Fall 2019 Newsletter Volume 27 Issue 4

This issue of the Newsletter is available in PDF.

For previous newsletters, click here.



CourtneyB crop

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

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

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

Warmest wishes,


Courtney Benson

President, AWIS-SD

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WIST Conference - A Newcomer’s Perspective

by Jennifer Overklift

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

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

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

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

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


WIST Conference - Environmental Science and Ecology Roundtable 

by Jennifer Overklift

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

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

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

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

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

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


WIST Conference - Unconscious bias workshop

by Corine Lau

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

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

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

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

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

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


About our speakers

Katherine Nguyen Williams, PhD

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

Laurie A. Lindamer, PhD

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

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

by Nora Shafee

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

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

A2I coffeechat

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

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

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

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

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

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


Book Review - The Autobiography of a Transgender Scientist

by Emily Bentley


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


AWIS-SD Visit to Celgene Corporation

by Nora Shafee, Qiong Song and Takako Noguchi

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celgenetour Nov2019

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


Strategy Sessions- How to Interview Successfully

by Corine Lau

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

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

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

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


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

by Michelle Muldong

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

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


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


About the Authors


 Jennifer overklift headshot

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


Corine Lau Headshot 2016

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


 EmilyBentley headshot

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


 Nora Shafee headshot

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


 Michelle Muldong headshot

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


Contribute to the Newsletter

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


 AWIS-SD Newsletter Committee

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

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

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Spring 2020 Newsletter Volume 28 Issue 1

This issue of the Newsletter is available in PDF.

For previous newsletters, click here.




Dear AWIS-SD Members, Partners, Sponsors, and Allies,

I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year in 2020! Since this is a new decade, I hope everyone gets a productive start on accomplishing their goals, both personally and professionally.

As a long-time member of AWIS-SD, I look forward to working with each and every one of you to make our organization the best it can be! If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. AWIS-SD is one of the largest chapters in the AWIS family. Through the hard work of our volunteer members, we provide an exceptional array of committees and events to foster career development, networking and community engagement focused on improving access and inclusion for women in STEM (#stemwomenunite).

We have re-tooled some of our career development/networking groups which include groups focused on Outdoor activities (STEM Active Connect), Academia to Industry (A2I), Back to Work, Career Advancement (Early to Mid Career), and the Leadership Network (Senior Career). If you are interested in learning more about or joining one of these groups, please check them out at awissd.org. In addition, we are looking for new committee members to join our committees including Events, Public Relations, Corporate Sponsorship and more. If you are interested in learning more about our committees and what we do at AWIS-SD, please visit awissd.org.

I would like to personally thank all of the AWIS-SD members who have graciously volunteered many hours of their time to make this organization what it is today. I would also like to thank the sponsors of AWIS-SD who have made it possible for us to offer so much to our members and our community.

Warmest wishes,


Varykina Thackray, Ph.D.

President, AWIS-SD

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AWIS Welcome to 2020 Event

by Raymond Seradarian

On Wednesday, February 5, 2020, the local AWIS chapter held a Welcome to 2020 New Year’s event in Sorrento Mesa in a private party room at Gravity Heights Brewery restaurant.  The room had its own bar and attentive waitstaff. In addition, there was plenty of space to mix and mingle, and to stand or sit while enjoying the food, which was delicious and plentiful.  Many of the 38 attendees that night were longtime chapter members, but there were also a few new faces as well. These new attendees said that this was the first AWIS SD event they’d attended in years.

The event also included the presentation of the chapter’s Outstanding Volunteer awards as listed below:

Achievement in Innovation: Angela Macia
Rookie of the Year: Betty Cabrera, Norazizah Shafee
Achievement in Outreach or Community Service: Alina Luk, Chistina Grobin
Outstanding Volunteer: Alex Clark
Leadership Service: Courtney Benson
Board Special Award: Robyn Wygal
President's Award: Corine Lau, Lori Yang

Long Service Awards:
25 years: Grace Nakayama
20 years: Victoria Cagle
15 years: Laura Pereira
10 years: Wendy Ochoa, Parisa Abedinpour
5 years: Takako Noguchi, Cristina Giachetti, Adriana Bankston, Karrie Kwok

The recipients’ names are also listed on the AWIS SD home page.

This celebration was organized by the AWIS-SD Events Committee. We are looking for new members. If you are interested, please email for more information: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 NY celebration


AWIS SD Retreat 25 January 2020

by Jean Spence

The 2020 Annual AWIS-SD retreat was held on January 25, 2020 with 24 attendees from the Board and Committee leadership. Courtney Benson, our former president, presided as Kina Thackray, our current president, was unable to attend. Highlights from the past year include the awarding of five $1000 scholarships to female students in community college, undergraduate, or graduate schools in San Diego County; two $1000 scholarships to AWIS-SD members to cover costs of classes at UCSD Extension; and 14 science fair awards for female middle school and high school students from the Scholarship and Outreach Committees. The Scholarship Committee also successfully organized an Awards Celebration for the awardees and the Outreach Committee organized and participated in multiple community STEM events with a focus on encouraging young women in science, including EXPO Day at Petco Park, the Expand Your Horizons conference for middle school girls at USD, and the ACS Chem Expo held at Miramar Community College.

Committees tasked with the functions related to the management of the chapter such as Public Relations, Website, and Newsletter are running smoothly with outstanding leadership. The Corporate Sponsorship Committee had a banner year last year, raising over $25K for 2018-2019, and they are well on their way to raising a similar amount for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Current sponsors include: Thermo Fisher, Celgene, Vertex, Quidel, Takeda, BioLegend, TriLink Biotechnologies, Pfizer La Jolla, Blue Nalu, and GASEF. UCSD Extension donated two $1000 scholarships. The Events Committee has been retooled under new leadership and will focus on organizing the Annual New Year Party, Spring and Fall Happy Hours/Networking Events, and a Speed Mentoring Event.

The Academia to Industry group held 6 meetings in 2019 for members, each featuring a speaker from the biotech community, and conducted 3 biotech company tours (Vertex, Celgene and Thermo Fisher). The Back to Work group will restart later on this year. The Career Advancement Committee, a new committee for early to mid-career professionals, was formed to replace the previous Strategy Sessions Committee. They will organize events pertinent to this career stage. The Leadership Network group for members in leadership positions such as Senior Scientist, Associate Professor, and above held monthly meetings that included social events and career advancement events, such as Industry and San Diego Trends Workshop and Strengths Based Leadership.

Another highlight was the organization of the Women in Science and Technology conference in 2019 by chapter member volunteers on the WIST Committee, led by Robyn Wygal. This event was held at the Thermo Fisher campus in Carlsbad and facilitated through the generous sponsorship of Thermo Fisher and other local companies. The event was a great success with over 150 attendees, many who joined AWIS-SD for the first time. The Public Relations Committee is working on enhancing chapter member interactions with the greater San Diego STEM network by hosting STEM Active Connect and the LinkedIn STEM network.

One issue raised at the meeting is declining chapter membership, which is probably linked to difficulties in renewing membership on the AWIS National website and linking chapter membership with National membership. Discussions are ongoing with AWIS National to remedy this situation. All committees also reported the need for more members. Therefore, the Board and the Public Relations Committee are working hard to highlight the benefits of joining one of the chapter’s committees. Another issue is maintaining continuity on the various committees since there has been some turnover. Committees that don’t already have SOPs plan on creating instructions for their events and functions to help with the transfer of knowledge.


AWIS-SD Visit to Thermo Fisher

by Takako Noguchi

Nineteen participants, members of AWIS-SD and non-member students and post-docs in the San Diego area, visited Thermo Fisher Scientific located in Carlsbad, on December 3, 2019.  The Thermo Fisher Carlsbad campus was the headquarters of the former Life Technologies, a merger of Invitrogen and Applied Biosystems. Here, three large buildings host about 2,500 employees. The Carlsbad campus is responsible for producing tens of thousands of laboratory supplies, including restriction enzymes, antibodies, and Western blot gels. They also develop new products such as next generation sequencers.

The tour was focused on the introduction of manufacturing line of commercial products. Tod Lusher, the Manufacturing Supervisor, kindly guided us through the facility. The company’s hallway was fully decorated with bioscience-inspired paintings created by local high school students, whose activities the company supports. Many manufacturing processes are automated by custom made machines, such as the one that fills reagents, packs in dry ice, and stores in a freezer. Interestingly, some operations, including filling of small batches or quality inspection of Western blot gels, are performed manually. In the protein purification laboratory, E.coli that are engineered to produce desired proteins are cultured in bioreactors as high as the ceiling, like in a beer brewery. The distribution center looked like a Costco store with many tall shelves. There, many adorable human-sized robots help people by carryi products from point A to point B. Different from a typical warehouse, they have two huge cold storage rooms with temperatures set at 4 and -20 degrees Celsius. We enjoyed walking through these rooms and shouting ‘It’s COLD!”. Products were automatically organized by temperature and destination, and placed into Fedex cargo to be distributed world-wide. 

The second part of the tour was a panel discussion with Mini Manchanda (Manager, Molecular Biology), Aparna Aiyer (Director, Molecular Biology), Stephanie Nilsen (Senior Director, Operations), Rhonda Newman (Director, R&D), Erene Mina (Senior Manager, Clinical Affairs), and Sarah Pilote (Senior Regulatory Affairs Specialist). They shared their experience on how they transitioned from academia to industry and answered our wide range of questions. As women scientists, many of their career paths were not straightforward. For example, Nilsen wanted to do R&D initially, but she took an opportunity in a manufacturing position. There, she solved technical problems and learned industrial operations that she never knew before. She found the position satisfactory and interesting. Mina started her industry career as an industrial postdoc at a neuroscience-based biotech company and stepped up to a senior scientist position. After she moved to San Diego, she attended many networking events and applied to a wide-range of scientific jobs from technical writing to R&D scientist. She was initially employed as a technical writer by Thermo Fisher. While she was working as a technical writer, she took UCSD extension classes for clinical affair and got a license, then successfully transitioned to a clinical scientist internally. Panelists emphasized the importance of networking. They also told us that they consider publication records of candidates just a proof of writing and presentation skills, and find their actual skill sets and soft skills are more important.

After the panel discussion, we were offered a delicious sandwich lunch and we enjoyed a speed mentoring session with other Thermo Fisher’s women employees. Overall, the tour was very enjoyable and informative. We learned about biotechnology product manufacturing and enjoyed networking with these established women scientists.

We would like to thank Nicole Lucia and Colleen Carpinella, the main organizers of this tour, and all other Thermo Fisher employees for giving us a wonderful learning opportunity.

A2I Thermo


Book Review - The Perfect Predator

by Jennifer Overklift

Dr. Steffanie Strathdee is an infectious disease epidemiologist known for her research on human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). At the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, she is Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences and Harold Simon Professor of Medicine, as well as co-director of the Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics. Her husband Thomas Patterson, is a Professor of Psychiatry at UC San Diego. Together, the couple also directs a research and training program on the Mexico-US border. Strathdee recently spoke at the 2019 Women in Science and Technology (WIST) Conference about the book she and her husband wrote together, The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug, which chronicles Strathdee’s race to save Thomas from a deadly superbug. 


The book documents a real life story, combining genres of science, horror, and romance told from Strathdee’s perspective with brief interludes from Patterson. Dr. Strathdee was able to explain complex medical terminology in a way that is easy to understand, while at the same time spinning a heart pounding personal narrative. She included lessons on the history of certain medical practices to enhance the reader’s understanding of how complex the medical world is and explained how this will affect future medical practices.

The book begins with the couple traveling to Egypt on a cruise. Their trip was off to a great start until Patterson began to show signs of food poisoning. Assuming it was simply a stomach bug, Strathdee gave him an antibiotic. When his symptoms worsen the next day, he was taken to a hospital in Luxor, Egypt. As his symptoms worsen, Patterson began experiencing hallucinations. He was later transferred to a hospital in Germany, where it was discovered that he had been infected with a deadly antibiotic resistant bacteria known as “the worst bacteria on the planet.” From there, he was transferred to UCSD’s Thornton Hospital.

As Patterson’s condition continued to deteriorate, his medical team ran out of options to treat his infection. Strathdee began searching for alternative treatments, and found a paper on alternative treatments that mentioned phage therapy. A phage is a virus that infects and replicates itself within bacteria and archaea. Phage therapy is the therapeutic use of lytic bacteriophages (bacteriophages capable of causing cells to disintegrate by rupturing the cell wall) to treat pathogenic bacterial infections. The treatment is considered experimental in the West because it was overshadowed when antibiotics (specifically penicillin) were invented.  After further research, she emailed Patterson’s medical team, asking if they could try using phage therapy. The team began their mission of finding phage specialists and creating a treatment plan to help them save Patterson. In collaboration with various research groups and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they were finally able to find a treatment that saved Patterson’s life.  

Strathdee recounted Patterson’s recovery, telling of the medical problems he acquired as a result of his infection and the therapy he had to go through to learn to live normally again. She also wrote of her own experience stepping back into her regular life after spending a year working to find a cure for Patterson’s infection. In the epilogue, she wrote about other cases where phage therapy was applied, ending the book with a rallying cry about the approaching superbug crisis, and the potential solutions that are available if more research is done.

Overall, the book’s fast pacing coupled with the heart wrenching first person narrative of a wife desperate to save her husband makes it ideal for any reader. The medical and science language is clearly explained, and provides an engaging perspective on the state of medical research in epidemiology. The interludes from Patterson’s perspective also show readers the importance of this research for the victims of superbug infections. This book is an amazing work of science fiction that took place in real life.

Interview with Donna Simcoe

by Jennifer Overklift

Ms. Simcoe is currently Principal at Simcoe Consultants, Inc., a biomedical consulting company focusing on medical publication strategy and medical writing. She has over twenty five years of publication management and medical writing in small and large pharmaceutical companies. Her industry career includes roles of increasing responsibility in publication strategy, planning, and medical Writing, and she has managed publication programs across 15+ therapy areas. Ms. Simcoe has Masters degrees in BioMedical Writing and Biotechnology and an M.B.A. She is a Certified Medical Publication Professional (CMPP). She is an active member of the International Society of Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP), the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and the International Publication Professionals Association (TIPPA).

I met Donna Simcoe at the annual 2019 WIST Conference. Three people I’d talked to previously had recommended her for an interview, so I introduced myself during the first break of the day. She was nice enough to agree to an interview on the spot, with no preparation.


J: Can you describe your career path and how you got into your current job?

D: I started my career with a Bachelor’s in microbiology, and worked at Cephalon, a small biotech company. Because it was a smaller company, I worked in publications, regulatory writing, and SAS pharmacokinetic programming.

After three years there, I moved to Wyeth, performing SAS programming in their pharmacokinetics group. I also went back to the University of Sciences in Philadelphia for my first Master’s in biomedical writing, then moved over to the publications group at Wyeth, a pharmaceutical company. I stayed at Wyeth for eight years and obtained my second Master’s in biotechnology from Drexel University. I then moved to AstraZeneca, another top-10 pharmaceutical company, and worked there for five years in roles as a U.S Publication Lead and as a Project Director in business development. I obtained my third Master’s, an MBA from Wilmington University. I then moved to San Diego to become a publications director at Cadence, a small pharmaceutical company and also became the president of the local American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) Pacific Southwest chapter.

In total, I spent 20 years as an employee in industry before starting my own S-corporation in 2011 (Medical Publication Consultants [Simcoe Consultants Inc., www.medicalpublicationconsultants.com or www.simcoeconsultants.com ]). I am a Publication Consultant and a Freelance Medical Writer for small to midsize biotech, pharmaceutical, or medical device companies.


J: How did your perception of the field change once you entered the industry?

D:  I think a lot of us who go into medical writing don’t even know the field exists. Some people are in a lab space; they’re bench scientists, and are looking for a way to get out of the lab. But maybe they already do some writing there: they might be writing grants, or helping with publications, developing journal articles or poster presentations. It becomes a nice segue to do something different as a career. That’s what changed for me. I suddenly realized that there’s a whole field of medical writing out there. It’s great to have a background in science and learn how to write for specific audiences. There are also people who have a background in English who learn the science, so you meet people from both backgrounds in this field. 

Also, there are a lot of women in the medical writing field.  It’s a very supportive environment. We have a lot of networking, which means a lot of opportunity, and I do see this as a less competitive environment than you might see in other fields. There are lots of jobs out there, especially in regulatory writing.

I think having organizations like AWIS that host discussions and networking events and

provide opportunities to learn something new is great. You can tell everyone is very dedicated.


J: What challenges did you face starting off? What advice would you give to others trying to enter the medical writing field?

D: Networking and learning are definitely important. If you like to write, and you like the science, then you could volunteer to be a part of different committees. Through volunteer work, you can give back to the community and help move the field along while also reaping personal benefits. It lets you network with others in your field. It puts your name out there; it informs people that this is what you’re really interested in and this is what you love to do. This way, and by also learning as much as you can, people will get to know you, and may see you as an expert in this field.

I think one of the things that has always struck me, is that any job I’ve had, either as an employee or through freelance, has always been acquired through networking. I have a website (www.medicalpublicationconsultants.com or www.simcoeconsultants.com), but I get most of my work through referrals or the people I’ve worked with in the past. I think it’s important not to be shy. Just put it right out there, put it on Linkedin, put it out everywhere that this is what you do or would like to do.


J: Thank you Donna for sharing your experience today.

I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to interview such an amazing person. Donna’s advice and insights on the medical writing field are useful across the science field as a whole. This interview was one of the best highlights of my experience at the 2019 WIST Conference.



NEWS TICKER - Local Research on Coronavirus

by Jean Spence

  • The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes the COVID-19 illness, is closely related to viruses found in bats and pangolins and unlike previously known human coronaviruses. The RBD section of the spikes have mutated to target human cells and the structure of the virus has changed from closely related viruses from natural sources. Kristian Andersen from the Scripps Research Institute is lead author on the article “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2” which was published in Nature Medicine.
  • Dr. Davey Smith, UCSD professor of medicine and his lab are evaluating a rapid test for COVID-19.  The test was initially developed by Fluxergy, a biotech company in Irvine.  Fluxergy used a synthetic virus for the test and Smith’s lab will confirm the accuracy of the test with the real virus.  The test may be able to identify COVID-19 within an hour.
  • The local biotech company Arcturus is creating a vaccine based on self-replicating RNA that creates the antigen in a few weeks.  Arcturus is collaborating with Duke Medical School and the National University of Singapore which has experience with SARS and MERS epidemics.  Arcturus CEO Joseph Payne is seeking approval for clinical trials.
  • Mesa Biotech, Inc. will receive $561,330 and technical assistance from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a subdivision of Health and Human Services.  Mesa Biotech will develop its test for COVID-19 with its Accula Dock Instrument. 
  • Jiang Zhu from the Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology at Scripps Research is developing vaccines with protein fragments of SARS-CoV-2 spikes on a protein nanoparticle scaffold which would mimic the virus.
  • San Diego based Ligand Pharmaceuticals is licensing its technology to partners for the development of treatments for COVID-19.  Captisol, OmniAb and LTP (Liver-Targeted Prodrug) platforms have been licensed to partner companies in China and the United States. 
  • Inovio Pharmaceuticals received $5 million from the Gates Foundation and $9-million from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation to develop a DNA-based COVID-19 vaccine.  Kate Broderick, senior vice president of research and development is leading this effort.  The vaccine has been tested in animals and clinical trials may begin as early as this summer.
  • Alessandro Sette’s at the La Jolla Institute of Immunology and scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute have published a paper in Host, Cell and Microbe that investigates the immune response to SARS-CoV-2.  This research is valuable for developing vaccines.  Similarly, Dennis Burton at the Scripps Research Institute of Immunology and Microbiology are studying the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 in order to identify “broadly neutralizing antibodies”.

Upcoming AWIS-SD Events

In-person meetings are currently suspended until the end of April in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.


About the Authors



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


Jean Spence headshot

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


TNoguchi1Crop 170403

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


 Jennifer overklift headshot

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


Contribute to the Newsletter

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


 AWIS-SD Newsletter Committee

Co-chairs: Alyson Smith, and Jean Spence

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

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Summer 2020 Newsletter Volume 28 Issue 2

This issue of the Newsletter is available in PDF.

For previous newsletters, click here.




Dear AWIS-SD Members, Partners, Sponsors, and Allies,

It has been a tumultuous time since I wished everyone a Happy New Year in February 2020! Little did I realize that we would be facing the ongoing challenge of racism in our country along with the new challenge of a global coronavirus pandemic.

I applaud those who have stepped up to help with these two daunting challenges! We, at AWIS-SD, stand in solidarity with protesters, activists and community organizers to emphatically state that Black Lives Matter. We will continue to advocate for increased diversity as well as equal opportunities for women of color in STEM. In addition, we, at AWIS-SD, thank all essential workers for their dedication, hard work and sacrifice to develop novel diagnostics and treatments for COVID-19. We also thank them for providing and supporting healthcare services and all of the other essential services we have depended on for these past months and will depend on for months to come.

During the stay-at-home order, AWIS-SD has become a virtual organization. The board, committees and members have all worked very hard to provide virtual events for our members and the community to attend. We have also highlighted the accomplishments of our Scholarship and San Diego Science Fair awardees. Please read our newsletter and visit our website at awissd.org to learn about our organization, as well as our recent and upcoming events.

I would like to close by personally thanking all of the AWIS-SD members who have generously volunteered many hours of their time to make this organization what it is today. I would also like to thank the sponsors of AWIS-SD who have made it possible for us to offer so much to our members and our community.

Warmest wishes,


Varykina Thackray, Ph.D.

President, AWIS-SD

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We Stand Together Against Systemic Racism

June 2, 2020

For many years, the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) has focused on breaking down the systemic barriers that limit the advancement, equity and participation of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Today, as we confront repeated acts of racial violence throughout our nation, AWIS doesn’t see our work as separate from this struggle. We acknowledge and stand against systemic racism, and we encourage those who share our commitment to join us in working against it.

In a recent statement, former President Barack Obama observed that, “It’s natural to wish for life ‘to just get back to normal’ as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us. But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly ‘normal’ – whether it’s while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park.”

We recognize that women of color in STEM, and Black women in particular, carry the burden of racism in everyday life as well as within workplaces and educational settings. It is critical that we as a STEM organization recognize their experiences and do not let them stand alone. By being silent, or proceeding as if it’s ‘business as usual,’ we are only perpetuating the harm of systemic racism.

“The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah explained that we all sign a “social contract” in order to maintain order in a society that would otherwise be chaotic. “Society is a contract that we sign as human beings with each other,” he said. “Whether spoken or unspoken, we agree in this group to common rules, common ideals, and common practices that are going to define us as a group… And the contract is only as strong as the people who abide by it.”

Similarly, there is much work to be done in professional communities, in addition to societal ones.

At AWIS, we reaffirm our commitment to fostering an equitable and inclusive scientific enterprise, which includes confronting racism. We encourage those in the scientific community, wherever they are, to take a stand against racism however they can. Be an active bystander. Foster change within the workplace by applying your professional influence to diverse and inclusive hiring practices. Participate in making space for new approaches and ideas. There are myriad ways to take on this work, but it is all of our responsibility to do so.

In the weeks ahead, we will continue to share ideas and resources for your active participation in our shared future.

Yours in Science, and Social Justice,

windham                                                  Robert

Susan R. Windham-Bannister, PhD                      Sandra W. Robert, CAE
President & Chair of the Board                             Chief Executive Officer
Association for Women in Science                       Association for Women in Science


AWIS-SD participates at the 2020 San Diego Science and Engineering Festival Expo Day

by Yessica Diaz Roman

On Saturday, March 7, a group of dedicated volunteers led by Bridget Kohlnhofer and Yessica Diaz Roman met at Petco Park to participate in Expo Day 2020. Expo Day, a science festival with more than 130 local businesses, corporations, and organizations, provides interactive, hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math exhibits and activities for children K-12. Ready for a fun-filled day, we headed toward our booth with cornstarch and supplies and began to prepare our OOBLECK station.  We welcomed our volunteers and proudly wore our STEM superhero t-shirts and AWIS-SD buttons.  Our booth placement near the main stage gave us the perfect panoramic view of other exhibitors as well as participants as they entered the stadium area and began to gather near the main stage. 

Expo Day 2020 had the same excitement and enthusiasm as previous years, but with more precautions and public health safety measures because of the current global pandemic.  Thanks to the Expo Day organizers, we had two hand-washing stations and two large hand sanitizers at each entrance gate into Petco Park, a large hand sanitizer at each information booth, and a large hand sanitizer station at the Merchandise tent. 

AWIS-SD volunteers worked with elementary, middle and high-school students and parents to explore the Newtonian Fluid with plastic dinosaurs while answering their questions.  Everyone made sure that all washed and sanitized their hands at nearby sanitizing stations.  Highlights of the day included meeting new AWIS-SD outreach members, speaking with other scientists and most importantly, witnessing the curious minds of children of all ages enjoy OOBLECK at our station.

Thank you so much to our dedicated volunteers: Kate Prosser, Kyla Omilusik, Leilani Cruz, Monica Romelczyk, Diane Retallek, Mikellla Nuzen, Romy Vu, Daniela Dengler, Raffaella. Michelle Muldong, Duc Tran and Jessica Gardiner. It was a great day for all!!


Adapting to COVID-19: A Women in STEM Perspective

by Corine Lau

On May 18, 2020, AWIS-SD hosted a virtual meeting on “Adapting to COVID-19: A Women in STEM Perspective.” Close to 30 AWIS-SD members and non-members attended. Kina Thackray, AWIS-SD President, and Angela Macia, AWIS-SD Board member and Chair of the Corporate Sponsorship Committee, led the lively discussion with five panelists:

1) Amy Duncan, BS/MBA, Founder, Goldfish Consulting, Inc.

2) Carrie Sawyer, BS/MS, Founder, Diversity by Design

3) Kristina Schimmelpfeng Henthorn, PhD, Associate Director, Product Technical Support, GenMark Diagnostics

4) Manisha Kanodia, BS, IT Service Offering Manager, UC San Diego

5) Sara Landeras Bueno, PhD, Post-doctoral Fellow, La Jolla Institute for Immunology

The panelists and hosts span a wide spectrum in terms of their work and life experiences: Kanodia, Bueno, Thackray and Macia are in an academic setting, while Henthorn, Duncan, and Sawyer are in an industry setting or independent consulting. Some panelists have already worked at home before COVID-19, some are adapting to the new way of working from home, while some are busier than ever still going into the lab and office doing COVID-19 related work.

The first question to the panelists was “How has your life changed since COVID-19?”

Sawyer said she works from home normally for her consulting business, but not being able to leave home makes managing self-care more important than ever. Meditation and running help her to be more productive when she gets back to work. Similar to Sawyer’s self-owned business, Duncan added that she has to rethink how to build and maintain her relationship with clients virtually. Kanodia and Henthorn also found it is imperative to make an effort to connect with co-workers and family. Bueno’s workload in the lab has increased significantly in trying to screen for potent SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.

The second question was for those who are currently doing research or developing products for SARS-CoV-2. Bueno is using her experience screening for Ebola antibodies and applying similar approaches to SARS-CoV-2. Macia is studying how COVID-19 affects brain functions using brain organoids. We do not know if brain functions are affected in COVID-19 patients or in babies born to mothers with COVID-19. Henthorn is involved in managing her company’s main production line: an FDA-approved Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) SARS-CoV-2 test.

Attendees asked about how the panelists find uninterrupted time at home to focus on work. Sawyer’s suggestion is to plan out the work week instead of individual work days to give more flexibility to complete tasks over a longer range of time. Duncan recommended blocking out a time of the day on your calendar when you are most productive, although some people cannot control meeting times set by other team members. Thackray and Kanodia mentioned the increase of virtual meetings can cause “Zoom fatigue”, and it is wise to think whether tasks can be accomplished using email or phone communications instead.

Regarding the panelist’s perspectives on career advancement as a woman in STEM during this unprecedented time of uncertainty, all agreed to be flexible and take control of what you want to accomplish. Duncan and Kanodia said to take advantage of all the virtual conferences and seminars that normally may not be accessible without a subscription. They urged the audience to explore new topics and interests like leadership, entrepreneurship, and technology that we did not have time for in the past. Take a chance to try something new. Bueno and Henthorn emphasized to continue to maintain a balanced time for work, family, and self. Bueno’s viewed this crisis as providing new opportunities, and suggested using the time to evaluate your passions and motivations to learn and grow.

In closing, Kanodia summarized with an acronym FAE, which stands for Futuristic (what you want to be in five years), Adaptable (to learn new skills), and Empathetic. Sawyer offered this advice: Give ourselves and others grace, be gentle with each other, and carry this mindset beyond the pandemic.

Yes, we are all in this together.


Virtual Coffee Chat with Nena Chavira Ph.D. 

by Nora Shafee

On Thursday, 28 May 2020, the AWIS-SD Academia 2 Industry (A2i) Coffee Club was honored to host Dr. Nena Chavira as our guest speaker. Nena spoke about her roles as a science writer and editor; her experience as a woman in science; and the challenges she encountered when applying for industry positions, especially transitioning from academia to industry. To observe the recommendations from the California Department of Public Health on gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, we arranged to have the coffee chat on a virtual meeting platform.

Nena received her undergraduate degree from Yale University and later her Ph.D. in Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics from The University of California-Los Angeles. Nena currently is a science writer and editor who enjoys helping customers navigate the fast-changing landscape of scientific applications. She has extensive experience in creating assets that describe the features and benefits of research tools from enzyme kits to large-scale next-generation sequencing systems.

Nena is passionate about scientific communication and enjoys organizing data, researching publications, crafting engaging narratives, and creating documents with rich content. With over 7 years of writing experience in the biotechnology sector, she has covered a broad range of topics including forensics, reproductive health, agrigenomics, complex disease, metagenomics, oncology, microbial genomics, and more.

Nena advised us about the importance of recognizing that most career paths are not linear. So, we have to prepare ourselves to adapt to twists and turns in maneuvering them. To do this, we need to build a career "compass” to direct us through the journey towards our goals. Personality types, skills, and interests are parameters that serve as navigation guides. Once we have our career path planned out, Nena encouraged us to use networking as a tool to further our goals.

Networking allows us to gain insider information on companies and industries. It also gives us the opportunity to advocate for ourselves and find industry professional mentors who can provide expert guidance. Networking activities can be in the form of social events or professional gatherings. In addition, we can also request for informational interviews with industry leaders. This is an effective way to learn about the real-life experience of someone who works in the field that we are interested in. Often, informational interviews can lead us to other opportunities that bring us closer to getting a foot in the door.

At the conclusion of the virtual coffee chat, Nena reminded us that we don’t have to see the end of the path to start walking. We can just use the opportunities available around us to get us to where we are heading. We are very grateful for her thoughtful suggestions and insights about transitioning from academia to industry. AWIS-A2i would like to thank Dr. Nena Chavira for her generosity in sharing her experience with us.


Chavira headshot2   Chavira headshot


A2i Virtual Coffee Chat with Katelyn Archer

By Nora Shafee

Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we live our lives. Many nations have declared restrictive measures to control the spread of this disease. These measures include varying degrees of lockdown, stay at home orders and shelter in place. Like other organizations, Academy-to-Industry (A2i) had to either postpone our activities or adapt them to comply with these new restrictions. We also had to shelve a number of company tours and networking events that involved person to person contacts. Activities that could be held virtually were conducted through online platforms.

One such activity is our monthly coffee meetings. For April 2020, A2i organized a virtual meeting on Thursday April 2nd. This was approximately 2 weeks after the announcement of a stay home order for the state of California. To conform to the order, our April guest speaker, Katelyn Archer, kindly agreed to hold the meeting virtually on a Zoom platform. We are very grateful for her willingness to accommodate the last minute change of plans.

Katelyn Archer is a Life Science Recruiter located in San Diego. She specializes in finding candidates a home within biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and medical device companies, not only around San Diego, but also across the country. Katelyn completed her Bachelor's Degree in Communication from the University of California-San Diego. Upon graduation she started working as a Scientific Recruiter at Yoh Life Sciences, A Day & Zimmermann Company. It is a specialty staffing firm headquartered in Philadelphia, PA. Katelyn found joy in helping others find their next fit, no matter their background or experience. She continues to help others daily as the company continues to grow.

As a guest speaker for A2i, Katelyn spoke about her roles as a recruiter, her experience as a woman in science and the challenges she encountered when transitioning from academia to industry. Katelyn gave a very informative insight as seen from a recruiter’s perspective. In her talk, Katelyn explained the differences in the goals and motivations between Academia and Industry. She highlighted the importance of self-awareness and having specific goals in regard to one’s professional career. When a person identifies their interests, they can then list the skills and expertise that will be attractive to hiring managers. Katelyn stressed the importance of presenting this list in a very impactful way in a resume. A resume that stands out in job applications.

A2i and meeting participants are very grateful to Katelyn for her willingness to share her experience with us. We thank her for the wonderful advice and thoughtful suggestions on the necessary steps to transition from academia to industry.


Archer headshot      Archer participants   


2020 Greater San Diego Science & Engineering Fair Judging

By Kathleen Prosser

The 65th annual Greater San Diego Science & Engineering Fair (GSDSEF) was held on March 11th, 2020 at the Balboa Park Activity Center, but the evolving CORVID-19 outbreak prevented the 24 volunteers from participating in person. To continue to support AWIS-SDs initiatives in encouraging young women in STEM, the team, led by Kristen DeMeester and Kate Prosser, evaluated the abstracts of the registered young women. Each team of two volunteers was given ~20 abstracts to deliberate on, and in a very short turnaround time delivered thorough and thoughtful evaluations to the participating students.

Thanks to the diligence of the volunteers, 14 winning projects (2 senior and 10 junior) were selected from more 270 unique entrants. We thank the students for their innovation and dedication and the volunteers who gave their time, energy, and expertise to judge the large number of projects. Congratulations to all the 2020 GSDSEF AWIS-SD winners! 

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


Meet the 2020 AWIS-SD Scholars

The AWIS-San Diego Scholarship Program, now in its 20th year, strives to encourage and reward outstanding women pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields at San Diego colleges and universities. On April 11, 2020, the Scholarship Committee members and volunteers from AWIS-San Diego met for several hours to select the 2020 Scholars. Out of 71 outstanding applications, the committee selected five for the $1000 award, and seven for Honorable Mentions, which include a one-year San Diego chapter membership. Congratulations to these remarkable students!


2020 Awardees

Katherine (Kate) Nesbit, UCSD

Katherine (Kate) Nesbit is a Ph.D. candidate at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), University of California San Diego. Kate was born and raised outside of Chicago and was always interested in studying marine biology. She completed her B.S. with High Honors at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa in 2014. While completing her undergraduate studies, Kate began working in marine biological research on circadian rhythms in copepods (zooplankton). Kate pursued her graduate studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and completed her M.S. in Marine Biology in 2016. Kate has been a member of the Hamdoun Lab at Scripps since 2016 and is using the sea urchin embryo as a model animal to address questions relevant to developmental biology, toxicology, immunology, and molecular biology. Kate is examining how exposure to environmental chemicals may impair the activity of developing immune cells in the embryo through the ABC transporter pathway as a potential underlying mechanism of immunotoxicity. In addition to her scholarly pursuits, Kate is a coordinator for the Scripps Community Outreach for Public Education (SCOPE) program, participates in the UCSD School of Medicine’s Oncofertility Academy summer program, and guides undergraduate volunteers in the lab.


Cayla Mason, SDSU


Cayla Mason is a first-year graduate student of bioinformatics at San Diego State University. She is studying microbial diversity in restored prairie soils in the laboratory of Dr. Scott Kelley. She is passionate about climate change mitigation and is excited to use her skills to make a better world for her children. She enjoys spending her free time on nature walks with her family and challenging her culinary abilities.


Sonya Timko, UCSD


Sonya Timko is finishing up her Master's degree at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and is looking forward to pursuing her Ph.D. Her research currently involves thermal ecology in crustaceans, and she is looking to expand it to include effects of ocean acidification on the structural properties of exoskeletons and how that may relate back to their thermal ecology. Sonya also teaches through UCSD Extension with programs such as Academic Connections and the JROTC STEM camps. In addition, she works diligently to encourage diversity in STEM fields--especially the inclusion and mentorship of women and non-binary scholars.


Karrengton Fountain, Grossmont/Cuyamaca College


Karrengton Fountain is an Environmental Engineering major. She will transfer to UC Riverside this fall where she will obtain a Bachelor's degree. From there, she will work towards her Master's degree and become a Licensed Professional Engineer. She desires to work in the water industry, preferably water/wastewater treatment. Karrengton also wants to use her career to inspire females to become more engaged in STEM-based careers. Outside of academics, she likes to volunteer and spend time with loved ones. 


Pamela Gallardo, Grossmont/Cuyamaca College


Pamela Gallardo is a Computer Engineering student who has been a student at Cuyamaca College since 2018. She hopes to transfer to SDSU or UCSD in the near future. Pamela is a first-generation college student and the proud daughter of two immigrant parents. Her interest in coding began in 2015, and her current focus is on adapting more intricate code in projects. Pamela is determined to work in the STEM field while serving as a role model for young Latina girls interested in math and science. Pamela is a founding member (recently named President) of an organization called PiCStem, where she and other STEM students in college serve as role models and mentors to students from her former middle school. In the future, Pamela Gallardo plans to work in the development and production of computer chips. 


Honorable Mentions

Caroline Lowcher, UCSD


Caroline Lowcher has grown up both on and in the ocean, and this lifestyle inspired her to pursue a Ph.D. in oceanography. She enjoys researching the coastal ocean environment and how this intersects with coastal communities. Her focus is on physical oceanography; specifically, studying the coastal circulation and upwelling system off of southern California. Outside of her research, her hobbies include surfing, boating, diving, fishing, and hiking.


Olcay Soyalan, UCSD


Olcay Soyalan earned her B.S. in Molecular Biology and Genetics at Koc University, Istanbul. She moved to San Diego in 2017 to start the Biological Sciences Ph.D. program at UCSD. She is currently working as a graduate student researcher in the Cook-Andersen Lab and exploring the mechanisms of epigenetic reprogramming during the oocyte-to-embryo transition. 


Karen Gutierrez, UCSD


Karen Gutierrez is a graduate student working on her Master of Science degree at UC San Diego after completing a Bachelor of Science in Earth Sciences there. She is focusing her research on paleoclimate and geochemistry. As a first-generation, low-income student from Los Angeles, diving into academia hasn’t always been easy. But it was her love and interest in science, the outdoors, and environmental justice that led Karen to pursue this path. She enjoys learning and research work, so she hopes to continue on to a PhD program in the future.


Da Yeoun (Hanna) Moon, SDSU


Da Yeoun (Hanna) Moon is an undergraduate student at San Diego State University majoring in psychology, with minors in statistics and honors in interdisciplinary studies. She is currently working under Dr. Lisa Eyler in the Biopsychological Research on Aging, Inflammation, and Neuropsychiatry (BRAIN) lab. Previously, Hanna conducted research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a part of the REU Minority Health Disparities Initiative (MHDII) Summer Research Program (SRP), where she examined the relationship between health perception and hepatitis C infection in rural Puerto Rico’s injection network using social network analysis. Additionally, Hanna took part in the Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP) at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, and completed a literature review on the contribution of white matter hyperintensities in Alzheimer’s disease. In the coming fall, Hanna will be pursuing a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience at University of Texas-Dallas. While there, she will be conducting research on neurostructural correlates of cognitive aging under Dr. Kristen Kennedy and Dr. Karen Rodrigue.


Norah Al-Azzam, UCSD


Norah Al-Azzam is currently a Master’s candidate at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in Dr.Gulcin Pekkurnaz lab. As a current Master’s student, she is focusing on a post-translational modification (O-GlcNAcylation), which is directly intertwined with glucose metabolism and regulates numerous molecular functions within the neurons. She will be an incoming graduate student in the neuroscience Ph.D. program at UCSD starting in the fall. She also furthers science communication on campus by serving as the Editor-in-Chief of the Challenger: A McNair Scholars Paper Series and a member of NeuWrite and the Science Fleet. She also recently received the BrightSpinnaker Fellowship, a science communication fellowship, for Spring 2020.

Norah is also currently working to write a grant for a science education Master’s program that will continue this important work of improving the science communication curriculum on her campus. Her involvement in SACNAS, the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, is helping her recognize the problems underrepresented minority students face when pursuing careers in STEM. This work is also inspiring Norah to change the culture in STEM to make room for more students like her. She served as Vice President of the UC San Diego chapter of SACNAS, mentoring chapter members and helping them secure lab opportunities and undergraduate research funding. In the future, Norah plans to pursue an academic path as a professor who actively communicates her research through AAAS and to the lay audience.


Danielle Hunt, SDSU


Danielle Hunt earned her BS degree in Geological Engineering from Colorado School of Mines and is currently pursuing her MS degree in Civil Engineering with a specialty in Water Resources at San Diego State University. She is currently working for SDSU’s Disturbance Hydrology Lab and conducting research to improve predictions of hydrologic recovery in post-fire watersheds. She hopes to pursue a meaningful career in Water Resources Engineering after completing her MS program. Outside of work and school, Danielle enjoys fitness, reading, outdoor activities of any kind, and playing with her dogs. She is excited to be a new member of AWIS-SD.


Aleksandra Kruszka, Grossmont/Cuyamaca College

Aleksandra Kruszka is a first-year student at Cuyamaca College in San Diego, California. Her academic goal is to transfer to the University of California San Diego (UCSD), where she wants to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Cognitive Science with specialization in Design and Interaction. This area of specialization is intended for majors in human-computer interaction, web design, visualization, and applications of cognitive science in design and engineering. Her career inspiration is to study the processes underlying cognitive phenomena. Aleksandra would like to study cognitive activity of individuals and their interaction with each other and their sociocultural environment, then use the capacity of mathematical and computer systems to apply the scientific knowledge and tackle extraordinary challenges in health, economy, education, and environment.


2020 UCSD Extension Scholarship Awardees

Anna Lozar


Anna Lozar has a B.S. degree in Microbiology and an M.S. in Molecular Biology and Genetics from Northwestern University. She was part of the Northwestern University neurogenetics research team that discovered mutations in the SOD1 gene associated with Familial ALS. She also did apoptosis research in the Department of Molecular Medicine at the University of Massachusetts. During a career gap to raise a family, Anna shared her excitement for science with the youth community by mentoring several competitive STEM teams and creating and managing a district-wide K-12 robotics program for a non-profit educational foundation. Instilling an excitement for STEM in students reignited her desire to return to science. To update her technical skills and knowledge, Anna enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Biomanufacturing program at MiraCosta College. She is graduating this May and hopes to pursue Regulatory Affairs (RA) as a profession. With the AWIS-SD UCSD Extension Scholarship, she will be taking RA courses to strengthen her knowledge base in this biotechnology field.


Sameera Bilgrami


Sameera Bilgrami, Ph.D., is a scientist at Aethlon Medical, a medical device company that specializes in designing cancer diagnostic devices. Her career as a cell biologist started in India at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, TIFR Bangalore, where she studied protein-lipid interactions in live cell membranes. She was a postdoctoral fellow in the late Dr. Gary Bokoch’s lab at Scripps Research before moving to UCSD. Her research focused on organelle movement, angiogenesis, and cancer cell movement. Sameera has a strong background in cell biology and expertise in imaging techniques, image analysis and programming. She likes to cook, spend time with kids and volunteer at AWIS-SD.


AWIS San Diego Call for Volunteers

All committees are looking for new members.  In particular, the Newsletter (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) and Corporate Sponsorship (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) are looking for new co-chairs.



  • Varykina (Kina) Thackray was promoted to full professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at UC San Diego. Kina has been a member of this department for 18 years now: 6 years as a post-doctoral fellow, 6 years as an assistant professor and 6 years as an associate professor. There must be something magical about the number 6!

  • Juliati Rahajeng has a new position as Manager for Medical Writing with Kite Pharmaceuticals.  She plans to move to Los Angeles by the end of August and she will resign from her position as the AWIS-SD secretary at the end of July.  We will miss her!

If you have news that you would like to share with the AWIS community, please send it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



UCSD is seeking lactating women who have or have been exposed to COVID-19

An important but overlooked aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic is the impact of COVID-19 infection in mothers who are now or who wish to breastfeed their infants. The UC San Diego Human Milk Research Biorepository,(https://mommysmilkresearch.org) located at the Center for Better Beginnings at UC San Diego and led by Dr. Christina Chambers,  is collaborating with investigators at the Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation Mother-Milk-Infant Center of Research Excellence (MOMI CORE), also at UC San Diego and led by Dr. Lars Bode, The research team has launched an international study to collect breast milk samples from women who have tested positive for COVID-19, have been symptomatic but not tested, or have had a high risk exposure to the virus.  The study will examine the evidence for transmission of the virus through breast milk as well as determine the extent to which breastmilk may contain protective antibodies or other anti-viral compounds.  Women who reside in the U.S. or Canada are eligible to enroll in the study.  Women who are interested can contact Kerri Bertrand at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., by calling 858-246-1713 or though the study website (https://mommysmilkresearch.org).  Financial contributions to help support the study can be made through the MOMI CORE website.


Graduate students and postdocs are invited to apply now for the Communicating Science (ComSciCon-SD) workshop, apply now for the first ever virtual Communicating Science (ComSciCon SD) workshop in September, 2020. The ComSciCon workshop series is designed to empower graduate students to communicate the complex and technical concepts that arise in research in science, engineering and other technical fields to broad and diverse audiences.  

Information about ComSciCon-SD and an application to attend can be found on our web page. We have an exciting program of events planned. Attendees will interact with fellow graduate student leaders in science communication, learn from expert writers and communicators, and will produce original writing for publication.

The ComSciCon-SD event will be held over 2 full days on September 25-26. The application for the workshop is open now and will close on August 17. There will be no cost or fee to attendees, but only a limited number of spots are available. Attendees will be selected through a competitive application process. Interested students can apply here

This workshop will be held in collaboration with the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind. The conference is being organized by UCSD graduate students and post-docs.

For more information, please contact ComSciCon SD directly (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).



The AWIS-SD Leadership Network

by Christina Niemeyer

The AWIS-SD Leadership Network (ALN) is a sub-group of approximately 30 AWIS-SD members in senior leadership roles in academia or industry. Currently Lori Yang and Christina Niemeyer co-chair the group. The group meets monthly to focus on career and personal advancement.

They started 2020 by meeting on Saturday January 11th to support Kristina Henthorn, one of the members. She had a beautiful display at a Japanese flower arrangement exhibition at the Balboa Park Japanese Friendship Garden.

In February ALN had a Meet and Greet and Program Planning Session at the San Diego Science Center. It was a time to re-acquaint with each other and plan the Programs for 2020. In March, April, and May, the Leadership Network met via Zoom to discuss among other things how to cope during the pandemic and how to survive all the Zoom meetings. In June, a virtual gentle yoga class and guided meditation was held to keep the members grounded, peaceful and relaxed.

The Leadership Network always welcome new members to expand their network and share leadership experiences and perspectives. For membership, Position/Title should be at least Associate Director or Associate Professor, or equivalent. If between positions, applicant’s most recent title should fit the aforementioned levels. Because participation is by application only, please feel free to send queries to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Career Advancement Committee

by Courtney Benson

We started the Career Advancement (Early to Mid-Career) Committee to provide tools to members to aid in advancing their careers. Transitioning from academia to industry or advancing in one’s career can present some difficulties or obstacles and we are not always prepared for these challenges. We would like to engage members to have discussions on challenges that we face in the early to mid-career with guest speakers. Topic for discussions would include managing up/down, transitioning from academia to industry, conflict resolution and many more. Our first in person event was held in March 2020. Our guest speaker for this event was Kerstin Kirchsteiger, a former AWIS-SD Board member and topic discussed was emotional intelligence. We had our second spring event on Zoom, where our co-chairs, Courtney Benson and Manisha Kanodia discussed their backgrounds and hurdles they had to overcome in their careers, which initiated great conversation with the attendees. We had a session where attendees openly discussed obstacles that are faced and all their questions and concerns were answered.

We will have two upcoming events in September and November, fall 2020, and if you have any suggestions on content or speakers, feel free to reach out to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Upcoming AWIS-SD Events

AWIS-SD JULY Summer Happy Hour Event

Zoom Date: 29 July 2020, 06:00 PM

We invite AWIS Members to catch up and network at our Virtual Summer Happy Hour July 29th 6-7p


A2I August Coffee Chat

Zoom Date: 06 August 2020, 05:00 PM

Guest speaker: Carrie Sawyer


ALN Meeting & Happy Hour

Zoom Date: 19 August 2020, 06:00 PM

AWIS-SD Leadership Network (ALN) members only. For more information about ALN, go to http://www.awissd.org/index.php/all-events/member-events/leadership-network



About the Authors


Benson headshot 

Courtney Benson, Ph.D. earned her B.S. and M.S. at SDSU in cell and molecular biology, and her Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University at Buffalo. Courtney is currently working at BlueNalu, Inc. as a scientist and is excited to help generate a sustainable food product that will be of value to humans and for our oceans. When Courtney joined AWIS San Diego in October of 2017, she immediately joined the Outreach Committee and then joined the AWIS San Diego Board as a Member at Large. She then served as the President of AWIS-SD from February 2018 through January 2020. Courtney is currently the Past President, and co-chair of the new committee, Career Advancement (Early to Mid-Career). 

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.

Nora Shafee headshot

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

Corine Lau Headshot 2016

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


Yessica Diaz Roman is actively involved in the San Diego community and has focused her efforts on promoting diversity and improving the health and well-being of those in need. She teaches at Southwestern College (SWC) in the Behavioral Sciences Department and serves on the Academic Senate for the School of Arts, Communication and Social Sciences. Her commitment to mentoring students continues as a mentor for SWC's Puente Program and as a member of the Outreach Committee for the Association of Women in Science in San Diego.  As a board member for Latinas in Medicine, she supports the organization’s mission to  promote and contribute to the advancement of Latinas pursuing a career in medicine.  Dr. Roman is a board member for Columbia University’s Alumni Association of San Diego and member of Lead San Diego’s Advance Class of 2020.  She holds a Doctorate in Sociomedical Sciences from Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and a joint Master’s in Public Health and Social Work from the University of Michigan.  


Kate Prosser is a Canadian NSERC postdoctoral fellow at the University of California San Diego working in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. She is originally from New Brunswick, Canada, where she completed her B.Sc. in chemistry at Mount Allison University, before pursuing her PhD at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. Kate was previously an active member of the West Coast Women in Engineering, Science and Technology, for which she served on the advisory committee, and has been leading science outreach activities since 2013. Since arriving in San Diego in July of 2019, she has volunteered with AWIS, getting involved in conference planning and scientific outreach in the community. 

Contribute to the Newsletter

If you are an AWIS-SD member, we encourage you to contribute to the newsletter. Please send articles, photographs, and member news as MS Word attachments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. News articles should not exceed 250 words, event summaries should not exceed 500 words, and feature articles (special-interest stories and profiles) should not exceed 1000 words. The submission deadline for the next issue is Sep15, 2020.


AWIS-SD Newsletter Committee

Co-chairs: Alyson Smith, and Jean Spence

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

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

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