situations such as divorce financial analysis. Below are some highlights from her talk. If you would like access to JJ’s presentation, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  • Different people have different financial goals, whether it is early retirement, buying a home, or taking a vacation every so often. As a result, there is no one-size-fits-all financial plan.
  • JJ recommends going to a professional financial planner to give you a “road map” of how to achieve your financial goals. For example, determining the amount and the number of years you need to earn/ save in order to retire at a certain age.
  • JJ also recommends finding financial planners from the Garrett Planning Network (garrettplanningnetwork.com).
  • A good basic budgeting strategy is the 50/30/20 rule; allocating your after-tax income for spending 50% on needs, 30% on wants, and 20% to savings.
  • Invest your money for retirement! Put the maximum amount of money into your employer-provided retirement plan, then as much as you are able into IRA, Roth IRA, and taxable brokerage accounts.
  • If you are interested in long-term, aggressive investments (10+ years), consider stocks like index funds and exchange-traded funds (ETF).
  • JJ recommends creating a trust to protect your assets and having the trust drawn up by an estate planner.


Annual Family Event at Cool Creations

by Corine Lau

This year’s AWIS San Diego annual family event took place on July 27, 2019, at Cool Creations, a paint-your-own pottery cafe. About 20 AWIS-SD members, family, and friends gathered at this quaint studio. Our host Kicki gave a brief introduction on how to handle and paint our pottery pieces. We each picked out a ‘greenware’, an unpainted white clay piece. There was a variety of mugs, bowls, plates, statues, and piggy banks to choose from. Then, we selected the colors we wanted from a wall of painted sample tiles displayed with >50 different colors, each with a unique number matching the paint bottles.

We all had different ideas on how to decorate our pieces. While some used tracing paper to draw out the design first, and some used stencils and stamps, others just let their imagination run wild and free handed various patterns and drawings. While we were painting away, AWIS SD members networked and exchanged professional experiences. AWIS-SD also provided snacks and drinks to fuel our creative energy.

AWIS familyevent 2019

We had to wait a week for the painted pieces to be fired in the kiln and glaze added. This process is what makes these ceramic pieces come to life with vibrant colors and shiny finishing. Let’s give a big shout out to Adina Gerson-Gurwitz, Valeria Viscardi, and Ray Seraydarian of the Events Committee for organizing this cool and fun event for all ages to enjoy on a hot summer day!

Meet Juliati Rahajeng: A Smooth Transition From Academia to Industry

by Pat Rarus


Juliati Rahajengjpg

Transitioning from academia to industry can be challenging because the work environment is quite different between these two worlds, with other priorities, expectations and cultures. Perhaps most importantly, in academia, one might work on a project for many years with deadlines that can be extended. In industry, on the other hand, projects come with hard deadlines that workers must meet. Despite this cultural change, Juliati Rahajeng, Ph.D., is thriving as a clinical strategy scientist at Cato Research in San Diego, an international contract research organization (CRO). Rahajeng is delighted with the number of projects that she works on, the opportunity to work from home when unexpected situations arise, and the chances for advancement. She credits AWIS-SD with her smooth transition. Here is how she did it.

In her fourth year as a post-doc research fellow at UCSD, Rahajeng was working in a lab that specialized in endocytic trafficking pathways; specifically, a focus on the EHD protein family and their interacting partners. Although she was happy with her work, Rahajeng began wondering if her ultimate career choice would be a faculty position– something she had assumed for years. Her former postdoc colleague (they worked in the same lab) introduced her to AWIS-SD and encouraged her to hone her writing skills. “That’s when I decided to volunteer for the AWIS-SD Newsletter Committee,” Rahajeng recalled with a grin. Volunteering and networking at AWIS-SD led to yet another pivotal opportunity: “The same former postdoc colleague told me about SDRAN (San Diego Regulatory Affairs Network). Well, I attended a SDRAN monthly meeting and learned about summer classes that would teach me about the regulatory world."

Rahajeng learned her lessons well and quickly, too. She joined SDRAN and eventually took 12 classes –two hours each – about various facets of U.S. regulatory affairs. “The classes were reasonably priced and well worth my time and effort,” she explained. Although Rahajeng learned a lot about drug development/regulatory affairs by attending these classes, she still did not have any real work experience in the field.” Fortunately, Cato Research was looking for an entry-level scientist and was willing to train the right person. That opportunity provided Rahajeng with a first-class ticket for her transition to industry. “I got promoted to Clinical Strategy Scientist position after one year working for Cato Research,” said Rahajeng proudly. Now, after a little more than two years, she is growing in her new career with each new milestone. “I’m dealing with different therapeutic indications, and I’m learning so much,” she said enthusiastically. 

In her spare time, Rahajeng works out at the gym, spends time with her friends, and plays with her cats. If AWIS members are thinking about transitioning from academia to industry, she is most welcome to advise them how to make the change.

p.s. Rahajeng just passed her US Regulatory Affairs Certification (RAC) exam. Congratulations, Juliati Rahajeng, PhD, RAC!


 Meet the 2019 AWIS-SD Scholars 

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

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

Congratulations to these remarkable students!


2019 Awardee

Kim Kelley, MiraCosta College


Kim Kelly is a second year student at MiraCosta College and will be transferring to UCI or UCSD this fall. Her major is Human Biology and she wants to become an Optometrist after earning her B.S. She is currently interning at an optometry clinic in Carlsbad and enjoys working with patients as an optometrist technician. At school she is a Student Ambassador and is also a member of the Chemistry Club and Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. She also enjoys music and is a piano teacher, an organist, and volunteers for her church's choir. 


Desirae Mellor, UCSD


Desirae Mellor attended California State University San Marcos where she earned a B.S. in Biochemistry. She is currently working towards a PhD in Biochemistry at the University of California San Diego where she studies fatty acid biosynthesis in Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Desirae is a military spouse whose husband is currently serving as a United States Marine stationed on Camp Pendleton. She has two children, ages 4 and 7. She is currently also involved in local outreach programs. This year she led the development of a Science Olympiad program for the middle school students in her neighborhood on base. She hopes to obtain an academic position after earning her PhD and conduct research in the field of drug discovery.


Barbara Perez, Mesa College


Barbara Sade Perez Escareno has always been enchanted by how living things work, but her absolute delight is learning about genetics. She developed a major interest in genetic disorders through her exposure to the hardships of cystic fibrosis, by following the journey of various social media influencers battling the disorder, and by taking a human heredity honors class in community college that allowed her to develop a research paper on hemophilia and a presentation on the CRISPR-Cas9 technique. She believes that what you do with knowledge is what matters; one is not supposed to simply absorb information, but instead work towards its expansion and application, which is why she decided to pursue a career in bioengineering and plans on obtaining a PhD that will allow her to perform research on genetic disorders. Currently she is a STEM tutor at her community college, from which she will transfer this fall, who strives to be a mentor to the students that she helps through tutoring, especially to Hispanic women in STEM.


Sofia Sanchez, USD


Born and raised in San Diego, California, Sofia Sanchez currently attends the University of San Diego where she is studying mathematics and Spanish. Passionate about exploring ways in which she can help students who struggle with math overcome their fears and struggles, Sofia is also obtaining her single-subject teaching credential. In general, Sofia is interested in working with historically underrepresented communities to help foster change and growth, and to shift this misconceived mindset many seem to have on these communities with respect to the STEM subjects. Upon becoming a teacher, Sofia is looking forward to being a changemaker and innovative math teacher in secondary educational mathematics.


My Tran, SDSU


My Tran received her Bachelor's Degrees in Speech, Language and Hearing Science & Psychology from San Diego State University in May 2019. She is an aspiring physician-scientist and plans to pursue a joint MD/PhD degree following her undergraduate education. She hopes to continue her research work in elucidating the underlying mechanisms of various neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s diseases), while simultaneously working in the medical field to directly help and support these patients.


Honorable Mentions

Anamika Agrawal, UCSD


Anamika Agrawal is a 3rd year PhD student in Physics at the University of California, San Diego. Her research in the Koslover group at UCSD focuses on using physical and computational models to study how brain cells regulate their metabolism to ensure their proper functioning. Along with the Pekkurnaz group at UCSD Neurobiology, her work discovered the physical limits and relevance of glucose-dependent mitochondrial motility in metabolic regulation in a neuron. In the future, she hopes to make use of her training in Physics and Quantitative Biology in developing methods and techniques for the study of neurological disorders. Apart from her research pursuits, she has also been involved in outreach activities like the Tech Trek program and the Young Physicists Program to make Physics accessible to all. 


Cecilia Barnhill, USD


Cecilia Barnhill is a junior at the University of San Diego. She is earning a B.S in Computer Science and a B.A. in Music. She holds a 3.94 GPA and is a member of the Honors program. She works at Cubic Transportation Systems and volunteers teaching children and engaging with the unsheltered. Cecilia is the President of the Engineering Exchange for Social Justice and Eta Kappa Nu, and holds leadership positions in Mortar Board, Global Engineering Brigades, Mu Phi Epsilon, and Theta Tau. She was selected as a member of Cohort II of the Industry Scholars as well as the 2018 Knapp Scholars. Cecilia wants to combine humanitarian work and computer science to create technology that benefits the world.


Jeongin Choi, San Diego City College

Jeongin Choi

Jeongin Choi was born and raised in South Korea where she lived until she turned twenty-one. Thereafter, she moved to San Diego in 2016 for her college studies. In her youth, she had a passionate curiosity about the natural phenomena in the world around her. Her interest in science intensified as she grew older. In 2017, she enrolled into San Diego City College as a biology major. The coursework alone was challenging, but on top of that she was learning in a second language. However, she was undeterred and the language barrier would not stop her from pursuing her passion and dream. Jeongin's effort and enthusiasm led to participation in various activities including the IRACDA SURF Program at UCSD and volunteering at the UCSD hospital and college. She loves learning and experiencing various activities, and is excited about her future career in the biological sciences!


Claudia Palomino La-torre, UCSD


Claudia Palomino is an undergraduate at UCSD majoring in Biochemistry and Cell Biology. Four years ago, she moved from Chile to the U.S. to start her research career. Currently, she works in Dr. Skowronska-Krawczyk’s laboratory at UCSD studying the molecular mechanisms of age-related diseases by using the eye as a model system. During her two years working in Dr. Skowronska-Krawczyk’s lab, she has worked on several projects and contributed to research papers and a grant proposal. Palomino assisted a postdoc in studying the potential use of nanoparticles as gene therapy in eye diseases. As a Genentech scholar, Palomino conducted her research project studying the therapeutic effects of novel drugs to treat primary open-angle glaucoma. She presented her research findings at the Summer Research Conference 2018 at UCSD. Her goal is to conduct research and collaborate with scientists to develop treatments for patients with neurodegenerative and age-related diseases.


Hannah Rutledge, UCSD


Hannah Rutledge received her BS in chemistry from Rice University and is currently a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego where she is working toward a PhD in chemistry. She studies bioinorganic chemistry and is conducting research in Dr. Tezcan’s lab on the complex enzyme nitrogenase. In addition to performing experiments in the lab, she also enjoys mentoring undergraduate students in chemistry and guiding them on their own independent research projects.


Aurian Seleh, UCSD


Aurian Saleh is a first generation Masters student at UCSD with a degree in Biochemistry and Cell Biology. Her current research focuses on the contribution of transposable elements to the developing brain. She plans on pursuing a dual MD-PhD degree to become a future physician-scientist, helping to bridge the gap between medicine and science research. In her free time, she enjoys playing ultimate frisbee and practicing yoga.


Sabrina Younan, SDSU


Sabrina Younan specializes in semiconductor surface morphology and catalysis of two-dimensional materials in photoelectrochemical water splitting. Currently a master’s student in Dr. Jing Gu’s research group at San Diego State University, next fall she will begin her PhD studies in San Diego State University’s Joint PhD program with the University of California, San Diego. As her passions lie within renewable energy conversion and storage, her PhD thesis will dissect the role electrocatalysts play in biomass degradation and hydrogen energy storage. Upon completion of her PhD and post-doctoral fellowship, Sabrina intends to establish a company focused on developing cost-effective methods of hydrogen generation and administer free educational programs to public schools to provide hands-on experience researching renewable energy topics to society’s youth. Ultimately, Sabrina’s goals are to contribute to global scientific intelligence, furnish economical methods of clean energy production for societal gain, and develop free educational programs in clean energy generation for our future generations.



Second Annual SoCal Science Writing Symposium

by Jean Spence

On May 18, 2019, I attended the second Annual SoCal Science Writing Symposium on the University of Southern California campus. For an organization that began in 2018, I was extremely impressed with the quality of the program and with the attendees. 

The meeting began with USC Dornsife Divisional Dean Stephen Bradforth and USC Viterbi Director of Research Initiatives Mahta Moghaddam welcoming us and thanking science writers for their role in bringing scientific discoveries to the public. This was followed by the plenary session on Science Videos featuring four dynamic panelists: Dr. Derek Muller, Jess Phoenix, Megan Chao and Kyle McLary. Muller set up a YouTube Channel called Veritasium which has over six million viewers. His advice for creating a viral video was to find the intersection between the ordinary and the bizarre. His example was his video of a falling Slinky. Most of us have played with a Slinky but slow motion video of a falling Slinky shows that the bottom magically hovers in space until the falling top catches up with it. Phoenix studies volcanoes and she said that she has to walk the fine line between relaying the excitement, beauty of an exploding volcano, and the terror of the devastation and potential loss of life that could accompany this type of natural disaster. Chao works as a documentary producer and she had many useful hints for being successful in this field. McLary, a PhD candidate in the USC Department of Chemistry, created a niche for himself by cofounding Bridge Art and Science Alliance which connects scientists with artists who help to animate their discoveries. 

Following the plenary session, there were sessions on Investigative Journalism, Climate Change, and Data Journalism. For participants who wanted to enhance their careers, there was a session on Science Reporting Fellowships and a Freelancer-Editor Meet ‘n’ Greet. The editors at the Meet ’n’ Greet were from UCLA Health, Link TV and KCET, Radiant Health Magazine, Trojan Family Magazine, Mercury Magazine, and last but not least, Playboy! There was also a choice of USC lab tours with research interests including socially assistive robotics (Maja Mataric’s lab), cancer (Peter Kuhn’s lab), and devices to fight diseases (Andrea Armani’s lab). 

The modest cost of the meeting ($35) included breakfast, lunch and happy hour. The food was exceptional, an additional perk. Although I was looking forward to learning about squid research at the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, the optional Sunday trip to Catalina was canceled due to inclement weather.

A similar local organization, the San Diego Science Writers Association, can be found at https://sandswa.org/. In addition to networking opportunities, they host interesting events like a Palomar Observatory tour on July 20, and an upcoming Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon at Salk on September 7.



  • Juliati Rahajeng, AWIS-SD Secretary, published her first-author article in Developmental Cell.
    Title: Efficient Golgi Forward Trafficking Requires GOLPH3-Driven, PI4P-Dependent Membrane Curvature. Dev Cell. 2019 Jun 7. pii: S1534-5807(19)30451-4. doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2019.05.038. [Epub ahead of print]

  • Radhika Gopal, WIST venue liaison and Corporate Sponsorship committee member, has successfully transitioned from Technical Application Specialist II to Associate Product Manager for cell biology within Thermo Fisher Scientific.



by Alyson Smith


  • As part of the Salk Institute’s Harnessing Plants Initiative, researchers have discovered a gene that controls root growth in Arabidopsis thaliana, a plant used in genetics research. By mutating this gene, researchers produced plants with roots that grow two times deeper. This discovery will aid efforts to engineer resilient crops that sequester atmospheric carbon in their roots.

  • The National Institutes of Health have awarded $129 million over seven years to an international HIV vaccine collaboration directed by Dennis Burton of Scripps Research. The project aims to develop a multi-stage vaccine that would direct the immune system to make broadly neutralizing antibodies that target multiple HIV strains and prevent HIV infection.

  • Victoria, a southern white rhino at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, has given birth to a healthy calf, the first southern white rhino conceived by artificial insemination. Victoria and the five other female rhinos at the park could become surrogate mothers for northern white rhino embryos and save this species from extinction.

  • The Simons Foundation has gifted $20 million to UCSD to build and operate an astrophysics observatory in Chile. The observatory, directed by UCSD astrophysicist Brian Keating, will include four telescopes and will aim to detect radiation emitted after the big bang and answer questions about the origin of the universe. The observatory will begin operating in the fall of 2022.

  • Rob Edwards of SDSU led a collaboration that found a unique type of bacteria-killing virus in sewage systems around the world. The virus targets Bacteroidetes, a genus of gut bacteria with roles in Crohn’s disease, obesity, and diabetes. Edwards plans to develop strategies using this virus to manipulate the human microbiome and treat these diseases.

  • Researchers at General Atomics have developed a new nuclear fusion strategy termed the Super-H Mode. Super-H Mode heats plasma (confined ionized particles) to temperatures hotter than the core of the sun. It can increase fusion energy output up to four-fold over previous strategies, making it an important step towards commercial nuclear fusion power plants.

  • A team of researchers at SDSU has developed a fast and accurate DNA sequencing method termed genome skipping. Paired with MinION, a handheld sequencing device, genome skipping can be used by researchers and wildlife officials to quickly identify species in the field.

  • Stemson Therapeutics, a startup founded by Alexey Terskikh at Sanford Burnham Prebys, has received a multi-million dollar investment to develop treatments for baldness using human induced pluripotent stem cells. Stemson aims to create a biodegradable implant that will direct stem cells to produce the multiple cell types humans need to grow hair.


Women in Science and Technology (WIST) conference 2019

Saturday, October 19th, 2019

  • A one-day symposium focusing on career and personal development, as well as peer networking
  • Inspiring, prominent keynote speaker and informative workshops, round-tables, and seminars for STEM professionals at all career stages
  • An excellent opportunity to network, develop new skills, and explore career opportunities
    with 200 attendees from the scientific community

For more information or to volunteer for the WIST 2019 planning committee, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Check our website for conference registration including early bird specials!


See more AWIS-SD events here.

About the Authors


Ray S headshot

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


myan Do headshot

Myan Do is pursuing her PhD in Biomedical Sciences at UC San Diego, specializing in Wnt signaling in cancer and stem cell biology. She joined AWIS and the Strategy Sessions committee in 2017, and became co-chair of Strategy Sessions in 2018. Outside of th elab, she enjoys boxing, hiking, traveling, and trying new restaurants.



Corine Lau Headshot 2016

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 clinical oncology lead 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 and WIST planning 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.



Jean Spence headshot

Jean Spence earned a Ph.D. from the University of Utah in microbial genetics. Subsequently, she did several postdoctoral fellowships at M.I.T., Harvard Medical School, UCSD and the University of Rochester. She pursued her interest in systems biology by developing a novel platform and publishing 3 manuscripts and a book chapter as communicating author. She has been a reviewer for the AWIS-SD newsletter since 2014 and became a co-chair this year.  She was also a co-chair of the former Back to Work group in AWIS-SD.



AWIS-SD Newsletter Committee

Co-chairs: Alyson Smith, Jean Spence, and Corine Lau

Members: Pat Rarus, Juliati Rahajeng, Emily Bentley, and Swathi Hullugundi

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Spring 2019 Newsletter Volume 27 Issue 2

This issue of the Newsletter is available in PDF.

For previous newsletters, click here.



CourtneyB crop

Dear AWIS-SD Members and Friends,

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

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

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

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


Sincerest wishes,


Courtney Benson

President, AWIS-SD

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


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

by Chistina Grobin

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


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


2019 Greater San Diego Science & Engineering Fair Judging

by Alyson Smith

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

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

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

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

2 Judging Photo use 


AWIS-SD Speed Mentoring Event

by Ray Seraydarian

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

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

Paging the Ghostbusters-Logan Heights Branch Library

by Maddy Yeh

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

stem in backyard 1 use          stem in backyard 4 use

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


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

by Qiong Song

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

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

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

 5 A2I feb use

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


Outreach at Expanding Your Horizons Conference

by Jessica Cassin

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

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

 6 EYH 2019 1 use         6 EYH 2019 3 use

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

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

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


PhD Career Connect Bootcamp by The Known Experience

by Angela Macia and Alison Huang

Overview of the event

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

Perspective from a Cancer Biology PhD Student

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

Perspective from a Molecular Biology Postdoctoral Scholar

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


 AWIS-SD Scholarships 2019

by Dorota Skowronska-Krawczyk

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

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

Here is the list of the selected remarkable students:

2019 Awardee

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

Honorable Mentions

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

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



by Alyson Smith

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



1) AWIS-SD Happy Hour

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Click on following link for more information and to register


3) Academia to Industry Coffee Club June Meeting

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

Venue: Bella Vista Social Club and Caffe

Click on following link for more information and to register



See more AWIS-SD events here.

About the Authors


 Chistina Grobin crop

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


Alyson Smith headshot

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


Ray S headshot

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


 Maddy Yeh headshot

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


Qiong Song headshot

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


JessicaCassin headshot

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


AngelaMacia headshot

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



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


Dorota headshotJan2018

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





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