Fall 2018 Newsletter Volume 26 Issue 4

This issue of the Newsletter is available in PDF.

For previous newsletters, click here.


CourtneyB crop

Dear AWIS-SD Members and Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

Warm wishes,


Courtney Benson

President, AWIS-SD

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


Outreach Committee at the 2018 Maker Faire

by Vanessa F Langness

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

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


MakerFaire rainbow

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


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


MakerFaire bubbles

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


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


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

by Dieanira Erudaitius


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

Transition to Industry: Using one thread to create a sweater

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

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

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

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

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

Why did she stay in regulatory?

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

During interviews

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

What her current position looks like

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

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

Advice to A2I members

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


 A2I with Shanahan

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


About BASF Enzymes

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

For additional information about BASF Enzymes please visit:


To apply to become a member of our team:



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

by Ye Zhang

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

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


52weeks DNA

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


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


52weeks group

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


A2I: A Day in a Life Event at 1798 Consultants

by Dieanira Erudaitius

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

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

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

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

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


AWIS-SD Family and Friends event at the Botanical garden

by Amy Thorne

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

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


familyevent 1     familyevent 2     familyevent 3

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


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


Brewery Tour and Beer Tastings at Green Flash Brewery

by Ray Seraydarian

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

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

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


BreweryHappyHr Sept2018

Caption: Brewery tour at Green Flash Brewery.



by Alyson Smith

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



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



1) STRATEGY SESSIONS: Decoding Career Options in STEM

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

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

Event details and registration:


Calling for volunteers!

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

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

Event details and registration:

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

Event details and registration:


See more AWIS-SD events here.

About the Authors

Vanessa L

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

Dieanira headshot

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

YeZhang headshot

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


Amy Thorne headshot

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


Ray S headshot 

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





Summer 2018 Newsletter Volume 26 Issue 3

This issue of the Newsletter is available in PDF.

For previous newsletters, click here.


CourtneyB crop

Dear AWIS-SD Members and Friends,

As we wind down the AWIS-SD events this summer, I would like to thank all of our hard-working board members, committee co-chairs and members, and volunteers. Without their time and efforts, we would not be successful in our outstanding accomplishments.

This hard work would also not be possible without the generous donations from our sponsors. Thank you to all AWIS-SD sponsors for aiding in the continued success of our local chapter!

Our committees are always expanding and looking for new members. If you are interested in joining a committee, please consider joining these committees: Corporate Sponsorship, Strategy Sessions, or Outreach Committee. You can expand upon your communication and leadership skills, as well as build your network. For more information about our committees, please visit: http://www.awissd.org/index.php/about/committees.

AWIS-SD will host our annual Open House in October this year. We are looking to form a committee of volunteers to organize this event, showcasing what our local chapter is all about. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

As we begin this next year of events, consider joining AWIS-SD.



Courtney Benson

President, AWIS-SD

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


AWIS-SD 2018 Scholars Celebration

by Risa Broyer

The Association for Women in Science San Diego Chapter (AWIS-SD) held its biennial event to honor this year’s scholarship recipients on May 19, 2018. At the Scholars Celebration, this year’s seven 2018 AWIS-SD scholars were presented with their awards of $1000 plus a one year AWIS-SD membership. In addition, the event hosted a career panel of five women with varying career tracks, as well as provided a networking opportunity for the participants.

2018 scholars celebration gp

caption: 2018 AWIS-SD Scholars Celebration committee, scholarship recipients, and participants.

The Scholarship Committee selected the seven scholars from a total of 70 eligible applicants. The 2018 AWIS-SD scholarship recipients are: Charlene Andreason (California State University San Marcos), Olivia Pereira (UCSD), Julie Paxman (UCSD), Angela Szesciorka (UCSD), Elena Estrada (UCSD), Sarah Moore (UCSD), Emiliia Dyrenkova (MiraCosta Community College). For more information on the scholarship recipients, see the following article.

Between 40 and 50 people attended the luncheon for the Scholars Celebration. Among the attendees were the scholarship recipients, the recipients’ families and friends, AWIS-SD members and volunteers, and invited panelists who shared their career stories in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) field. The panelists were Helen Mao, PhD (CSO/entrepreneur), Janise Deming, PhD (Scientist in industry), Ashley Pourazary (engineering consultant), Varykina Thackray, PhD (Associate Professor), and DeeAnn Visk, PhD. (science/medical writer). 

The five panelists spoke about their backgrounds and provided insight into various career trajectories that are attainable with a STEM degree.

Dr. Helen Mao is the Chief Science Officer (CSO) and founder of Moradec, LLC, which provides reagents and services for antibody-drug conjugate research and discovery against cancer cells. Mao received her PhD in Biochemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1998 and continued for her postdoctoral training at AbbVie. Since then, she has gained her industrial experience at various biotech companies, including GNF, Biosite, and several small biotech startup companies. With her own ideas and funding, she started her own biotech company six years ago. Mao also shared her own entrepreneur experiences as well as her thoughts about starting her company from scratch.

Dr. Janise Deming is a Scientist in the Immunology therapeutic area of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. Last year, she co-led the Janssen La Jolla Postdoctoral Association. Deming believes that understanding cell signaling pathways is key to identifying new drug targets and moving forward in preventative and therapeutic medicine. Since her graduate work, Deming has been working on understanding various aspects of cell signaling. Currently, she is researching mechanisms of immune regulation in the context of inflammatory bowel disease. Deming holds a BS in Biochemistry from Seattle University and a PhD in Genetic, Molecular, and Cell Biology from the University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine. 

Ms. Ashley Pourazary is an engineering consultant for Azzur Consulting in San Diego. She was an AWIS-SD Scholarship recipient in 2012 as an undergraduate student studying nano-chemical engineering at UC San Diego. Pourazary made the decision to switch from academia into industry in her senior year at UCSD. Over the last 4 years, she has worked for life science companies in manufacturing, process development, supply chain, and liaising. Her experiences include working in the clean room facilities of a vaccine manufacturer to macro scale production in a large fermentation facility.  As a consultant, Pourazary works on shorter term projects throughout the San Diego region for both large and small life science companies.

Dr. Varykina Thackray is an Associate Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at UC San Diego. Thackray received a BA in biology at Middlebury College, Vermont. She worked as a lab technician at Cornell University and at Ribozyme Pharmaceuticals. She obtained her PhD in molecular biology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and completed her post-doctoral training in reproductive endocrinology at UC San Diego. She is passionate about advocating for the equal participation of women in STEM. Thackray has been a member of AWIS San Diego since 2005.

Dr. DeeAnn Visk assists clients with communicating information in peer-reviewed manuscripts or industry news articles. Customers from Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News and the National Institutes of Health routinely employ Visk. She graduated from the Division of Biology at UC San Diego in 2011 with a doctorate in Biological Sciences. From 2016 to 2017, Visk served as President of the Association for Women in Science, San Diego chapter.

The career panelist session gave practical career advice for the attendees and provided a Q&A session.

The 2018 Scholars Celebration event was a huge success. The attendees enjoyed the reception and luncheon as well as the opportunity for networking. The event concluded with an opportunity drawing featuring gift certificates from local and online merchants generously donated through DonationMatch.com, as well as handcrafted pottery by our own AWIS-SD Past-president, Grace Nakamura.


2018 AWIS-SD Scholarship Recipients

by Juliati Rahajeng

Every year, AWIS-SD provides $1000 scholarship awards to female students enrolled in community colleges or universities within San Diego County. This year, seven students were awarded with the scholarships during the Scholarship Celebration event at the Leichtag building at UCSD campus on May 19, 2018. Members of AWIS-SD, invited speakers, and guests of scholarship recipients gathered to celebrate the event. The following are short biographies of this year’s scholarship recipients.

2018 scholars

caption: 2018 AWIS-SD Scholarship recipients with AWIS-SD president and past-president.


Emilia Dyrenkova

Emilia Dyrenkova is a student at MiraCosta College majoring in Computer Science. She is originally from Ukraine and immigrated to the United States in 2017. Dyrenkova is an active member of the Math Club, Computer Science Club, and Club IT. In the Computer Science club, she worked in a team with her fellow students in building sumo robots, which went into competition against another robotic team. She also organized the team for this year’s LA Hackathon. Dyrenkova is also involved in student government at MiraCosta College, in which she acts as a senator at the Associated Student Government (ASG) to represent students of MiraCosta College. She applied to summer undergraduate research programs at UC Irvine and Carnegie Mellon University to assist with research and learn from faculty members about graduate school. Her long-term plan is to continue with her education by going to graduate school and using her knowledge to work on projects that are important to society. She dreams of working for NASA as a software engineer. Her short-term plan is to transfer to one of the University of California schools, preferably UC Berkeley in fall 2019.

Elena Estrada

Elena Estrada is a student in the BS/MS Program at University of California San Diego (UCSD) majoring in Molecular Biology. Estrada was admitted into the BioScholars program, an honors biology program that gave her a chance to participate in the Phage Genomics Research Initiative under the direction of Drs. Joe and Kit Pogliano. Her research focused on characterizing the genome and antibiotic activity of bacteriophage. She also worked on a couple of other projects during her undergraduate years. She independently designed a chemotaxis study to characterize the role of neuroligins in planarian regeneration and movement using MATLAB software; and she identified protein domain interactions of potential A. thaliana transcriptional coactivators and characterized the molecular function of a novel gene family in association with PRC2.

During the summer of 2017, Estrada worked as an intern at Althea to optimize screens and formulations for the crystallization of monoclonal antibodies for highly concentrated subcutaneous injections. Currently, she is working at the laboratory of Dr. Daugherty researching host immunity genes and their evolution against pathogens. Daugherty praised Estrada in his recommendation letter, reminiscing about their first meeting when Estrada asked Daugherty if she could work in his lab, he wrote: “By far, this was the most impressive first meeting I’ve ever had with an undergraduate student, and exceeds most of my meetings with PhD and even postdoc candidates,” he said. “From this very first meeting, and now after several months of experience in the lab, it is obvious that Elena has a rare blend of drive and curiosity that will make her a very successful scientist.”

Charlene Anderson

Charlene Anderson is a Master of Science (MS) student at California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) majoring in Psychological Science. She received a BA from CSUSM in Human Development in 2016. Anderson has been heavily involved in many projects since she was an undergraduate student. The first project she worked on was a longitudinal, quasi-experimental research project aimed at understanding the underrepresentation of minority scientists in biomedical research careers.

For the second project, she collected pilot data for an Innovative Technology Experiences for students and teachers (iTest) grant at the CSUSM Women’s Hackathon. The goal was to study how the relationships among interest, competency, self-efficacy, identity, and values influenced commitment to pursue an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) career pathway for young women, especially Latinas.

For the third project, Anderson carried out an independent undergraduate research project that was accepted for presentation at the 2017 National Society and Social Psychology Conference. She received a travel award from the conference and won the CSUSM Empirical Research Library Award. As a MS student, she is currently assisting in managing Project ACCEPT (Aligning the Common Core for English learners, Parents, and Teachers), a longitudinal study funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The goal of the project is to improve the quality for instructions of English Language Learners. Anderson’s goals include completing her MS program and applying for a PhD program in Social or Developmental Psychology. She is specifically interested in social cognitive development, social influences in development, educational disparities, social belongings, and trust within adolescents and adult minority groups in school.

Sarah Moore

Sarah Moore is an undergraduate student at UCSD majoring in Biochemistry and Chemistry. Her first research experience came from Dr. Arun Wiita’s lab at the University of California San Francisco. Wiita’s research focuses on quantitative proteomics, technology development, and preclinical therapeutic validation related to blood cancers and genetic diseases. Moore assisted a postdoctoral researcher in Wiita’s lab by working on genome engineering to model pediatric genetic disease using CRISPR-Cas9 technologies. The goal was to create models of syndromic DNA copy number variants in induced pluripotent stem cell models. Currently, Moore is working in the Laboratory of Cancer Genetics headed by Dr. Richard Kolodner in the San Diego Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research to investigate the role of Rad9 in suppressing the synthetic lethality of sae2Δ sgs1Δ double mutant strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Her career goal is to obtain a Ph.D. in biochemistry and become a professor conducting research in cancer genetics.

Olivia Pereira

Olivia Pereira is currently a Master of Science (MS) student performing research on methane seeps influence on trophic dynamics of seep and background communities off the coast of Costa Rica. She is working in Dr. Lisa Levin’s lab at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography (SIO) - UCSD. The aim is to understand how these ecosystems transition from active to inactive and how they interact with their surroundings in order to understand their resilience and ability to recover from disturbances and to manage impacts and predict consequences of climate change. Pereira is originally from Brazil.

While she was in Brazil, she studied crustacean’s biodiversity from food falls implanted in the deep Southwest Atlantic Ocean. She received the Best Poster Award when she presented her research project at the 6th International Symposium on Chemosynthesis-Based Ecosystems in August 2017. In addition, Pereira published an article based on her undergraduate research project. Her goal is to become a scientist who is recognized for her work and to make a positive difference in her field.

Angela Szeciorka

Angela Szeciorka is a PhD student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) , UCSD, majoring in Biological Oceanography. She received her BA in Journalism from Duquesne University. Despite this non-science degree, she was very much interested in learning and writing about animals and their ecosystems. Therefore, she decided to apply to a MS program in Marine Science.

Because her undergraduate degree is in journalism, she needed to take mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology classes to meet the admission requirements. In addition, Szeciorka volunteered for many scientific opportunities, such as tagging elephant seal pups for the University of California Santa Cruz, and collecting tunicates for San Francisco State University. Szeciorka also learned sophisticated statistical software and how to drive boats. To help her accomplish her project, she received certification for scuba diving and helicopter survival training. For her master’s thesis, Szeciorka studied humpback whale behavior and their response to close encounters with ships.

Upon earning her MS degree, she worked as a research biologist. In addition, Szecioka assisted with studies in examining response of blue and fin whales to ship noise and Navy sonar in Southern California, as well as grey whale foraging behavior in Puget Sound. Szecioka published her first article on the tags that she developed.

To become more competitive, she returned to school for her PhD. Currently, her project involves the use of acoustics and tagging to study blue whale behavioral ecology, including movement, habitat use, and anthropogenic threats. Her dream is to work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration so that her research can be used to establish feasible management plans for endangered species.

Julie Paxman

Julie Paxman is a PhD student at UCSD majoring in Biology with specialization in Quantitative Biology. She is working in Dr. Nan Hao’s laboratory that uses quantitative approaches to study dynamic cellular processes. Paxman is currently working with an interdisciplinary team of faculty to study cellular aging. The goal of her project is to understand how SIR2, one of the most well-studied pro-longevity genes, affects the expression of downstream genes during cellular aging. Paxman’s long-term goals are to have a career in both research and teaching. Therefore, she has been taking classes to improve her skills as a teacher. In addition, she worked together with some of her peers to re-establish a biology outreach program at UCSD called Biology Education for Art and Science Innovation (BioEASI). The goal of the program was to teach the public, both young and old, about basic biology topics.

Furthermore, Paxman and her colleagues successfully developed several teaching modules that they used at workshops at the La Jolla Library and at K-12 STEM fairs, including the San Diego Festival for Science and the STEM Maker Fair.


AWIS-SD Member Profile: Dr. Dorothy Sears

by Alyson Smith

 Sears Dorothy

caption: Dr. Dorothy Sears

AWIS-San Diego member Dorothy Sears is an Associate Professor of Medicine at UC San Diego. Her research focuses on obesity-related diseases including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Her lab aims to identify and characterize genes, metabolites, and behaviors that signal disease risk and develop them as novel targets for diagnosis and therapy. To accomplish this, her research incorporates dietary and behavioral intervention, metabolomics and genetic analyses in humans and rodent models. Since starting her own lab, Dorothy has contributed to over 40 publications on a broad range of areas within her field, including five in 2018 thus far.

After completing Ph.D. in yeast genetics and molecular biology at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Dorothy moved to San Diego in 1995 to begin a postdoctoral position with UCSD endocrinology researcher Dr. Jerrold Olefsky, studying insulin signal transduction and biological effects of diabetes medications. While in Dr. Olefsky’s lab, Dorothy worked with several endocrinologists in training. This experience gave her a clinical perspective and motivation that shaped her research in the years to come. 

Recently, Dorothy has been leading multidisciplinary basic science and clinical research efforts to understand and treat metabolic and cardiovascular outcomes in sedentary, overweight, post-menopausal women – an important but under-researched population at risk. Last year, her team published a pilot study suggesting that practical interventions (such as 10 minutes of standing every hour during prolonged bouts of sitting) may improve metabolic and vascular outcomes. The research team was recently awarded two large grants from the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Aging ($14 million in total) to expand on this initial trial and related research. 

On top of running a productive research program and mentoring trainees at all career levels, Dorothy advocates for the advancement of women in STEM careers, both at UCSD and AWIS-San Diego. Dorothy began her AWIS-San Diego career in 2001 by attending the Women in Biosciences conference (the precursor to the Women in Science and Technology conference). A couple years later, she began attending Strategy Sessions and kept attending for the valuable career advice and delicious refreshments. She still references notes from previous Sessions today. She soon joined the Strategy Sessions Committee and became Co-Chair. She joined the Board in 2009, and then was President for 3.5 years (2010-2013), followed by a two-year term as Past President.

The more Dorothy advanced in her academic career, the more challenges she faced in obtaining funding and promotions, and she began advocating for other women facing similar obstacles. She helped to found the Women in Health Sciences Committee at UCSD. This networking group organizes two events each year and advocates for fair and equitable treatment, promotion, and award nominations of female faculty in UCSD Health Sciences. Dorothy has served as the Chair of the Spring Events Sub-Committee and as Chair-Elect of the full Committee.

Dorothy also helped start the AWIS-San Diego Leadership Network, a networking group for members in senior leadership roles in academia or industry. This group is specifically designed for women at the Associate Director or Associate Professor levels or above and focuses on the unique needs of this peer group. Through workshops, guest speakers, roundtable discussions, and other events, this group aims to help women thrive in their leadership positions and move forward in their careers. This group was featured in an AWIS national webinar.

Dorothy has collaborated with Cindy Simpson, the Chief Business Development Officer at AWIS National, to present two workshops at the Washington State University College of Medicine Faculty and Trainee Workshop on strategies for addressing biases and barriers in advancing to positions of leadership and the importance of mentoring relationships for sustained career success. This opportunity, along with her other work with AWIS, has allowed Dorothy to share the wisdom she has gained over the course of her career with other researchers.

Dorothy advises young scientists to find a niche where their research can thrive and to continually build a network of mentors and colleagues that they can trust. She advises having a flexible five-year plan, and finding strong collaborators with complementary expertise.

We look forward to Dorothy’s research and advocacy in the years to come!


Academia to Industry (A2I) coffee club – An evening with Dr. Cynthia Sandoval Rubenstein

by Dieanira Erudaitius


A2I coffee club held its monthly meeting on Wednesday, May 9, 2018. There were seven attendees that comprised of professionals from industry and academia. Our guest speaker for this meeting was Dr. Cynthia Sandoval Rubenstein, PhD from a molecular diagnostic company located in Carlsbad.

Background and Career at a molecular diagnostic company

Rubenstein obtained the position as a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) not long after obtaining her Ph.D.; which was in the summer of 2017. She had been specifically searching for a MSL position and it took her approximately 6 - 7 months before she successfully obtained her position. Cynthia’s PhD experience in confocal microscopy, which is an essential technique in cancer biology, as well as collaborations in IHC diagnostics with Ventana Medical Systems was crucial in landing her first job as a diagnostic MSL. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect as her current employer recently broke off from Novartis. The division resulted in the majority of MSLs remaining with Novartis and only one MSL staying with the company.  In dire need of an MSL and looking to hire immediately, her current employer was interested in Rubenstein’s background and character. Rubenstein greatly enjoys working at the molecular diagnostic laboratory and says it fits her personality.

Transition in Industry: From University of Arizona to Medical Science Liaison

Rubenstein attended the University of Arizona, which had a unique joint program with Ventana Medical Systems, a member of Roche. The program allowed PhD students to also work as research scientists in industry. Cynthia explained that this collaborative environment gave her the opportunity to build her network in industry and gained an insight into how industry works. During her PhD, Rubenstein worked on a collaborative project with Ventana and she quickly realized that the industry environment better suited her attributes. Furthermore, Rubenstein thought that working as a researcher in the lab does not fit her outgoing personality. She realized that she enjoys communicating verbally with scientists by attending scientific conferences and conversing with various thought leaders. Knowing that her personality did not match with the academic environment, Rubenstein decided that she needed to transition into industry. She began learning about a career as an MSL early on in her graduate training. She realized that post-doctoral research experience was not required for the position and therefore, she immediately began applying for MSL positions. Despite recruiters telling her that it would be impossible for her to obtain an MSL position without any industry experience, she continued to pursue her goal.

The interview process

Rubenstein first had a phone interview with the human resources personnel, through which the company quickly assessed her interest in the position, personality and background. A few weeks later, she had a phone interview with the hiring manager. Following the phone interview, she had an in-person interview, which Cynthia described as being fairly thorough. The in-person visit comprised of 6 interviews with the executive team and was an all-day event. During her interview, Cynthia highlighted her communication and time management skills. In addition, she emphasized her outgoing, self-driven, and motivated personality, along with her long list of contacts she already with various thought leaders in multiple disease states.   

What her current position looks like

As an MSL she has the opportunity to continue incorporating her passion for science but at a larger scale, specifically she is able to work hand-in-hand with world renowned oncologists.  She personally feels that as a MSL, she has a greater impact than working as a scientist behind the microscope, as she is able to see results from a clinical perspective. Rubenstein explained that her day-to-day activities are different and she travels about 50-75% of the time. Rubenstein is responsible for a variety of tasks, which include but are not limited to managing projects, submitting proposals used for clinical studies, attending conferences, attending continued education dinners, training the sales force, etc. She is assessed based on the number of clinical studies she initiated; publications and presentations; and the number of interactions had with various thought leaders. As an MSL at Genoptix, Rubenstein is able to work from her home office, is given access to the company’s credit card, and is provided with a laptop, an iPad and a cell phone.

In terms of salary and benefits, an MSL with 0 – 1 years of experience will have an average starting salary around $120,000 (however, this is highly variable depending on location/background) and some compensations. In addition, 10-15 % additional bonuses are given for producing publications, attending dinners, and giving presentations. The transition to senior MSL occurs after 5 years and the base salary increases exponentially.

Rubenstein enjoys working on investigator initiated study proposals, as she is given the opportunity to work with oncologists in various disease states. Rubenstein greatly enjoys learning and has gained a tremendous amount of knowledge pertaining to the business aspect of industry. Rubenstein also appreciates the opportunity to network and considers this as a perfect position to constantly opening doors to future opportunities. Overall, Rubenstein is extremely enthusiastic and happy with her career choice.   

Advice to A2I members

  1. Remember that you can learn anything!!! That is the advantage of having a PhD training
  2. At every job, you will get trained. Companies understand you will not have experience in everything. It is imperative that you do all the research you can on the company. This will allow you to hold a conversation by the time you are being interviewed.
  3. Don’t get discouraged when applying for jobs, stay positive. You will get there.
  4. Leverage experiences and all connection you have to industry.
  5. Make sure you ask a lot of questions.
  6. Be wary of companies claiming to give you a MSL certification for completing their online courses. The MSL society often warns individuals when they post such certificates on LinkedIn to be careful of scams.  UCSD extension does have classes/programs to help you become a stronger candidate (i.e. CCRP); but this isn’t necessary as there is actually no official certification for MSL.


AWIS Strategy Session June event- Decoding the Elevator Pitch

by Alison Huang

In our June Strategy Session, we were excited to have Dr. Mark Title from Advanced Technology Leadership share with us tips on delivering an effective elevator pitch. An Elevator pitch is a 30- to 90-second statement of who you are and what you can do for a person or an organization. Honing one’s elevator pitch is particularly helpful when attending networking events, conferences, meetups and almost everywhere else!

 elevator speech

caption: Dr. Mark Title discussing the key elements of an elevator speech.


Here are Dr. Title’s key suggestions:

  • Include your name, what you do and specify at what level, your success and what you seek/offer.
  • Leave out negative stories of past employers and anything complicated and irrelevant.
  • Practice, practice and practice! Keep your elevator pitch authentic, positive and short.
  • Have a pen and business card with you for adding notes. Most importantly, always arrange a follow-up phone call, e-mail message or meeting if the person you meet seems really interested in your skills!


Academia to Industry (A2I) coffee club - An evening with Dr. Rachel Weber

by Dieanira Erudaitius


A2I coffee club held its monthly meeting on Wednesday, June 6, 2018. There were seven attendees that comprised of professionals from industry and academia. Our guest speaker for this meeting was Dr. Rachel Weber, PhD from Neurocrine.

Transition to Industry: From Postdoctoral scholar to Medical Communications Specialist

Weber obtained her PhD in neuroscience with a focus on stroke (motor-recovery) and neuroplasticity following injury. She quickly learned that she did not enjoy the academia environment. Weber began attending many networking and career events at national scientific meetings and locally put on by her university to make her transition to industry smoother and obtain information about other career options.  During the last six months of her PhD, Weber sent out lots of applications. Many of the positions she was applying for required previous industry experience. Having no experience, she found it difficult to not only find a position but to get responses from applications. Eventually, Weber decided to accept a one-year postdoctoral position at the same institution where her PhD was completed to gain additional skills while continuing to search for a desirable job in industry.

During her postdoctoral training, Weber became pregnant and nervous by the fact that an employer would not want to hire a pregnant woman, she began to question whether the timing was conducive for her to continue applying for jobs.  Despite the pregnancy, Weber continued in her pursuit of obtaining a position in industry. Knowing that she enjoys social interactions, she decided to investigate roles that allow her to leverage her strong communication skills by applying to positions in Medical Affairs. Having several contacts that were MSLs, she was able to obtain feedback on her resume and get a better idea of how a Medical Affairs department worked. Weber explained that her PhD mentor was able to connect her with someone who was working at Neurocrine, who had an open position in Medical Communications. This connection helped Weber obtain an entry-level position that did not require any industry experience. The offer from Neurocrine came at an opportune time, as Weber was considering taking a second postdoctoral position at another university.

The interview

Weber first had a phone interview with the human resources personnel, through which the company quickly assessed her interest in the position, personality and background. A few weeks later, she had a phone interview with the hiring manager. Following the phone interview, she had an in-person interview. During the interview, Weber talked about an internship that she had while she was a postdoctoral fellow in Medical Communications in the Communications department at the university. Weber also highlighted her communication and time management skills. In addition, she emphasized her outgoing, self-driven, and motivated personality. Weber leveraged many of the skills that she gained during her internship, and connected it to the medical communications specialist position at Neurocrine. Interestingly, although Weber was 37-weeks pregnant during her in-person interview, she was still offered the position. Weber concluded from this experience that “if the company culture is right, they will hire you!”. She was excited to know that her pregnancy did not interfere with obtaining the job.   

What her current position looks like

As a medical communications specialist her job requires reviewing publications, managing the independent medical education and budget, and managing internal communications which includes informing other employees on emerging literature in relevant therapeutic areas. Weber explains that every company with a medical commercial product has a medical communications team or department. Remarkably, Weber is the only PhD on the medical communications team and all other members hold PharmD degrees. The medical communications department works on content development of the company’s presentations. This includes creating standard response documents and slide decks for the MSLs. In addition, the medical communications team is responsible for handling medical inquiries and working at the company’s booths at conferences. Attending conferences gives Weber the opportunity to present and discuss data from Neurocrine with other researchers. Weber also works with regulatory, compliance, commercial, clinical development and R&D departments, which allow her to learn about other departments in the company. Weber travels about 25% of the time. Her typical day is from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, creating a healthy work-life balance. 

Weber’s future goals are to move into a manager role. Weber loves her career. She is happy that she does not have to work at the bench and she does not miss it at all. Weber enjoys traveling to conferences to give presentations or work at the booths in conferences. Weber greatly appreciates the culture of her company and recommends Neurocrine as a great place to work. Weber found the perfect work-life balance she was looking for.

Advice to A2I members

  1. Apply to jobs you think you may be both over qualified for and under qualified for. It takes a while to get an offer but you will eventually obtain one.
  2. If you are interested in medical communications, apply to positions with “specialist” or “associate” title. These are entry level positions.
  3. While she did not negotiate her salary, looking back she wished she did a few things differently. She explains you can negotiate: your salary, bonus, stock options, vacation time, etc.
  4. It never hurts to ask. If you are being re-located, try asking for a relocation package that you think is reasonable. Weber was surprised by Neurocrine’s generosity in helping her to relocate. So, don’t be shy to ask.
  5. Use your connections in any way you can.
  6. People are usually nice, so reach out to them. Also, people can get bonuses for referrals. Therefore, it also is beneficial to them.  


AWIS Spring Happy Hour

by Ray Seraydarian

On Wednesday 18 April the Events Committee hosted a Happy Hour at Reckless Brewing Company, a craft brewery in Mira Mesa.  In addition to the specialty beers brewed in house, light hors d’oeuvres were served.  There were over two dozen attendees, including at least 9 non-AWIS members, and that made for lively conversation and networking.  The crowd can be seen in the photos, but also notice the objects fixed to the walls in the background.  These are components of a particularly elaborate Rube Goldberg machine, which they happily demonstrated for us.  For readers who missed the Happy Hour and the opportunity for fellowship, networking, and a good beer or two, the working of the Rube Goldberg machine can be seen here:  http://recklessbrewing.com/ru be-goldberg-machine/

 IMG 3540     IMG 3552

caption: AWIS-SD Events Committee co-chairs and member.


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


by Alyson Smith

  • A team of researchers led by Steven Steinhubl of the Scripps Translational Science Institute has shown that a wearable heart monitor can increase detection of atrial fibrillation compared to standard doctors’ office visits. The devices can continuously monitor heart beat and other parameters, and are more likely to catch the intermittent abnormalities typical of atrial fibrillation. The devices can be mailed to at-risk patients, making monitoring more accessible for patients who have difficulty reaching a clinic.
  • UC San Diego has opened a new Center for Anti-Parasitic Drug Discovery and Development to develop treatments for neglected tropical diseases – such as African sleeping sickness, giardiasis, and malaria – that affect more than one billion people in developing countries each year. This center, which now has 15 faculty members from diverse departments, was developed after the university received a grade of C+ from the Universities Allied for Essential Medicines for not devoting enough resources to this global health problem.
  • In June, Biotech Vendor Services held a seminar in La Jolla focused on women in science navigating sexual discrimination and harassment in the workplace. At the event, many top female scientists from around San Diego shared their experiences, including: Beverly Emerson, formerly of the Salk Institute; Katherine Kantardjieff, Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at CSU San Marcos; and Mary Canady, the founder of San Diego Biotechnology Network.
  • The Scripps Research Institute and AbbVie have announced a major deal to bring a new version of chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR T) immune therapy for cancer. While financial details were not disclosed, the deal requires an antitrust review, indicating a value of at least $84 million. The new immune therapy combines CAR T cells with artificial antibodies that can be used to modulate the specificity and intensity of the immune response, potentially making the treatment safer and more effective than previously developed versions.
  • Researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute have discovered a method to induce regeneration of pancreatic beta cells in diabetic mice. The method involves inhibiting the production of insulin, which prevents beta cell regeneration, and treating with a drug to activate PAR2 receptors on alpha cells and promoting the formation of new beta cells. This method holds promise for the treatment of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
  • Researchers at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) have discovered the first known manta ray nursery in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary about 70 miles south of Galveston, Texas. Much is known about these giant marine animals, which can have wingspans of up to 21 feet and regularly interact with divers. Still, how they spend the 4-5 years it takes them to reach adulthood has remained a mystery. The discovery of this nursery will allow researchers to study the behavior of adolescent rays.
  • The United States Postal Service has posthumously honored Sally Ride, the first American woman in space and professor of physics at UC San Diego, by featuring her portrait on a new Forever Stamp. In addition to her career at NASA and UCSD, Ride is known for co-founding Sally Ride Science, a nonprofit that promotes STEM education, and co-authoring six children’s books about science. The dedication of the stamp was celebrated by a ceremony at UCSD’s Price Center.



  • Adriana Bankston, PhD, has started a new position as the Associate Director of Fundraising and Strategic Initiatives at the Future of Research (FoR). FoR is a nonprofit organization with a mission to champion, engage and empower early career scientists with evidence-based resources to improve the scientific research endeavor. Adriana's position is focused on developing an overall fundraising strategy that will allow FoR to move forward in its mission. This includes developing fundraising and marketing materials, soliciting donations, preparation for grant applications, and other administrative duties.
  • Aarti Narang will be starting a new job as a Technical Scientist at Absorption Systems later in August 2018.



1) Meet the Board

Date: Tuesday, September 18, 2018 06:15 PM

Venue: Hera Hub
Meet the Board is an opportunity to meet the leadership of AWIS-SD from the president to the the committee co-chairs. Find out who the board membership are. Hear about what each committee is doing. Find the right fit for you.

Light refreshments will be served.

RSVP here  


2) Happy hour and tour at Green Flash Brewing

Date: Thursday, September 27, 2018 06:00 PM

Venue: Green Flash Brewing

Brewery Tour and Networking Event at Green Flash Brewing

Join us for an exciting happy hour and brewery tour at the Green Flash Brewing. Tour and tasters are on us! Polish your networking skills and meet new people. Bring friends and business cards!

RSVP here


3) Registration Deadline: AWIS-SD Visit to Takeda

Date: Friday, September 28, 2018

Takeda has invited the Academia 2 Industry (A2I) Coffee Club and other AWIS members to tour their San Diego Facility (10410 Science Center Drive San Diego CA 92121) on Friday October 12th, 2018 from 10:00am to 12:00pm.

Register for the tour here


4) STRATEGY SESSIONS: Decoding Your Interpersonal Style

Date: Monday, October 01, 2018 06:00 PM - 08:00 PM

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

Networking – 6:00 pm, Workshop – 6:30 - 8:00 pm.

Light refreshments will be served.

Remember to bring your business cards!

Preregistration is essential!

Free for AWIS-San Diego members. $25 for non-members.

RSVP here


See more AWIS-SD events here.

Non-AWIS events

The International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) is offering a 10% registration discount to AWIS San Diego members for its first-ever ISMPP West 2018 meeting,

Surfing the Waves: Start-up to Established Company Solutions, October 11-12, in San Diego, CA.

Meeting information is available at www.ismpp.org/ismpp-west-meeting.

Enter AWIS10 in the “Discount Code” field, off Early Bird pricing until July 11 and Standard pricing until September 12. Learn about ISMPP at www.ismpp.org.


About the Authors


Risa Broyer is a postdoctoral fellow at UCSD in the Ophthalmology Department studying retinal development and small molecule based neuroprotective strategies where she uses patient-derived stem cells and CRISPR technology to integrate reporters and model neurodegenerative disease using “mini-retinas-in-a-dish”. Risa received her Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from UCSD and has been a member of AWIS-SD since 2010. She has been a co-chair of the Scholarship Committee since 2015.



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.


Dieanira headshot

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


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.

Alyson Smith

Alison Huang





Spring 2018 Newsletter Volume 26 Issue 2

This issue of the Newsletter will be available as PDF.

For previous newsletters, click here.


CourtneyB crop

Dear AWIS-SD Members and Friends,

What a successful Spring AWIS-SD has had! As the new president of AWIS-SD, I would like to thank everyone for your warm welcome and all your hard work! We earned our Star Chapter Award again for 2017!

This hard work would also not be possible without the donations from our sponsors. Thank you to all AWIS-SD sponsors for making our events possible!

I would like to thank everyone for contributing their time with our committees and volunteering in the community. Everything we do would not be possible without all of you. Each committee works hard to make AWIS-SD so successful. This newsletter highlights all of our hard work put forth this Spring. Please read through to learn more about this great organization and the many events put on by AWIS-SD.

If you have not joined a committee or volunteered for an event with AWIS-SD, I highly encourage you to do so. So much can be gained by participating, such as growing your network and having a positive impact in the community. I participated in several events this year and was so proud and amazed by all the effort from everyone to create such successful events.

I look forward to meeting more members and growing our organization as a whole.



Courtney Benson

President AWIS-SD

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

Check out these AWIS-SD Outreach activities from this spring!

Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair EXPO day

by Mary Swinton

On Saturday, March 3, the Biocom Institute Festival of Science and Engineering kicked off their 10-day educational experience with Expo Day at Petco Park. The Outreach Committee of AWIS-SD once again took part. During this all-day event, many AWIS and non-AWIS volunteers introduced hundreds of festival attendees to the concept of the states of matter by teaching them about Oobleck. Oobleck, a non-Newtonian fluid, is prepared by mixing two parts cornstarch and one part water. It behaves like a solid when exposed to a strong force, but stays in the liquid state otherwise. The Oobleck activity, organized by AWIS Outreach Committee members Mary Swinton and Kina Thackray, was a huge success and AWIS Outreach looks forward to participating in this event again next year.




Oobleck in the grass - Logan Heights Library

by Chistina Grobin

This year, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center is concentrating its efforts to promote science locally at 52 events in Logan Heights & Barrio Logan.  On Wednesday, March 7, 2018, science play in Barrio Logan began. Many vendors and science aficionados were present to entice parents, teachers and students alike. AWIS volunteers Kina, Leana, Chistina, and Yessica, were stationed at outdoor tables and taught participants about Oobleck. Parents and grandparents squealed with fear and delight at the feeling of a substance that looked at first solid, but melted with the loss of mechanical pressure. Kids filled gloves with the Oobleck, resulting in an oddly human feeling purple “hand”. Several kids stayed at the AWIS table for the entirety of the event and smiles abounded. Leana and Chistina both left the event looking like seasoned painters with Oobleck spatters, and the grassy area was covered with cornstarch.





Outreach at Expanding Your Horizons Conference

by Prathima Garudadri

The AWIS-SD Outreach Committee organized a “crime scene” workshop for the March 10, 2018 Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) event at the University of San Diego. The EYH conference which draws over 600 female students between grades six through ten, offers an opportunity for them to take part in hands-on workshops to foster their enthusiasm for STEM, and encourage them to continue their studies in science. Over the course of the day, three groups of 25 female students participated in the AWIS-SD “crime scene” workshop where they identified unknown solids, liquids, DNA samples, and fingerprints at each of four stations to determine who had committed the “crime”.

At each of the stations, AWIS-SD volunteers demonstrated the science behind crime scene analysis. At the solid analysis station, participants 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 students were fascinated to see how starch reacted with iodine to form a dark blue paste, while baking soda and vinegar form a bubbly fizzy reaction. At the liquid analysis station, participants identified an unknown liquid by observing viscosity, smell, pH, and by the unknown liquid’s reaction with baking soda. 




At the DNA and fingerprint analysis stations, participants had great success in identifying subjects. They practiced in using pipettes and loading DNA into DNA gels. During the fingerprint activity, participants learned about the shapes found in fingerprints (whorls, arches, loops). In both stations, participants compared the sample found at the crime scene to the ‘suspect’ samples and identified which ‘suspect’ left the sample.

In addition to a fun exposure to science, participants also had the opportunity to interact with female scientists. Participants utilized any free moment to ask the volunteers what they do, why they like science, and how participants can continue working in the field. The students 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, which really made this event a success!

AWIS-SD Outreach committee members Jessica Cassin and Prathima Garudadri were co-point persons for this event. Fellow AWIS-SD members and members of the science community, Alison Huang, Katherine Liu, Genevieve Ryan, Kina Thackray, Ana Armenta Vega, Victoria Shi and Kristin Bompiani volunteered at the event.


2018 Greater San Diego Science & Engineering Fair Poster Judging

by Alina Luk

This year’s Greater San Diego Science & Engineering Fair (GSDSEF) was held on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 at the Balboa Activity Center Hall. GSDSEF was a welcoming new experience for many individuals who volunteered their time to represent AWIS-SD in judging science and engineering projects.  Over 300 female student projects, from both junior (grades 6 to 8) and senior (grades 9 to 12) categories, were evaluated by 25 judges including AWIS-SD members and nonmembers with diverse scientific backgrounds and professions.

Upon entering the doors, it was immediately obvious that the event was flourishing, with projects filling the entire hall on rows and rows of tables. Judges were paired to explore a wide range of topics including Animal Sciences, Medicine and Health Sciences, Plant Sciences, Consumer Sciences, and many other topics in science and engineering fields. From research about 3D printing technology to creating codes analyzing the Hardy-Weinberg Equation, I was exposed to many topics and fields that I have little experience with, which made the judging experience even more fascinating. As a past AWIS-SD Science Fair winner, I was impressed by the creativity and complexity of this younger generation’s projects. Attending and judging at GSDSEF reminded me of standing in that large hall on that nerve-racking day to present my project along with hundreds of other students from around San Diego County.

After two to three hours of judging, 14 winning projects were identified. These award winners, along with their families and advisors, were invited to join AWIS-SD volunteers and Outreach Committee members on Sunday, April 29, 2018 for an award and banquet celebration.




We would like to thank the volunteers, who gave their time and expertise to judge the projects; and all the young scientists, who participated in this year’s Science and Engineering Fair. Congratulations to all the 2018 Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair AWIS-SD Award Winners!


AWIS-SD Science Poster Awards Dinner

by Varykina (Kina) Thackray

On April 29, 2018, the AWIS San Diego Outreach Committee hosted a dinner at the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. The event honored the award winners selected from over 300 female students who presented projects at the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair in March. In total, five high school and 10 middle school students received awards for their projects in a range of disciplines including biochemistry, plant sciences, mathematical sciences, engineering, behavioral and social sciences, and health sciences. Congratulations to Mary Jasmine Lara, Ayleen Herrera, Natalia Sanchez, Emily Nguyen and Shreya Ranganath in the senior division as well as Isabel Bruce, Jasmine Elasaad, Eva Wilson, Alessia Demoreno, Olivia Hansen, Lou Fowler, Margarita Alfaro, Lakshmi Menon, Pascale Fung, and Noorah Dhamim in the junior division.


 science fair recipients 2018

At the start of the awards dinner, the students presented their projects and discussed their results with other students, their families, mentors, and members of the AWIS-SD Outreach Committee. Following the poster session, the President of AWIS-SD, Dr. Courtney Benson, presented each winner with a certificate and a cash award recognizing her achievement. Then, students and their families had dinner with Dr. Benson and members of the AWIS-SD Outreach Committee.

The awards dinner was an excellent opportunity to recognize young female students for their scientific achievements and provide them with the opportunity to meet female STEM professionals and role models. Through presenting these awards, AWIS-SD hopes to encourage female students interested in science to pursue STEM careers. Thanks to the members of the Outreach Committee who organized this event: Alina Luk, Bridget Kohlnhofer, Chistina Grobin, Jane Smitham, Jessica Cassin, Laure Kayser, Mary Swinton, Prathima Garudadri, and Vanessa Langness.

AWIS-SD Annual Speed Mentoring

by Raymond Seraydarian 

On Tuesday, March 13, the AWIS Events Committee repeated one of its most popular events, Speed Mentoring, at National University in La Jolla. Upon registering, each of the nearly 40 participants chose three career-related mentoring topics from a list that included Industry Research, Academia, Consulting, Recruiting (applying, interviewing, negotiating), Entrepreneurship, Medical Writing, and Clinical Affairs. Mentors & mentees were matched in advance so that no more than five to six (and often fewer) mentees were at a table with a single mentor. At each 18-minute session, every participant received mentorship in one of her three chosen topics. At the conclusion, a buffet-style meal was provided consisting of salads, pasta dishes, and other fare as participants gathered for conversation and general networking.


speed mentoring 002



The event was free for AWIS members, but 11 non-members paid $15 to benefit from attending.

The AWIS Events Committee thanks National University and their staff for providing the venue and on-site assistance.  We also thank our AWIS mentors:  Anita Iyer, Barbara Preston, Kristina Henthorn, Leslie Crews, Mental Mazor, Michelle Kem, Miriam Cohen, and Teresa Henry for generously donating their time and expertise, without which the event could not happen at all. Also, thanks to all the other members of the Events Committee — Adina Gerson-Gurwitz, Ksenya Cohen-Katsenelson, Valeria Viscardi, Amy Thorne, and Jianhui Ma — for arranging the venue, food, contacting the mentors, and more.


AWIS Strategy Sessions article for April event

by Sabrina Treadwell

How do you write a stellar resume that gets you an interview?

We all have been there; you have just found the job description for this job you always wanted. You know a well-written resume will hugely impact whether or not you will land an interview for that job. But how do you write a stellar resume to convince the busy hiring manager to call you?

We asked this question in our April Strategy Session when we invited Barbara Preston, Ph.D., senior executive recruiter for executives and scientists in the Life Sciences and co-founder of PharmaScouts, Inc. These are the key suggestions she gave to write a killer resume:

  • An industry resume is not an academic CV.
  • Before you start, define yourself. Are you an expert, knowledgeable or familiar?
  • Determine your accomplishments.
  • Describe how the company will benefit from hiring you.
  • Keep it short. Present most relevant items on the first two pages.
  • Make you resume visually appealing.
  • Never use “I was responsible for”. It does not tell anything.

With this good advice at hand, the group was sent home to write a stellar resume and encouraged to ask Barbara for individual feedback on their resumes.


Check out these events organized by the Academia to Industry (A2I) coffee club!

AWIS-SD Visit to Eli Lilly Biotechnology Center

by Takako Noguchi

Twenty three participants, mostly members of Academia to Industry (A2I) Coffee Club and other AWIS-SD members, visited the Eli Lilly and Company Biotechnology Center located at Campus Point Dr., San Diego, on February 23, 2018. Lilly opened this center in June 2017. Their brand new building has an impressive external art wall made by red and silver metal panels and the interior is spacious, with lots of sunlight. On the 1st floor past the reception, we could see large automated high throughput instrumentation that will be part of Lilly’s new fully automated synthesis-to-screening center by 2019. This will provide a remote platform for external collaboration to foster R&D at Eli Lilly.

The tour started with an introduction and overview of Lilly presented by Dr. Wolfgang Glaesner, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) of the Applied Molecular Evolution Division. Lilly, founded by Colonel Eli Lilly in 1876, introduced the world’s first commercially available insulin product in 1923. Current focus of Lilly includes oncology, immunology, neurodegeneration, diabetes, and pain. Drugs studied by Lilly are currently ~50% biologics (peptides, proteins, antibody, etc.) and ~50% small molecules. The Lilly Biotechnology center in San Diego focuses on immunology research, houses a large part of the Structural Biology team, and have just opened a Chemistry Department to support San Diego’s research. Dr. Devon Thompson, CSO of the Structural Biology Department, highlighted their achievements in determining the crystal structures of more than 10,000 proteins. Finally Dr. Alison Budelsky, Senior Director of Immunology Research, explained the pathological mechanisms of autoimmune diseases, especially psoriasis, which is one of their main target diseases.


A2I Lillytour



The second part of the tour was a panel discussion with Audrey McConnell, Melissa Crisp, Devon Thompson, Alison Budelsky, Carina Torres, Andrew Vendel, Jacqueline Wurst, Wolfgang Glaesner. They shared their opinions and answered all our questions in topics ranging from Lilly’s science, hiring practices, and work culture. McConnell and Vendel started their industry careers as postdocs at smaller biotech/pharma companies, while Crisp gained her experience in high-throughput screening/automation during her postdoctoral training before transitioning as a scientist in an automation team. Glaesner emphasized that candidates interested in applying for positions at Lilly must be a good fit for the position and have the ability to learn and adapt. Thompson emphasized the importance of public speaking and presentation skills. As flow cytometry specialist, Torres emphasized the importance of becoming an expert of specific technologies to pursue niche positions. Vendel took immunology courses to help him transition from neuroscience to the immunology field. In general, panelists are very satisfied with Lilly’s intellectual environment and supportive culture. 

After the panel discussion, we toured the laboratories. Dr. Donmienne Leung introduced us to the cellular and molecular biology labs, as well as the protein engineering research labs. Dr. Tom Cujec introduced the automation labs that consist of high-end robotics performing cell culture and screening. Drs. Michael Hickey and Kevin Bain showed us around the structural biology labs, where they produce proteins using various techniques including bacteria, baculovirus-infected insect cells, and mammalian cells as needed. They are also responsible for purifying and characterizing protein and generating crystals that are then shipped to Lilly’s Chicago site (LRL-CAT), where x-ray crystallography elucidates protein structures.

After the tour, we were offered a delicious sandwich lunch and we enjoyed chatting with panelists and other Lilly’s employees in a relaxing environment, where we were able to ask more questions about their experience in industry and science. Overall, the tour was very informative. We learned about biologic drug discovery processes and enjoyed the networking session.

We would like to thank Melissa Crisp, Audrey McConnell and Abbey Swhear, the main organizers of this tour, and all other Lilly employees for giving us a wonderful learning opportunity.


Academia to Industry (A2I) coffee club - A discussion with Dr. Jennifer Cohen

by Juliati Rahajeng, Takako Noguchi and Aime Lopez Aguilar

Our March coffee club was held Wednesday March 7th, 2018, returning to our usual location at the Bella Vista Social Club & Caffe. We had 12 attendees ranging from senior students to postdocs and industry scientists. Our guest speaker was Dr. Jennifer Cohen from Takeda.

Dr. Cohen's journey and life as a toxicologist

Dr. Cohen obtained her PhD at the University of Arizona in Pharmacology and Toxicology. She then completed an industry postdoctoral fellowship at Hoffmann-La Roche in the department of Investigative Toxicology and after its completion, she moved on to Takeda’s San Diego research site in the department of Drug Safety Research and Evaluation Department, where she has been for the last 6.5 years. Dr. Cohen is a DABT certified Toxicologist and is a Principal Scientist at Takeda. She participates on various cross-functional drug project teams as lead toxicologist and has contributed to projects across pre-clinical and clinical stages. Her usual workload includes supporting ~5+ drug development teams, as well as a strategy lead for Neurotox, a position where she provides support to projects that have neurotoxicity liabilities and leads efforts in developing predictive neurotoxicity screening assays. This position has also allowed her to co-mentor a postdoc in a collaboration with academia.

Toxicology at a glance

As Dr. Cohen explained, toxicologists are involved at all stages of pharmaceutical development, from early target identification to post-market follow up. In general, there are different areas within toxicology:

>  Chemical toxicology - usually recruiting people with backgrounds in chemistry, and focusing in SAR analysis (Structure-activity relationships)

> Discovery toxicology - focusing on understanding the target and potential liabilities of exaggerated pharmacology

> Investigative toxicology - usually recruiting people with specific tissue/organ/technology backgrounds and/or a PhD in toxicology, focusing on addressing any adverse findings that pop-up in nonclinical safety studies or during clinical development

> Developmental toxicology – lead toxicologist from candidate nomination thru clinical development and post marketing

General advice

Dr. Cohen also shared with us her experience in transitioning into industry. She mentioned that as a graduate student she joined the regional and national Society of Toxicology, and became the graduate student representative of a few specialty section committees. She leveraged this position as an opportunity to network with people in the field, which helped her find the postdoc position at Roche.

Dr. Cohen also mentioned that most entry positions in investigative toxicology recruit people with specific target organ expertise to complement their team. However, she mentioned that the scientific skills are only a small portion (~25%) of the characteristics people look at when hiring and promoting. Soft skills such as cross-function learning and support, strategic thinking, teamwork, flexibility and the ability to be a good fit for the team are some of the most important factors when hiring or moving forward on your career path. Finally she emphasized that women starting their careers should not limit themselves and explore possibilities and alternative paths because you never know where life will take you!


 A2I Cohen



Erika Wells, Ph.D. AWIS-SD A2I Visit

by Juliati Rahajeng

On February 2, 2018, Erika Wells, Ph.D. came to AWIS-SD Academia to Industry (A2I) Coffee Club meeting to talk about her transition into her current position as a Scientist at Ionian Technologies, which was acquired by Abbott less than a year ago. The meeting took place at Copa Vida and was attended by more than 20 AWIS-SD members and nonmembers. Wells is also an active member of AWIS-UCR, in which she has been serving as a mentor for the past three years.

Wells, a California native, received her B.S. in Biology from California State University at San Bernardino with a minor in Criminal Justice. Then, she went to Yale University to obtain her Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Physiology in the laboratory of Michael Caplan, M.D., Ph.D., where she studied gene expression of MDCK cysts. She was able to combine physiology with knowledge that she acquired from other labs, including immunology and oncology, to complete her Ph.D. project. During her graduate school training, she received an NIH National Research Service Award (NRSA) Pre-Doctoral Fellowship.

Wells received her Ph.D. in 2011. She knew that she did not want to go for postdoctoral training or stay in academia. She tirelessly searched for scientist positions in biotech companies. She had many interview opportunities, but unfortunately, not having an industrial experience was a big problem for her. She was unemployed for about one year before she landed a temporary position at EMD Millipore. Wells was working on SmartFlareTM live cell RNA detection probes with other team members within the company. After one year working as a contract employee, she became a permanent employee at EMD Millipore, in which she had increased responsibilities in designing the probes and communicating with different groups across the company.

In 2015, EMD Millipore acquired Sigma-Aldrich and merged into MilliporeSigma. A few months after that, the company laid off employees as it consolidated business efforts, including Wells. She was again unemployed for about six months. In October 2016, Wells obtained a Scientist position at Ionian Technologies (formerly, Alere). Her knowledge and skills that she acquired during graduate school as well as the experience gained at EMD Millipore helped her in landing this position. At Ionian Technologies, currently owned by Abbott, Wells is working on isothermal nucleic acid technology as a part of the technology development group.

Wells provided some advice to AWIS-SD A2I attendees who are still trying to transition into biotech or pharmaceutical industries:

  1. Get out of your comfort zone and go to networking events.
  2. Become a member of a non-profit organization, such as AWIS, and volunteer for a committee.
  3. Bring your resumes to the networking events and conferences.
  4. Keep informed with the latest technologies in your field or areas of interest.
  5. Apply for jobs even if they don’t ask for Ph.D.
  6. Apply for temporary/contract jobs.
  7. Read newsletters to get information about different companies and look at how they are doing in the stock market and business sectors.
  8. Don’t forget to negotiate for your salary.


by Alyson Smith

  • San Diego was one of hundreds of cities across the United States to participate in the second annual March for Science on April 14, 2018. While around 15,000 attended the inaugural San Diego March in 2017, only around 1,000 attended the march this year. However, those who did attend continued to advocate for supporting scientific research and implementing evidence-based public policies.
  • Fred Gage and colleagues at the Salk Institute have developed a new method for growing three-dimensional human brain tissue to study neurological diseases. The scientists differentiated human induced pluripotent stem cells into neurons and transplanted the neurons into brains of immune-compromised mice. Mouse blood vessels grew into the human brain tissue, supplying oxygen to support levels of growth and synapse formation not possible in culture.
  • The Scripps Translational Science Institute has received a five-year, $34 million grant from the National Institutes of Health Clinical and Translational Science Awards program. The Institute plans to use the award in a wide range of projects applying digital and genomic technology to healthcare, including collaborations with the Institute for Genomic Medicine at Rady Children’s Hospital and the nonprofit drug discovery institute Calibr.
  • In collaboration with Thermo Fisher Scientific, Illumina has developed the iSeq 100, a low-cost next-generation sequencer meant for individual laboratory use. The machine costs $20,000, and much of the complex technology present in higher-cost systems has been embedded in single-use cartridges sold with the iSeq 100. The machine could drastically reduce the amount of time researchers have to wait to get sequencing results.
  • A team of UCSD researchers has discovered that a strain of Staphylococcus epidermidis bacteria commonly found on human skin may protect against skin cancer. The bacteria secrete 6-HAP, a compound that interferes with DNA synthesis, especially in rapidly dividing tumor cells that lack mechanisms to degrade the compound. The bacteria reduced skin cancer incidence in mice exposed to ultraviolet radiation.
  • This spring, University of California San Diego (UCSD) plans to begin testing two experimental self-driving golf carts to deliver mail. Initially, the vehicles will be limited to a maximum speed of 20 mph along a defined route during daylight hours, with two safety drivers to continuously monitor the road and vehicle performance. UCSD Contextual Robotics Institute hopes these initial tests will help make UCSD a key player in the self-driving vehicle industry.
  • For the first time, an all-girls team competed in San Diego’s FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) high school robotics competition. The 15 female students from the Academy of Our Lady of Peace worked together over six weeks to design, program, and build a robot capable of lifting and moving large blocks. The team earned the competition’s Rookie All Star Award and hopes to see more all-girls teams next year.
  • Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino, died at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in March. While only two females of this subspecies remain (also at Ol Pejeta), the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research hosts cell and/or sperm samples from 12 of these animals in its Frozen Zoo. The Institute is actively developing technologies to use these samples to create fertilized northern white rhino embryos in culture and implant them into female southern white rhino surrogate mothers.



  • Dina Schneider, UCSD '18, will be joining a local company Nucleus Biologics as an application scientist following her PhD defense this April. She would be happy to share her experience transitioning into industry for those who are interested. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Katherine Ruby, PhD, started a new position as a Medical Science Liaison, Biosimilars with Sandoz (a Novartis company). Her previous role was a Biomarker and Cytometry Specialist at MilliporeSigma.
  • Aime Lopez is leaving her current postdoc position to become a Medical Science Liaison at Assurex Health in Florida.



See more AWIS-SD events here.


About the Authors


Mary Swinton crop

Mary Swinton is a research assistant in the Psychiatry department of UCSD Medical School, studying HIV associated Neurocognitive disorders.  She recently received her B.S. in Biochemistry and Cell Biology from UCSD.  She is currently working on her applications for graduate programs in the Biomedical Sciences. Mary has been involved with AWIS since the summer of 2017 as a member of the outreach committee. 

 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.

Prathima G crop

Prathima Garudadri recently earned her B.S in Physiology and Neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego. She currently works as a Veterinary Assistant at Governor Animal Clinic and is an aspiring Veterinarian. Prathima is an active member of the AWIS outreach committee and looks forward to getting more involved in community outreach. In her free time, she loves traveling, cooking, volunteering and spending time with her puppy.


Alina Luk is a senior at Scripps Ranch High School who is interested in pursuing the pre-med/biomedical engineering track in college. She recently joined the AWIS Outreach Committee after becoming acquainted with the organization through GSDSEF in 2014, and participating/volunteering at several other AWIS activities.

Kina headshot

Varykina Thackray (Kina) is an Associate Professor of Reproductive Medicine at UC San Diego. She has a comprehensive background in hormone signaling, regulation of gene expression in reproductive tissues and the role of the gut microbiome in polycystic ovary syndrome. She received her PhD at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and completed her postdoctoral studies in reproductive endocrinology at UC San Diego. Her research accomplishments were recognized with the Endocrine Society Early Investigators Award and the Women in Endocrinology Young Investigator Award. She is an active member of the Endocrine Society, Women in Endocrinology and the AWIS-SD Outreach Committee.

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.

sabrina crop

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

TNoguchi1Crop 170403

Takako Noguchi received her PhD in Biological Science from Osaka University. She is a Project Scientist at the Center for Circadian Biology at UCSD, studying cellular and neuronal mechanisms of circadian rhythm using innovative bioluminescence imaging technology. She joined AWIS-SD in 2017 and is currently serving as co-chair of Academia to Industry Coffee Club. She hopes to transition into the biotech and pharmaceutical industry.


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.

 Aime Lopez crop

Aime Lopez Aguilar is currently finishing a post-doctoral researcher position at The Scripps Research Institute in the Department of Molecular Medicine, where she focuses on developing chemoenzymatic tools for the detection and engineering of glycans in clinically-relevant environments. While originally from Mexico City, Aime obtained her BSc in Biotechnology from Brock University, Canada and later received her DPhil from Oxford University in the UK. Aime joined AWIS in 2017, and is currently a co-chair for the Academia to Industry Coffee Club.





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