Spring 2017 Newsletter Volume 25 Issue 2

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

For previous newsletters, click here.




Dear AWIS-SD members and friends:

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

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Here is the silly picture taken moments later. 

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

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

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




DeeAnn Visk, President AWIS-SD

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WIST - Keynote addresses inspired us all

by Corine Lau and Juliati Rahajeng

Morning keynote address:

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

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

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

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

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


Afternoon keynote address:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



2017 AWIS-SD Scholarship Recipients

by Joan Allmaras

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Luz Robelido, San Diego City College

Mariah Moschetti, University of California-San Diego

Ruichen Sun, University of California-San Diego

Lorrie Yates, California State University-San Marcos

Karli Chudeau, California State University-San Marcos

Annie Rathore, Salk Institute


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

by Mai Khuong

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

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

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

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

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


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

1. Be involved in organizations.

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

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

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

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

2. Be willing to learn on the job.

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


 Reflecting on WIST 2017

by Christina Niemeyer

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

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

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

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

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


March Speed Mentoring Workshop

by Missy Scranton

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

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

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


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


2017 Speed Mentors

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

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

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

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

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

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


 2017 STEM Career Conference: Discover Your SuperHEROINE Roadmap to Success

by Elizabeth Jacobs

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

Event recap by numbers:

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


February Strategy Session - Creating a Powerful Professional Network

by Jennifer Kuo

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

1. Go to networking events with a goal

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

2. Network with a buddy

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

3. Know how to exit a conversation

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

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

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

5. Follow up and maintain contact

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


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

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

 The San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering EXPO Day 2017

by Antonia Darragh

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


2017 GSDSEF Science Fair Judging  

by Geetha Subramanian

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

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

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

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


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

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


AWIS-SD Outreach participates in the annual EYH Conference

by Elizabeth Jacobs

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


EYH 2017

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


You got your PhD, what’s next?

by Juliati Rahajeng

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

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

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

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



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

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


AWIS-SD participates in the 2017 March for Science

by Christina Niemeyer

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

MarchforSci 20170422 094318 

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

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


News Ticker

by Alyson Smith

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


  • Academia 2 Industry Coffee Club

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

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

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

  • Academia 2 Industry Coffee Club

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


See more AWIS-SD events here.


About the Authors



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



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




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


MaiKhuong 1

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


christina Niemeyer

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



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



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


 Jennifer Kuo headshot

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

Antonia Darragh

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


 GSubramanian1 April 2017

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







Winter 2017 Newsletter Volume 25 Issue 1

This issue of the Newsletter is available as a PDF:

AWISSD Newsletter Winter 2017 1stpg

For archived versions of previous newsletters, click here.



Dear AWIS-SD members and friends:

Politics is a delicate subject.  Unfortunately, it is present in everything we do, from policies that affect women at the national level to the dynamics within a family.  Many have raised concerns about future policies on the national level that disproportionally affects women.  Take, for example, the recent executive order prohibiting refugees from certain countries.  Most of these refugees are women with children.

Living in a free country, political opinions can be expressed safely.  On January 21st, people around the world marched to show support for women.  In San Diego, organizers marched “to strengthen and continue our commitment to work for the protection of women’s rights. We stand firm in agreement that women’s rights are human rights.”   (from the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/events/1684632678516753/ retrieved Sunday Feb5 8:35am PST).

 presidentsletter womensmarch

Attendees of the San Diego Women’s March, Saturday, January 27th, 2017

Another event on the local level is the upcoming AWIS-SD 2017 Women in Science and Technology (WIST) conference.  The date is Saturday, May 20th from 8am to 5pm at the UCSD Faculty Club.  The theme for this year is:  Explore, Encourage, and Evolve.

The 2017 WIST  theme: Explore, Encourage, Evolve


As always, all genders are welcome at WIST.

What is the WIST conference? In a nutshell, WIST is a one-day symposium focusing on career and personal development, as well as peer networking.  Highlights of the symposium include keynote speakers, concurrent breakout workshops, and AWIS-SD scholarship presentation, accompanied by breakfast, lunch and cocktail hours.

Past workshop topics include negotiation and effective job search strategies, to the business of science, end-to-end drug development, and bioinformatics to research and teaching in the academic setting.  Our keynote speakers are Gillian Wilson, Interim Deputy Director, University of California Observatories and Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of California Riverside; and Homa Akbarian, PhD, Head of R&D, Acclarent, a Johnson and Johnson Company. 

Our chapter has once again been recognized by the AWIS on the national level as a Star Chapter.  This designation recognizes the achievements of our chapter in promoting and encouraging women to achieve the highest level of professional success.  We accomplish this through our excellent programming done only with volunteers.

To all the AWIS-SD volunteers who made this possible, thank you.



DeeAnn Visk, President AWIS-SD

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STEAM Maker Festival

by Kina Thackray and Anne Kornahrens

The AWIS-SD Outreach Committee participated in the STEAM Maker Festival at the Del Mar Fairgrounds on Saturday, December 3, 2016. AWIS-SD volunteers for this event included Liz Jacobs, Ping Xu, Emerson Alatorre, Charisee Winston, Kina Thackray, and Anne Kornahrens.

The STEAM Maker Festival is an annual San Diego event designed to bridge the gap between STEAM education and the MAKER movement. It is a unique festival for both kids and adults that combines science, tech, and engineering with art and crafts. This was the first year that AWIS-SD participated in this event, and we were impressed with the enthusiasm of the participants and the interesting exhibits.

The outreach committee offered attendees several hands-on activities related to “Invisible Ink”. One activity illustrated how fluorescence works. Kids used yellow highlighters to write on yellow paper. The messages were difficult to see with the overhead lights, but became visible when exposed to UV light. The kids really enjoyed writing “secret” messages and then using the UV light to expose the message. 

STEAMmaker 1

caption: The Outreach Committee setting up the invisible ink experiments at the STEAM maker festival. 

The other activities were focused on pH. One activity involved using acidic solutions like lemon juice to write messages on white paper. Once the paper dried, the messages were revealed by exposure to heat. The students were fascinated to learn that spies in the American Revolutionary war (including George Washington) used lime juice to write secret messages. Another activity used the spice, turmeric. Turmeric is yellow when dissolved in a neutral solution like water, so you can’t see it when it is applied onto yellow paper. However, when exposed to a basic solution like ammonia, it turns bright red! The kids really liked guessing what would happen to the message when exposed to ammonia and what would happen when the ammonia evaporated.

We had a fun time teaching the kids at the STEAM Maker Festival, and enjoyed spreading the word about AWIS-SD. As we embark on our busy spring outreach season, we look forward to performing more demonstrations and to supporting young scientists. Stay tuned for more details and please volunteer for our events: Expanding Your Horizons (March 4), Expo Day (March 4), and Science Fair Judging (March 15)!


 December Strategy Session- Projecting your inner diplomat

by Jennifer Kuo

The Strategy Session held on December 5, 2016, at Hera Hub was an informative workshop presented by guest speaker, Dr. Debra Dupree. Dupree holds a doctorate degree in psychology and is a professional therapist, conflict mediator, and an engaging speaker on enhancing relationships in the workplace. She shared her knowledge on how to strategically communicate effectively, and provided techniques on working through difficult situations. Here are four takeaways from the event!

1. Leverage your position by maximizing your persuasiveness

Research from Dr. Robert Cialdini shows these six factors of influence have the power to persuade others:

  • Reciprocity- People tend to do something for you when you do something for them.
  • Scarcity- People are more likely to agree when they know what they stand to lose.
  • Authority- People are more likely to follow if they see a sign of authority.
  • Consistency- People are more likely to follow through if they have made a prior commitment.
  • Social Proof- People are more likely to follow if others are doing so.
  • Likeability- People are more likely to agree with someone they get along with.

2. Listen, PAUSE, then act

Oftentimes, pausing and even restating what you hear give you time to process and respond. It prevents you from unleashing words or actions you may regret that are spurred on by emotions. Dupree offered some other techniques for dealing with conflict in the workplace.

  • Listen carefully to the other party.
  • Paraphrase what you hear in order to pause and process.
  • Be confident in your response.
  • Keep your answer simple.
  • Be diplomatic when handling negativity.
  • Don’t exclude others in the group conversation.
  • Say “thank you” to curtail hostile comments or acknowledge suggestions.

3. Empathize and engage with different perspectives

When in conflict, phrases such as “help me understand how you see it” show concern and can change the direction from a hostile situation into a conversation. Explain your reasons and invite the other party to consider alternatives and work together to find agreement. Don’t assume how they will act but ask how they would like to have the problem solved.

4. Understand how gender differences can affect communication

There are innate differences in the structure, chemistry, and processing of the brain between men and women. How this plays out in the workplace can affect how men and women listen to each other, converse, interpret the words and body language of one another, and even acknowledge that there is conflict. Here are some key differences between women and men in communication.

  • Women tend to seek out relationships whereas men tend to seek position.
  • Women express themselves more in private whereas men express themselves more in public.
  • Women tend to focus on details of emotion whereas men tend to focus on details of fact.
  • Women tend to want to understand the problem first whereas men tend to be problem solvers.

Dec2016SS photo1

caption: Dr. Debra Dupree engaging the audience during her presentation.  photo credit: Elizabeth Jacobs.  

Understanding that situations can be processed differently by men and women may help in reducing the frequency of conflicts in the workplace based on misinterpretation and miscommunication.

For more information on Debra Dupree, visit her website at http://relationships-at-work.com/

 AWIS-SD Holiday party

by Corine Lau

The Events Committee organized our first AWIS-SD social event of 2017 at the Koi Bar and Lounge on Convoy Street in the evening of January 17. More than 40 AWIS-SD members and non-members gathered in a cozy room next to Emerald Chinese Cuisine. Beer and wine were served at the bar, but the smell of Chinese food lured us to the other side of the room. I helped myself with a heaping serving of stir-fry veggies, beef and vegetables, sweet and sour pork, and fried rice with shrimp and BBQ pork. Although many were not familiar with the sweet red bean paste-filled sesame seed-coated mochi ball, it is one of my favorite desserts, especially when served warm! As we were munching away, we formed small groups around the tables. Many of us caught up with other members on their latest news and expanded our network, while others chatted with women who came to our event for the first time. Seasoned AWIS-SD members helped introduce the organization and our mission to the new faces. We hope to see these new faces becoming familiar faces! What a wonderful way to welcome 2017 for all who support women in STEM!

 Academic to Industry (A2I) coffee club - A Visit with Joanne McNelis, PhD, RAC (US)

by Joanna Redfern

On September 2, 2016, Dr. Joanne McNelis came to the A2I coffee club’s monthly meeting to share her experience transitioning from academia to a regulatory affairs (RA) position in industry.

McNelis’ academic research background was in endocrinology. She focused on polycystic ovarian syndrome as a graduate student, and she worked on Type 2 diabetes as a post-doctorate. She enjoyed participating in clinical studies while in academia, but did not want to pursue an MD. McNelis also wanted to do more than bench work, and realized that industry might be more accommodating for her career interests. Toward the end of her post-doctorate, McNelis began attending meetings for the San Diego Regulatory Affairs Network (SD-RAN). Joining this organization was instrumental to her transition into regulatory affairs. She joined the SD-RAN mentoring program and met with a mentor every 2 weeks to review her CV and read through job postings for suitable positions.

McNelis ultimately joined a contract research organization (CRO)* as a research fellow for one year. The Fellows program at this CRO gives recent graduates on the job training for careers in clinical research and drug development. During this year of training, McNelis had on-the-job training focusing on regulatory affairs, and she also took 3 hours of classes a week. Her duties included writing medical protocols, informed consents, and reports for the FDA. McNelis took on more project management and product strategy roles (helping clients determine how to get a drug to market) after six months in the program. A year after joining Fellowship Program, the CRO offered McNelis a full-time position where she currently works as a Clinical Strategy Scientist.

McNelis outlined what clinical regulatory affairs is, and what her position entailed. Both regulatory operations and regulatory strategy (taking a drug from development to market) are important facets of clinical regulatory affairs. Meetings comprise 2 to 4 hours of her work day, and about half of those are internal and half are with clients. She typically works on more than one project at a time (was working on four at the time she visited with the group!), and the number varies depending on how involved the projects are.

To be successful in regulatory affairs for drug development, you need good analytical skills, project management experience, the ability to learn quickly, and the ability to effectively communicate scientific information. Clinical development also requires reading literature related to the drug treatment or device utility, and communicating with the drug or product developer.

The position also requires one to be able to take over someone else’s project. It is also useful to know how clinical trials are conducted and have good writing skills, especially related to RA. To that end, she suggested for anyone interested in RA as a career to consider taking RAPS an RA writing program.

McNelis’ CRO takes promising drugs and products through clinical studies to get them ready for market. At a CRO, salaries may be less than at a larger pharmaceutical company, but the job stability is higher. This is likely due to there being less pressure than at a large company. McNelis also mentioned that working at a CRO feels more like collaboration with the customers, since they are there to help the drug/product manufacturers get their products to market. She said that some employees remain with the company for a long time whereas others move on quickly.

McNelis’ advice for women applying to jobs in biotech included:

  • Only apply to jobs you are qualified for. This means, if you have a Ph.D., only apply to Ph.D. level jobs. She only got interviews for jobs that required a Ph.D.
  • Research the people who will interview you.
  • A clinical research background is not required to get into RA.
  • Experience in animal research is not necessary to get into RA. About 50% of the people in the Fellowship program were not from an animal research background.

People interested in clinical studies or drug and medical device development may want to explore these areas:

Medical writing – these positions allow the flexibility to work from home, and can be a good cross-over position into regulatory affairs.

Medical science liaison– these positions also require a PhD, and you get to do lots of traveling.

* Please check LinkedIn for McNelis’ page to see the CRO she works at (due to confidentiality)

 Academic to Industry (A2I) coffee club - A Visit with Alessandra Blasina, PhD

by Juliati Rahajeng

On October 7, 2016, Dr. Alessandra Blasina came to the AWIS-SD Academia to Industry Coffee Club at the Bella Vista Cafe to share her experience in transitioning into biotech industry. Blasina received her PhD from the University of Sassari in Italy. She did her postdoctoral training at the University of California San Diego (USCD), followed by a Research Associate position at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI).

Blasina’s work at TSRI focused on targets of signal transduction pathways. In early 2000, Pfizer was interested in similar pathways that Blasina was working on, which led to her appointment as a principal scientist in May 2000. At Pfizer, she worked for the R&D unit where she performed biochemical and cell-based assays to screen for compounds that may ultimately be used for cancer treatment. Although her project advanced to clinical trials, it was eventually terminated.

After her employment at Pfizer, Blasina worked as a senior scientist at the Research Process Development of Shire Pharmaceuticals. Unfortunately, changes in the company structure led to the group being laid off. In 2014, she accepted a position as principal investigator at the small biotech company called COI Pharmaceuticals. At COI, the groups consist of 2-3 people, which means that her group had to outsource some of the in vivo studies to contract research organizations (CROs). At COI, Blasina was responsible for an antibody program aiming to develop treatments for colorectal cancer.

While working for COI, Blasina became interested in transitioning to the field of regulatory affairs. She is currently enrolled in the Regulatory Affairs Essentials Certificate Program and Regulatory Affairs Certificate Program offered by UCSD Extension and Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society, respectively. She is also a member of San Diego Regulatory Affairs Network (SDRAN) and Orange County Regulatory Affairs (OCRA). Additionally, she was enrolled in the Regulatory Affairs Certificate Exam Study Group organized by SDRAN in summer 2016. Earlier this month, Blasina successfully made her transition by joining Agility Clinical, Inc as a Regulatory Affairs Associate.

She gave coffee club attendees some advice on how to successfully transition into biotech industry and/or regulatory affairs field. Networking is key. It is not only about what you know, but also about who you know. Blasina found out about her current position from her former colleague. She encourages people who want to transition into regulatory affairs by applying for positions in biotech companies that have regulatory affairs programs/groups. She also recommends having a resume that matches your LinkedIn profile and updating both regularly. Last, but not least, she recommends writing your profile on the back of your business card, so people who receive your cards can remember you. 


Academic to Industry (A2I) coffee club - A Visit with Melissa Crisp, PhD

by Joanna Redfern

On December 2nd, Dr. Melissa Crisp attended the A2I coffee club meet-up to share her experience transitioning from academia to a research scientist position at Eli Lilly and Company.

Melissa’s academic research background is in molecular/cellular biology. As a post-doc at Scripps Florida, she worked in a translational science lab where she collaborated with people from other labs like a business relationship. That was a good experience for eventually moving into industry. Her first job in industry was with a small start-up company that offered genomic services, such as microRNA and multiplex protein profiling. The position included a lot of bench work, as well as work in sales, marketing, and recruiting potential investors for the company. This experience provided Melissa with a solid understanding of how companies are organized and how products are commercialized.

Melissa began working at Lilly 5 years ago as an entry-level research scientist (she found the job posting through LinkedIn), and currently works in the automation group as a Senior Research Scientist. She works with the group on liquid handlers, automated systems and assays. Her duties focus on optimizing and implementing automated systems to support drug discovery, assay development and supervision of other scientists.  Melissa is also a liaison between the automation group and the scientists developing products in other groups including the antibody engineering groups. While Melissa was familiar with automation from her post-doc, she learned considerably more on the job.

Thoughts on working at a small vs. large company:

At the smaller company, Melissa worked long days and “wore many hats”.

Employees at large companies tend to be more focused and rely heavily on collaborations to accomplish project goals.  In any industry setting, small or large, capitalize on harnessing your skills and knowledge broadly across multiple projects and applications.

At larger companies there is more resource availability. This means you may have opportunities to work on side projects and pitch ideas to management.  As you progress, there may be a shift away from the lab toward strategic thinking and taking on supervisory responsibilities.

Questions/Answers about hiring:

Is it important to have a post-doc if you already have a PhD?

This depends on the company and your research experience. Companies will typically ask for more requirements/skills in a posting than one person may have, but don’t let this deter you from applying.

  • Be sure to have a summary section at the top of your resume/CV that highlights the skills for the job you are applying for
  • In larger companies, resumes may go to recruiters first to be sorted through before sending them onto hiring managers – they will check your publication record as well
  • Knowing someone at the company who can refer you can also help with the hiring process
  • Skills and personality matter – employers want to know that they are hiring someone capable who they can trust
  • Teamwork is very important in large organizations, so emphasize examples that illustrate  your ability to work well with people in different areas
  • If you apply to a position that requires a PhD, you will be asked to come in for a formal interview and give a job talk (presentation) on your research area – this talk can include old research as long as it is relevant to the job

News Ticker

by Alyson Smith

  • The Switzerland-based Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation has donated $10.5 million to UCSD to endow a faculty chair and to provide seed grants for research in studying the composition of human breast milk. This donation, along with the 2014 creation of the Mommy’s Milk Human Milk Research Biorepository, will help to further establish UCSD as a leading center for research in the various compounds found in human breast milk, and their relationship to maternal and infant health.
  • The laboratory of Kim Janda at TSRI has developed vaccines designed to protect against overdose of the addictive opioids hydrocodone and oxycodone. The vaccines consist of a modified drug molecule conjugated to tetanus toxoid protein to elicit the production of antibodies against the drug molecule. In vaccinated mice given lethal doses of either drug, a smaller fraction die from overdose compared to unvaccinated mice. Janda and colleagues are forming a company to commercialize the vaccines and begin human clinical trials.
  • Researchers at UCSD Moores Cancer Center are part of a collaborative clinical trial named DART, which aims to test the efficacy of immunotherapy in treating 50 rare cancers. The trial will use Opdivo and Yervoy, drugs developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb, which have already proved effective against melanoma and lung cancer. By grouping together 300 patients with rare cancers, the trial aims to test the efficacy of these drugs against diseases that normally don’t make it into large-scale trials of common diseases.
  • At the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, Illumina announced the NovaSeq line of sequencers, which are capable of sequencing an entire human genome in about one hour. As opposed to the HiSeq line, institutes can purchase NovaSeq sequencers individually, making them available to a wider base of customers. Illumina aims to bring the cost of sequencing a genome on NovaSeq down from $1000 to $100 over the next few years.
  • Vera Rubin, a pioneering female astronomer, died in December at the age of 88. Rubin’s work focused on the rotation of galaxies, and she was one of the first to find compelling evidence for the existence of dark matter. Throughout her career, she advocated for greater access for women in the male-dominated field of astronomy, and she became the first woman to use the main telescopes at Palomar Observatory in San Diego. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and received the National Medal of Science and the Royal Astronomical Society’s gold medal.
  • Researchers from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography have captured the first video footage of the ruby seadragon off the coast of Western Australia. The researchers discovered this species in a collection of museum specimens in 2015, but it had not yet been seen in the wild. The video revealed that the ruby seadragon does not have leafy spines like other related species, and that its long tail may be used to grasp objects.
  • A team of researchers at UC Berkeley has developed a method of making totipotent mouse stem cells, capable of differentiating into any embryonic cell, as well as the extra-embryonic cells of the placenta and yolk sac. The researchers injected embryonic stem cells from mice with the microRNA miR-34a into normal embryonic blastocysts, where they were able to differentiate into embryonic and extra-embryonic cells (normal embryonic stem cells will only differentiate into embryonic cells). This model can be used to understand the molecular basis of totipotency.
  • A 2015 trial of 11,841 people in Guinea suggests that a recently developed Ebola vaccine, rVSV-ZEBOV, may be 100% effective in preventing Ebola infection. None of those vaccinated contracted Ebola, while 23 individuals that were not vaccinated did. The technology used to develop this vaccine could be adapted for vaccines against other hemorrhagic fevers such as Lassa fever.
  • San Diego-based Acadia Pharmaceuticals announced the results of a trial suggesting that a drug it developed to treat psychosis in Parkinson’s patients may also be effective in reducing psychosis in Alzheimer’s patients. Patients who took the drug for six weeks reported greater improvements on a clinical scale measuring hallucinations and delusions compared to a placebo group. However, the benefits of the drug beyond six weeks remain unclear. 


  • Jayd Blankenship, psychology graduate student from California State University San Marcos, was accepted into the Psychology doctoral program at Brown University and she will start her PhD studies in Fall 2017. She also submitted her master’s thesis as a paper for publication.

"I want to thank you so much for this scholarship. It has raised my self-esteem and was definitely a step towards helping me achieve my dream."


  • Speed Mentoring Event on March 2, 2017 at 5.30 pm at National University in Torrey Pines.


See more AWIS-SD events here.



  • UCSD Postdoctoral Association STEM Career Symposium on March 25, 2017 from 8 am until 5.30 pm at Bella Vista Café. 


About the Authors

 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.


Anne Kornahrens moved to San Diego to complete graduate studies at The Scripps Research Institute. She is a part of a joint program with the University of Oxford. Her field of study is organic chemistry, and her current work is focused on developing electrophiles to be used as new probes to investigate previously underexplored families of hydrolases. Since moving to town in 2014, she has been involved with the Network for Women in Science (NWiS) at TSRI as well as AWIS, and she is excited to contribute to the outreach initiatives through her co-chair role.  After completing her PhD she hopes to pursue a career in science policy.


 Jennifer Kuo headshot

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


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








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



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















November / December 2015 Newsletter Volume 23 Issue 6

This issue of the Newsletter is available as a PDF:

For archived versions of previous newsletters, go here.


Letter from the President

Dear AWIS-SD Members & Friends,

What a terrific Open House! With almost 200 women and men in attendance, I appreciated the opportunity to network with current and prospective members. Open House 2015 was an excellent occasion to introduce AWIS-SD to the greater community, highlight our committees and activities, acknowledge our long-term members, and recognize the committed volunteers who contribute to our chapter’s success. I was pleased that the silent auction raised over $1100 — more than enough to cover one AWIS-SD scholarship in 2016. Kudos to DeeAnn Visk, Danielle John, and the Open House Committee for organizing a highly successful event. Many thanks to Qualcomm for generously hosting us in their spacious facility.

During Open House, we recognized the recipients of the 2015 AWIS-SD/UCSD Extension Continuing Education scholarships, Joanna Redfern and Rachelle Trial. These $1000 scholarships are intended to help members who have taken a career break to take courses at UCSD Extension. I want to acknowledge the Back to Work Initiative led by Maha Gebara-Lamb, April Cresse, and Ellen Dunn, along with Shannon McDonald of UCSD Extension, for continuing this mutually beneficial partnership for the second year.

My favorite part of Open House 2015 was presenting the annual Volunteer Awards to deserving members. This year’s recipients exemplify how active volunteers can positively impact AWIS-SD. I want to highlight these extraordinary women and thank them for their contributions to our chapter.

The two Rookies of the Year joined AWIS-SD within the past 12 months and have become enthusiastic and committed volunteers of our organization. As new members, Danielle John and Lin-Chien Huang became active immediately, and they also stepped up to co-chair the Open House and Strategy Session Committees, respectively.

Liz Clark is the recipient of the Achievement in Innovation Award. As co-chair of the Website Committee, she was instrumental in rebuilding www.awissd.org in 2014, and she continues to make enhancements to the website to meet the chapter’s needs. In addition, she was a member of the Women in Science and Technology (WIST) 2015 Publications Committee.


Barbara Armstrong and Liz Clark     photo credit: Sophie Muscat-King

The recipients of Achievement in Outreach or Community Service Award are Robyn Wygal and Anne Kornahrens, co-chairs of the Outreach Committee. Thanks to their ongoing efforts, AWIS-SD participates in community science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) events throughout the year. This committee also organizes AWIS-SD-specific activities, such as the semi-annual career panel and the awards banquet for girls with outstanding posters at the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair.

The Board recognizes three highly effective committee co-chairs as recipients of the Leadership Service Award. They are: Leslie Crews (Strategy Sessions), Kathy Oglivie (Corporate Sponsorship) and Nurith Amitai (Newsletter). Their leadership strengths have enabled our chapter to continue providing high quality programming throughout the year.


Danielle John discussed public relations with an attendee.       Photo credit: Sophie Muscat-King

The Board Special Award is given to the chapter member(s) whom the AWIS-SD Board recognizes as exemplifying the AWIS-SD mission through excellence in leadership, community service, innovation, and promoting AWIS-SD. Laura Cerviño and Erna van Niekerk co-chaired the Scholarship Committee in 2013-2015, and they helped to select 21 exceptional women to receive AWIS-SD scholarships during those three years.

The Board selected two recipients of the Outstanding Volunteer Award. Kerstin Kirchsteiger is the co-chair of the Corporate Sponsorship Committee. Thanks to the diligent efforts of this committee, our chapter reached our fundraising goals in 2015. Robina Shaheen was a co-chair of WIST 2015, as well as a volunteer on other AWIS-SD committees.


Dominique Lenoir, Dorothy Sears, and Robina Shaheen          photo credit: Sophia Tsai

Last but not least, the President’s Award goes to Linda Manza for demonstrating continued service and enthusiasm and for making immeasurable contributions to the San Diego chapter. Linda has been actively involved with our chapter for many years, with past and present service on the Strategy Sessions Committee, Secretary on the AWIS-SD Executive Board, AWIS-SD Leadership Network, WIST 2015 Committee co-chair, and Newsletter Committee co-chair. She also has a role for AWIS National as Chapters Committee representative for the AWIS-chapters in the western states.

Finally, I want to let you know that my term as AWIS-SD President will end on December 31, and this is my last President’s Letter. These past two years as Chapter President have been professionally and personally rewarding for me. I am humbled by all the amazing people that I have met and grateful for the exposure I have received as the President of this wonderful organization. Thank you all for your support of AWIS-SD and our mission. I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season.

Most sincerely,


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


Water Challenges in San Diego

by Anne Kornahrens


This past August, members of AWIS-SD had the happy opportunity attend an event at the North City Water Reclamation Plant in La Jolla. This interesting event included an explanation of the Pure Water San Diego campaign and a tour of the Advanced Water Purification System. The tour culminated with an opportunity to drink the potable, recycled former sewage water. This might seem like a surprising choice for a treat, but the combination of technology and policy that led to that moment was enough to make all participants anxious to taste the water.

The collaborative effort of the AWIS-SD Events Committee and the San Diego Chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE-SD) brought together about 25 participants from both organizations. Meena Westford, Special Projects Manager at the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California, kicked off the presentations.

The MWD is a water wholesaler that was originally created in the 1920s to manage the Colorado River aqueducts. Southern California water is now supplied from a variety of sources: 20-30% from Northern California (originating as snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada Mountains), 25% from the Colorado River aqueduct, and the remainder from local supplies. This last portion can include water from recycling plants, desalination, and groundwater cleanup.


Group shot of attendees on the North City Water Reclamation Plant   photo credit: Anne Kornahrens

This status quo has been disrupted by the drought. Though San Diego has successfully cut water usage in 2015, achieving a 26% decrease, there are still risks in continuing with the current sourcing procedures. Some uncertainties include how long the drought will last, capital financing, impact on endangered species, energy costs, and water quality.

Cathy Peroni, Program Manager at San Diego Public Utilities, spoke further about the need for new local water sources for San Diego. Currently the city obtains less than 15% of its water demand from local sources. A natural disaster could salinate reservoirs and destroy pipes that are key to transporting water from Northern California. This threat lends additional incentive to developing local sources of potable water and methods of water storage. Peroni also expanded upon the regulation challenges faced, including determining the best source of new water, seeking City and constituent approval, and implementing the plan. The city of San Diego has been working over the last decade to surmount these hurdles, and the Pure Water San Diego project is the exciting result.


Tasting cup of pure water.        Photo credit:   Anne Kornahrens

The first two phases of the City’s efforts involved increasing local water reuse and recycling. The North City Water Reclamation Plant now manages 30 million gallons of recycled water per day. This has historically generated non-potable water, used for irrigation for clients such as the Torrey Pines Golf Course. In 2009, the Advanced Water Purification Facility was opened at the La Jolla site to allow the validation of further technology which would generate drinking water.

Results from this trial were positive, which contributed to the passing of the Pure Water San Diego program by a unanimous vote by the San Diego City Council in November 2014. The 20-year program will include three phases to allow the use of reclaimed, potable water throughout the city. This could ultimately provide 83 million gallons per day, or one third of the city’s future potable water needs.

Future hurdles include determining safety standards, energy use evaluations, and cost comparison. A similar sewage-to-potable water system has been successful in Los Angeles for the past eight years. So, if you have been to Disneyland recently, you have likely already tasted this new water source.

For a more detailed look at how the process works, AWIS-SD and SWE-SD were then led on an in-depth tour of the facilities by Aleks Pisarenko, a technical consultant at the plant and a senior engineer with Trussell Technologies, an environmental engineering firm focused on process and water quality. Pisarenko’s consulting work for the city has involved running the model purification system at North City Plant as well as performing over 28,000 tests screening for 140 compounds in the purified water.


The advanced treatment plant has three components: membrane filtration, reverse osmosis, and UV disinfection and advanced oxidation. As we walked through the plant, each stage was clearly laid out and explained to us. We had the opportunity to look at the membranes for the first step, with fiber widths that are 1/300 the size of a hair. The next step – reverse osmosis – uses energy to force water molecules through tiny pores to remove even smaller particles. Lastly, the water is disinfected using UV light and hydrogen peroxide. The resulting water has such low levels of minerals and ions that treatment would be required before pumping the water to the next stage. Surprisingly, the water would otherwise be too pure and could damage the metal pipes!

The demonstration plant currently produces one million gallons of this highly pure water every day. The last step of our tour was to gather around a sink. Small paper cups were dispersed and filled with the purified, recycled water. The group collectively seemed quite happy to drink the refreshing, reclaimed water. And they were certainly delighted see the innovative people and technology working to provide San Diego with a new local water source.

To find out more or to go on a public tour of the plant, visit  http://www.sandiego.gov/water/purewater/


AWIS-SD Strategy Session:Advance Your Goals Through Negotiation

by Ksenya Cohen Katsenelson

October’s AWIS-SD Strategy Session was focused on the topic of negotiation. AWIS-SD members gathered to discuss negotiation at the workplace and to practice strategies to become successful negotiators.

Cherie Ng, Scientist at the San Diego biotherapeutics company aTyr Pharma, started off the discussion by explaining how important negotiation is in life. Only 7% of women negotiate for their salary, compared to 57% of men! This is actually a huge disadvantage for women. In face it demonstrates why men earn $4000 more than women per year. This might seem like a small amount; however, if a woman would negotiate for her salary, she has the potential to make almost $1 million more at retirement compared to a woman who does not negotiate at all.


Cheryl Ng presenting at Hera Hub                                                 photo credit: DeeAnn Visk

Actually, we can negotiate everywhere and for everything, not just for salaries. We can negotiate with our cable company, with our landlord, with our kids, etc. Referencing books such as Lean In by Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, Ng pointed out that women are actually very good negotiators, even more so than men, when it comes to negotiating for others. Therefore, it would be useful for women to see ourselves as a product, or a client, and therefore promote ourselves and negotiate for ourselves.

Jennifer Kuo, Graduate Researcher at the University of California San Diego, presented some important steps for ensuring effective negotiation. These steps included: (1) Assess the specific situation – will the benefits of engaging in this negotiation outweigh the costs? (2) Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and assess the situation from their point of view. (3) Always prepare before the actual negotiation by being clear about your own interests, learning the interests of your counterpart, identifying possible questions, and generating ideas and options ahead of time. (4) During the negotiation, always ask your counterpart about their needs, and then offer unique information about yourself that shows how you fit those needs. (5) Finally, always “package” the negotiation: suggest solutions and make proposals to solve the issues. Use statements such as “if/then” to show how you will satisfy the needs of your counterpart with your unique skills.

The most useful part of the Strategy Session for me was the chance to actually practice our negotiation skills with other participants. Every two members received a case in which both of them had to negotiate over one issue that affected both of them. One example was a negotiation between a department chair at a state university and a new faculty hire. Through this kind of negotiation, we learned that both sides have their own, potentially different interests, but by working together, talking, and negotiating correctly, we can accomplish a mutual agreement that makes both sides happy.

It was a fun and exciting night, and I left the Strategy Session with new ideas for better negotiating for my own interests. I also felt a higher level of self-confidence. I highly recommend participating in AWIS-SD Strategy Sessions, where you can learn skills that will help you not only in your work, but also in the rest of your life.


Tale of Two Planets: Red Planet – Blue Planet

by Robina Shaheen

The recent news regarding the discovery of brine on Mars, suggesting liquid water may have existed, or may even still exist, on the Red Planet, have intensified speculations about the possibility of life on Mars. Though water is an essential ingredient for life, the mere presence of liquid water does not mean biological activity. The vignette below, featuring a dialogue between a young boy who loves science fiction and his aunt, a scientist working on actual Mars chemistry, is meant to explain the prerequisites for life as we know on the planet Earth.

There is no end to what humans can achieve with their bold imagination—the sky is not the limit, but rather it is the first stop in space travel. We landed the first man on the Moon in 1969 with primitive electronics that can now fit into the palm of your hand as a modern cell phone.

Bina smiled while enjoying her nephew Ali’s excitement, who was still deeply engrossed in the giant poster of Matt Damon advertising the movie The Martian, perhaps imagining himself in his space suit. She recalled her own fascination with space travel as a little girl. She had watched the Apollo 11 mission hundreds of time, almost to the point that she could hear Neil Armstrong whispering in her ear every morning while getting ready for school: “One step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” She had wanted to be an astronaut one day, and now could tell what little Ali was dreaming about.

“The next destination on our space journey is surely going to be Mars, perhaps soon,” she murmured quietly to herself. Mars is the fourth planet in our solar system and half the size of the Earth. Can we establish a self-sustaining human colony on the Red Planet (its reddish appearance is due to abundant iron oxide on its surface), as shown in the movie? After all, it is our sister planet, formed from the same primitive material as Earth, and it happens to also be located in the so-called habitable zone, the distance from the Sun where water can exist in the liquid state.

The movie, The Martian, is no doubt a thriller—exciting everyone’s imaginations, especially those of teenagers and kids. Bina and her nephew Ali artfully weaved through the tightly packed crowd in the theater lounge full of people ready for the next show. The movie had sparked Ali’s imagination and he was carefully crafting his long list of queries, recalling news from the NASA’s website and comparing them with the movie on his way back home.

Ali: Aunt, I did not see liquid water on Mars in the movie The Martian; however, NASA claim to have found water on Mars. I do not understand this discrepancy.

Bina: Yes, you are absolutely right, present-day Mars does not contain liquid water, flowing in streams and oceans, like we have on our beautiful Blue Planet. It can’t exist as liquid water. Remember the phase diagram from college chemistry? At pressure as low as 7 millibars, water is mostly in the vapor phase.

Ali: Yes, I do remember nice images of the polar ice caps on Mars captured by the Hubble telescope. The Curiosity Rover, during its first marathon on Mars (10 km, April 16, 2015), also confirmed the presence of ice on Mars.

Bina: Thanks to the low temperature on Mars (-55°C, -67°F), water remains frozen that would otherwise be lost to space as vapor. During a summer day, surface temperatures on Mars at the equators can be pleasant (+20°C, +68°F). But still, it is not like living in beautiful San Diego, because Mars has frequent, intense dust storms. As the sun sets, temperatures drop again. The night is really chilly (-73°C, -100°F), causing everything to freeze—even CO2 from the atmosphere freezes along with the water.


Caption: Inhabiting the Red Planet. The shortest distance between Earth (at aphelion, the point furthest from the Sun) and Mars (at perihelion, the point closest to the Sun) is 54.6 million km, and when they are the farthest apart, the distance reaches 401 million km. The size of Earth, Moon, and Mars are approximate to fit in the image.

Ali: What about the 95% CO2 in Mars’ atmosphere, which acts as a blanket? On Earth, we have only 400 ppm of CO2, and yet it keeps the surface of our planet warm.

Bina: Remember, the air on Mars is very thin (about 7 millibars of pressure). If we took one cubic meter of air from Mars and brought it to Earth, it would be compressed to ~ 3 cm3. On earth, we have the greenhouse effect from both the clouds and CO2 gas.

Ali: Does that mean we cannot breathe on Mars? Aha, I remember from my story book, Climbing Everest, that the pressure on Mt. Everest is very low (approximately 360 millibars), and mountain climbers experience great difficulty in breathing.

Bina: Absolutely! The Mars Science Laboratory on the Curiosity Rover and NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Emission) mission have measured very low amounts of oxygen on Mars: only 0.002%, unlike the 21% on Earth. It would be impossible to breathe without a tank of O2 gas on Mars.

Ali: I know plants produce oxygen from water during photosynthesis, but how long would it take to produce enough oxygen for breathing?

Bina: Hmmm, great question. It takes millions of years to change the composition of an atmosphere’s worth of air to add enough oxygen to breathe. But your plants growing on the surface of Mars would not be able to cope with the strong ultraviolet, cosmic, and galactic radiation (millions to billions of electron volts). On Earth, the stratospheric ozone layer protects us from the harmful UV radiation, and Earth’s magnetic field deflects cosmic and galactic radiation. Earth’s magnetic field is relatively weak at the poles, so sometimes these strong cosmic radiations can enter into our atmosphere near the poles. They can react with the oxygen and nitrogen molecules in our air to produce a beautiful green and red aurora, sometimes called Northern Lights.

Ali: Yes, I love these blue-green lights expanding like a curtain across the sky. Aunt, I have already signed up for the first human trip to Mars in 2030. I cannot wait to see the largest mountain in our solar system, Olympus Mons, and to view Mars’ two moons, Phobos and Deimos, in the night sky.

Bina: Bear in mind, it is going to be one way trip, unlike the movie The Martian. Neither NASA nor any private firm has developed any technology to bring humans back from Mars.  

Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Nurith Amitai and Peter Newbury for discussions on this topic.

Transitioning to Industry: Skills Honed by Working on the Newsletter Committee

by DeeAnn Visk and Nurith Amitai-Crawford

What are the skills beyond writing and editing that are gained by working on the Newsletter Committee? Getting a newsletter published sounds trivial until you actually try to do it.

For starters, if you are a co-chair on the committee, you learn how to work remotely with your fellow co-chairs and the rest of the committee via email. This can be a useful ability in our modern economy, where more and more professional interactions are handled remotely via computers.

Numerous individual tasks need to be completed in order to produce and publish a newsletter, such as: calls for member news, following up with people who have promised to write an article, and compiling the newsletter itself. Keeping careful track of these tasks is a form of project management experience, which is increasingly in demand with many employers these days. Additionally, you will be developing leadership and organizational skills.

Why do we always send out member-wide calls for information via Constant Contact? Why not use a normal email account? Using an email marketing company is important for a number of reasons. Using your individual email address to send emails to a large mailing list can easily get you labeled as a “spammer”—resulting in routine messages to people with whom you want to communicate being shuffled into their spam folders. Also, the law requires that those on email lists must be able to unsubscribe, a feature automatically added on Constant Contact emails. Email marketing companies like Constant Contact also offer additional features, such as statistics on how many recipients actually opened the message. Experience in working within these email marketing systems is another skillset that gets added to your resume as a Newsletter Committee co-chair.

You also learn to think carefully about who your audience is. This is important both in writing the articles to engage your audience, but also in developing the content of the newsletter. Is the article something that will interest your readers? Will the article assist them in furthering their careers? Does the article address women-specific needs in science?

Practicing diplomacy is another skill developed while working on the Newsletter Committee. How do you gently tell someone that the article she is pitching is not a good fit the newsletter? Getting the right tone in emails is tricky, so you learn when to pick up the phone and call.

Developing your vision for the newsletter may lead to the creation of new sections of the newsletter. For example, Visk proposed and instituted the “About the Authors” section to allow our contributors to tell the readers a little about themselves. Such upgrades allow you to demonstrate your imagination, your proactive approach, and your willingness to think and act “above and beyond” your immediately defined duties. All committee members, not just co-chairs, are encouraged to suggest ways to improve and expand the newsletter.

Another aspect not limited to co-chairs is, of course, the writing and editing experience itself. While any AWIS-SD member is invited to submit articles for the newsletter, Newsletter Committee members are expected to submit at least one article per year. The subsequent editing process then provides the authors with useful feedback about their writing, helping them to hone their craft. Even if you are not a master writer, using the editing service provided by the AWIS-SD newsletter will improve your writing ability, no matter if you are a native speaker or if you speak English as a second language. As editors, the committee members are regularly asked to thoughtfully evaluate others’ writing and to provide input both on the grammatical and stylistic level.

Simply writing about a recent AWIS-SD event has benefits. DeeAnn Visk started writing about events that she had attended. She found it promising to compose an article that compelled her to focus on the material presented at a Strategy Session. Writing an article about the event then reinforced her understanding of the content.

As a co-chair, or co-editor, the curation of other events of interest is up to you. What are other events taking place locally that may be of interest to our members? To assemble an informative events section, you need to stay informed about what is going on in your local scientific and professional communities. Identifying and monitoring the various traditional and social media outlets with the best information about suitable events can be another valuable bit of expertise.

Compiling the newsletter takes a surprising amount of time. All the edits suggested by various committee members must be harmonized and incorporated, and a final version of each article with tracked changes sent to authors for their vetting. The Constant Contact version must be assembled. The content of the newsletter must be posted on the AWIS-SD website, so that Constant Contact can link to the rest of the articles there. (This latter task provides the co-chairs with a taste of using HTML and website editing.)

A PDF version of the newsletter must also be assembled in Word and then saved for the archives. The Newsletter Committee co-chairs have learned quite a number of useful document editing skills that way, such as setting up a self-updating table of contents, preserving features from a Word file when converting into PDF, adding hyperlinks to images, managing document headers across section breaks, and much more.

Therefore, joining the Newsletter Committee will improve your writing and editing skills, your marketing skills, your teamwork skills, and your project management and organizational skills. Let us know if you are ready to join the team: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

This article is the first of a series about how each individual committee in the Association for Women in Science enables its members to develop skills necessary for the transition to industry.

 Member News 

DeeAnn Visk, Ph.D., has a second article published in the biotechnology publication Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN). The piece discusses new directions for bioinformatics that go beyond genome crunching.

Alyson Smith welcomed a new arrival into her family with the birth of her daughter.


The latest addition to Alyson’s family. Photo courtesy of Alyson Smith.

Science News Ticker

  • UCSD held a hackathon to inspire innovation on October 2, 3, and 4. Students gathered and worked to solve problems using collaborative computer programming. Potential employers were also in attendance, recruiting for internships with plenty of free giveaways.
  • According to the journal Nature, the University of California San Diego (UCSD) ranks first nationally and fourth in the world in Earth and environmental research. Nature based the rankings on the UCSD faculty’s contribution to publications in major scientific journals. “This ranking validates our recent strategic planning efforts that identify ‘Understanding and Protecting the Planet’ as one of four key research themes for UC San Diego,” said UCSD Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla.
  • The La Jolla-Riford Branch Library has opened the Life Science Collaboratory, a public biology/biotech laboratory. The Collaboratory offers equipment including microscopes and PCR machines, and forms part of the library’s Innovation Space that also includes 3D printers and a 50-person capacity classroom. Access to the laboratory’s resources will be supervised by volunteer scientists, who also offer educational workshops, demos, and talks about the life sciences at the site. While other public biotech laboratories exist in the region, such as the Wet Lab in San Diego’s East Village area, the Life Science Collaboratory appears to be the first to open in a public library.
  • The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in La Jolla has appointed Peter G. Schultz, an institute chemist and entrepreneur, to be its Chief Executive, and biologist Steve A. Kay to be its President. Traditionally, one person held these two positions at the institute. However, TSRI’s Board of Trustees decided that two leaders were needed to guide the organization, which has struggled with challenges to its financial stability, including a $21 million annual deficit. The former President and Chief Executive of TSRI, Michael Marletta, was pressured to step down last year after TSRI’s faculty rebelled against his controversial plan to have the University of Southern California (USC) acquire TSRI. Schultz is the founder and former Institute Director of the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF) and the Founding Director of the California Institute for Biomedical Research (CALIBR), a not-for-profit institute focused on early stage translational research. Kay has previously served as Dean of Biological Sciences at UCSD and as Dean of the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at USC. Both have also founded several biotech companies in the past.
  • On October 23, 2015, the Carlsbad community biotech center Bio, Tech and Beyond held a public showcase featuring nine out of the 25 companies that had been helped into existence by the local incubator. Representatives from the nine companies each had just a few minutes to describe their organization and its products and technologies. Bio, Tech and Beyond offers low-cost lab space and shared equipment to startups and individual inventors looking to launch new biotech companies, and also holds educational events to spread knowledge about biotech. In return, the center leases space at just a nominal cost from the city of Carlsbad, who hopes in turn to benefit from new jobs created by the project. Collaborating with such incubators also offers the promise of access to new partners and technologies to large firms such as the biotechnology product giant Thermo Fisher Scientific, which hosted the public showcase on its grounds.
  • UCSD and the City of San Diego will work collaboratively on problems facing urban areas, specifically traffic flow, urban agriculture, and smart infrastructure. This collaboration is under the umbrella of the MetroLab Network, part of the broader White House Smart Cities Initiative to address urban issues nationwide. A number of other cities and universities are working together on similar projects.

Local Events of Interest

The Genomics of Brewing

Monday, November 30th


Green Flash Brewery Tasting Room,

6550 Mira Mesa Boulevard San Diego, 92121

White Labs is now working with Synthetic Genomics and other partners to sequence and characterize the whole genome sequences of 150 Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains used for commercial beer and wine. The primary goal of these studies is to understand the genetics of each strain in order to improve brewing processes and ultimately make better beer. Additionally, the research will serve as a resource for beer brewers, as the data will be shared in a format suitable for wide use. Whether you’re a beer brewer or a genomics researcher, this event will be both interesting and useful for you.

Cost: $25/20 (Academic), $50 (Recruiters)

Dinner provided; beer and soda available for purchase. Register at http://sdbn.org/register/


French Bio Beach Monthly Breakfast Networking Event

Tuesday, December 1

8:00 - 9:00 am

4901 Morena Boulevard; Suite 501

San Diego, CA 92117

Begin your day, the first Tuesday of every month, with the French BioBeach community to meet new members, network, and enjoy great Starbuck coffee and croissants. The event is free, but registration is encouraged.


About the Authors


Nurith Amitai-Crawford, Ph.D., has a background in behavioral neuroscience and a strong interest in scientific writing. She currently works as a project manager/scientific writer for the contract research organization, Absorption Systems. Nurith has been serving as a co-chair for AWIS-SD’s Newsletter Committee since 2011. In her spare time, she enjoys swing dancing, card and board games, movies, and archery.


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

Anne Kornahrens is a fifth year Ph.D. student in a joint program between The Scripps Research Institute and the University of Oxford. She studies various organic reactions and is working to develop new probes to explore a family of serine hydrolases. In addition to her adventures of co-chairing the AWIS Outreach Committee, she spends time hiking, rock climbing, and scuba diving.


Dr. Robina Shaheen is a project scientist at the Univ. of California San Diego. She enjoys exploring the evolution of planetary atmospheres and conditions that are conducive to the origin of life. It is like being a member of CSI team where one uses isotopic fingerprinting techniques to establish the origin of tiny space rocks and to find out the condition under which they were formed and traces of any extinct or extant life.


DeeAnn Visk, Ph.D., is a freelance medical writer and editor. She writes a variety of materials including peer-reviewed scientific papers, news articles, abstracts, power point presentations, brochures, white papers, technical notes, web content, case studies, member profiles, and posters.   The San Diego, California area is home with her husband, two kids, and one very spoiled hen. You may contact her at deeann-dot-v-at-cox-dot-net.

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