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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Fall 2019 Newsletter Volume 27 Issue 4

This issue of the Newsletter is available in PDF.

For previous newsletters, click here.



CourtneyB crop

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

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

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

Warmest wishes,


Courtney Benson

President, AWIS-SD

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WIST Conference - A Newcomer’s Perspective

by Jennifer Overklift

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

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

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

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

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


WIST Conference - Environmental Science and Ecology Roundtable 

by Jennifer Overklift

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

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

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

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

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

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


WIST Conference - Unconscious bias workshop

by Corine Lau

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

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

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

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

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

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


About our speakers

Katherine Nguyen Williams, PhD

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

Laurie A. Lindamer, PhD

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

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

by Nora Shafee

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

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

A2I coffeechat

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

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

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

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

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

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


Book Review - The Autobiography of a Transgender Scientist

by Emily Bentley


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


AWIS-SD Visit to Celgene Corporation

by Nora Shafee, Qiong Song and Takako Noguchi

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celgenetour Nov2019

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


Strategy Sessions- How to Interview Successfully

by Corine Lau

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

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

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

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


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

by Michelle Muldong

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

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


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


About the Authors


 Jennifer overklift headshot

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


Corine Lau Headshot 2016

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


 EmilyBentley headshot

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


 Nora Shafee headshot

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


 Michelle Muldong headshot

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


Contribute to the Newsletter

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


 AWIS-SD Newsletter Committee

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

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

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Summer 2019 Newsletter Volume 27 Issue 3

This issue of the Newsletter is available in PDF.

For previous newsletters, click here.



CourtneyB crop

Dear AWIS-SD Members and Friends,

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

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

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


Best wishes,


Courtney Benson

President, AWIS-SD

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AWIS-SD Happy Hour

by Ray Seraydarian

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

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


Strategy Sessions: How to achieve financial health

by Myan Do

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

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

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


Annual Family Event at Cool Creations

by Corine Lau

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

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

AWIS familyevent 2019

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

Meet Juliati Rahajeng: A Smooth Transition From Academia to Industry

by Pat Rarus


Juliati Rahajengjpg

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

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

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

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

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


 Meet the 2019 AWIS-SD Scholars 

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

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

Congratulations to these remarkable students!


2019 Awardee

Kim Kelley, MiraCosta College


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


Desirae Mellor, UCSD


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


Barbara Perez, Mesa College


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


Sofia Sanchez, USD


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


My Tran, SDSU


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


Honorable Mentions

Anamika Agrawal, UCSD


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


Cecilia Barnhill, USD


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


Jeongin Choi, San Diego City College

Jeongin Choi

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


Claudia Palomino La-torre, UCSD


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


Hannah Rutledge, UCSD


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


Aurian Seleh, UCSD


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


Sabrina Younan, SDSU


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



Second Annual SoCal Science Writing Symposium

by Jean Spence

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

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

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

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

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



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

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



by Alyson Smith


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Women in Science and Technology (WIST) conference 2019

Saturday, October 19th, 2019

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

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

Check our website for conference registration including early bird specials!


See more AWIS-SD events here.

About the Authors


Ray S headshot

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


myan Do headshot

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



Corine Lau Headshot 2016

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



Pat Rarus 4.7.11
Pat Rarus
 is a long-term contributor of the Newsletter committee. As the owner-founder of Marcom Consulting Group, Pat has assisted clients with marketing communications projects. The goal:  increase visibility, market share and ultimately sales for profit-making companies. Increase visibility and donors for non-profits. Pat specializes in writing and editing a wide variety of online and print marketing materials: Website copy, including SE0, press releases, blogs, social media, biographies, marketing plans, speeches, ad/brochure copy, taglines/slogans, PowerPoint presentations and much more.



Jean Spence headshot

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



AWIS-SD Newsletter Committee

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

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

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


Upcoming Events

JLABS, 3210 Merryfield Row, San Diego, CA 92121
Date: 01 February 2023, 05:00 PM
AWIS San Diego New Year Party

Date: 16 February 2023, 05:00 PM
A2I Coffee Club - February 16th 5pm PST with Dr. Lori Yang

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