Winter 2018 Newsletter Volume 26 Issue 1

For previous newsletters, click here.




Dear AWIS-San Diego Family and Friends,

The theme of this letter is simple:  Step Up.

If you are not yet a member, step up and join.

If you are a member and not yet on a committee, step up.

If you are on a committee and not yet a co-chair, step up.

If you are a co-Chair and not yet on the board, step up.

Membership in AWIS-San Diego opens up almost all the local chapter events to you for free. AWIS-San Diego has a very generous definition of a student.  Our chapter-only, student memberships are only $25. Follow this link to join.

Joining an AWIS-San Diego committee involves you more with the planning and implementation of our various events. For example, the Outreach Committee will give you opportunities to share your passion for science with the greater San Diego community. The Newsletter Committee will improve your writing and editing skills. The Public Relations Committee will make you familiar with the tools for promotions. Here is the full list to choose from:

Moving to a leadership position within a committee permits you to develop leadership and organizational skills.  We welcome those with new ideas and visions. Co-Chairs regularly attend the board meetings.

Finally, by serving on the board you get a real idea how all the parts of AWIS-San Diego come together to form a vibrant community.

So, step up!



DeeAnn Visk, President AWIS-SD

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


Academia to Industry (A2I) coffee club - A Visit with Irit Rappley, PhD

by Takako Noguchi and Juliati Rahajeng


A2I coffee club held on Friday, November 6, 2017, had 13 attendees which was the most since the start of this group in January 2016. Average attendees of our group is about 5 in these 2 years, but new recruits from two company tours (Vertex and Dart Neuroscience) and Open House in October boosted the number of attendees. We had a guest speaker, Dr. Irit Rappley at Celgene, for this meeting.


Rappley received her B.S. in Brain and Cognitive Sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, PhD in Neuroscience at Harvard University, and has done postdoctoral training in Dr. Jeffery Kelly’s laboratory at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI). In Dr. Kelly’s group, she studied protein folding/misfolding causing protein aggregation and degenerative diseases.

Transition into the Industry

During her PhD training, Rappley felt that she did not want to pursue a career in academia. She started looking into what was a good area to study to transit into the industry and found the trends that many companies focus on protein misfolding as a cause of diseases. So, she contacted Dr. Jeffery Kelly, who is one of the few experts in this field.

At TSRI, Rappley joined Network for Women in Science, and was actively engaged in networking events. When she found a job opportunity that was a good match for her, she connected to scientists in the department of the company through LinkedIn and requested for an informational interview. Rappley met a researcher at Celgene through the informational interview. Although the position she was interested in initially was filled, the researcher later contacted her for a contract job.


Rappley A2I

 caption: Dr. Rappley giving advice to A2I attendees.


Career at Celgene

Rappley started working at Celgene as a contract bench scientist in 2014. She worked as a member of a Discovery Biology team that focused on novel therapeutics for hematologic cancers. The field was not an exact match to her background, but her background in protein homeostasis helped position her to contribute to her team. In addition, she took advantages of opportunities that became available at Celgene, such as developing high-throughput screens for several projects. After a while, she was hired for a regular position that opened up at Celgene. 

In early 2016, Rappley joined Celgene's Neuroscience Working Group. In this newly formed group, she helped the company to develop strategies to target neurodegenerative diseases and communicated with the preclinical and clinical teams in the company. She no longer works in the laboratory, but she appreciates the exceptional professional development provided by the company and enjoyed her responsibilities.

Advice to A2I members

Rappley emphasized the importance of networking. When we find a job that matches our qualifications, we should not hesitate to connect with people in the company through LinkedIn and request for informational interviews. She pointed out that it is important to find a job that matches one’s career level. She also recommended industrial postdoc as a good bridge to the industry. Rappley also encouraged A2I members to maintain a positive attitude during the job search, in spite of the slow process and frequent obstacles.


Member Profile - Dorota Skowronska-Krawczyk, Ph.D.

Assistant adjunct professor at UCSD, AWIS-SD Scholarship co-chair, and co-creator of Project Visions

By Corine Lau


Corine (C):  Tell us a little about yourself.

Dorota (D):  I was born in Lodz, Poland. I studied at the University of Warsaw where I got my Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology and then moved to Geneva, Switzerland to get my PhD degree in Biochemistry. Following graduate school, I made the long move to San Diego to work on nuclear organization and regulation of transcription for my postdoctoral training. There, I published several papers allowing me to write a grant proposal for my own laboratory and research. In 2017, I received my first R01 and started my new lab at UCSD in the Ophthalmology department.


(C): During your rise to professorship, did you experience any setbacks as a woman in academia? If so, how did you overcome gender bias? What was/were the breakthrough moment(s)?

(D): The gender bias in science nowadays is quite subtle. There are a lot of women in laboratories; therefore, we think that we all have equal access to everything. However, when I started applying for professorships, writing grants, looking for support, I realized that I was expected to deliver much more than my male colleagues. It sounds cliché, but I was asked to do 110% and prove myself again and again, whereas my male colleagues were consistently receiving the benefit of the doubt. It is extremely frustrating and hard to work through. However, I had one thought in my mind: if I ever want to change anything, I must first obtain a faculty position and be “inside the system”, so my voice will be heard. Fortunately, I had a huge support system from many women in my life. I had endless discussions from the members of AWIS, great support from my husband, and encouragement from other scientists who liked my work and supported my pursuit. Having said that, this is just my first step in overcoming the gender bias in science. Hopefully, by joining the leadership ranks at AWIS-SD, it will help spread the message.


(C): What is your advice to inspiring women scientists pursuing a professorship?

(D): My major advice is to find the group of people that will support you “no matter what”, and go for it! If you truly love what you do, you will get there.


Dorota headshotJan2018

caption: Dorota Skowronska-Krawczyk, Ph.D., assistant adjunct professor at UCSD


(C): Tell us about your latest creation, Project Visions. What is it and what is the goal of Project Visions?

(D): Project Visions is a new initiative that I decided to put together in order to tell people about my science. I noticed that today everyone wants to be well informed. The audience is more and more educated, but there is still very little knowledge about how basic science can advance our understanding of the diseases and help in designing new approaches for cure. 


(C): How did Project Visions come about?

(D): The project started serendipitously. I was talking to my artist friend Eva Henry about my work, and I was showed her images I obtained with microscope. She loved the story that came with the colorful images so much that she painted the images! I was amazed by the talent of my friend and realized that those images were much easier to “digest” than my microscopic images. I used her images in my talk for the first time in the Downtown San Diego Library and was blown away by the audience’s reaction. Even before I began to speak about the science, everyone was already captivated by the story. This is how Project Visions came about. We have our first presentation of the project on January 28, and we cannot wait to see how will be received.


(C): Where can we find out more about Project Visions?

(D): You can visit project Visions website at


(C): Thank you Dorota for sharing your experience!

p.s. On January 28, Dorota presented her research and Project Visions in the beautiful setting of the Leichtag Family Foundation Biomedical Research Building at UCSD. The presentation of both Dorota’s research and Eva’s artwork were captivating and educational for over 75 non-scientists and scientists. We hope you will spread your words to an even bigger audience in future events!


December Strategy Session - What is Your Leadership Spirit Animal?

by Leslie A.Crews

Last month, at AWIS-San Diego’s final Strategy Session of 2017, I learned that my personal leadership survival strategy is that of an “Enterprising Crocodile.” You might be wondering, why a crocodile, and how might this information help anyone become a better leader? Well, as we learned from our very own past-president of AWIS-SD and special guest speaker of the evening, Dr. Grace Nakayama, a key step to “Creating Powerful Leadership Skills” for yourself is to first know yourself.

With the aid of an engaging self-quiz called What Animal am I? (, based on the book Surviving Your Serengeti by Stefan Swanepoel, we each had the opportunity to increase awareness of our personal leadership styles. It turns out that some features of the Enterprising Crocodile include the “ability to think outside the box” and the “tendency to spend a lot of time working alone” – both characteristics that have surely served me well during the long process of obtaining a Ph.D. and continuing on the academic career track. You may instead be a “Strategic Lion,” whose strengths include problem-solving and charting a course for others, or a “Communicating Elephant,” skilled at listening and hearing what others are saying, to establish a true dialogue. Whatever your leadership spirit animal may be, understanding your own intrinsic qualities is an important step towards creating powerful leadership skills.

Through an interactive presentation and breakout session, Nakayama shared with us her past experiences as a leader in several capacities in AWIS-SD, as well as in research and development and project management fields in various pharmaceutical companies and consulting opportunities. She also imparted to us her insights on what makes an effective leader, of which communication, mutual respect, and team building emerged as common themes. We learned that, through the continuing process of knowing our own personal leadership styles, we can better understand how we can work best with others (who often have different styles themselves).

One memorable point was that the importance of soft skills and emotional intelligence cannot be overstated! Through better communication and powerful leadership, we can each create a vision to inspire enthusiasm and bring out the best in others. As Nakayama so poignantly implied with her closing remarks of the evening, we each should be able to find our inner Daenerys Targaryen (the ultimate girl-power leader from Game of Thrones, in case anyone doesn’t follow the series) if we listen to our inner survival strategy and communicate clearly with others. But please don’t be disappointed that “Detail-oriented Dragon” isn’t one of the options on the What Animal Am I? quiz. I suppose the “Enterprising Crocodile” is a close second!


Helen Mao Visit to AWIS-SD A2I Coffee Club

by Juliati Rahajeng

Helen Mao, Chief Science Officer (CSO) and founder of Moradec, LLC, spoke to the Association for Women in Science, San Diego chapter on Friday, December 1, 2017. She shared her experience as an entrepreneur of a biotech company servicing the antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs).

Mao received her PhD in Biochemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1998. During her last year of graduate school, her PhD advisor moved to The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego. Through her PI, she found her postdoctoral position at AbbVie. Since then, she has gained her industrial experience as a scientist at various biotech companies, including GNF and Biosite, and several small biotech startup companies.

About six years ago, she decided that it was no longer satisfying for her to work at either a small or large biotech company anymore. To her, working for a large company was not rewarding due to lack of impact on the final pharmaceutical products. On the other hand, there are always financial as well as management issues when working for small companies. Mao wanted to do something that makes her happy, which was to have controls of how she works, how to turn her own ideas into something useful, and be ultimately responsible for the decisions made. So she started her own company and gave herself one year to test out the ideas. Lucky for Mao, her husband is very supportive of her.

Instead of looking for outside funding, Mao used her own money to start her company. She needed a lab space to start. One of her industry connections in the past let her rent a lab space for a very reasonable price and let her use some instruments. To bring in immediate income for her company and figure out how to sell products to customers, she made competent bacterial cells (a reagent used in molecular biology cloning techniques) and looked for clients who were willing to give them a try. It was not easy for her at the beginning. She did not have any experience in selling products. However, some small companies that were on tight budget tried her cells and were very satisfied with her high quality competent cells. She found her first client one month after she founded her company.

To advance her ideas and skillsets in the ADC field, Mao worked with a local chemistry company who specialized in custom toxin-linker synthesis. In the meantime, she conducted her own research and development for the new ADC reagents. After six months, she got her reagents ready and started looking for clients. Through networking, including from LinkedIn, she was able to find clients. Within the first year she was able to start getting positive revenue.

Here are a few things she learned starting and running her own company:

  1. Willing to forgo some security and take a risk.
  2. Set up a goal and give yourself a time limit to reach that goal.
  3. Try everything possible to survive the first year. Success comes after making every little detail work.
  4. Stay focus towards the initial goal.
  5. Reach out to the science network.
  6. Realize the importance of friendships and supports and have a thankful heart.
  7. Figure out what the most important thing is in your career and life, and embrace the decision you made.

Being an entrepreneur is not for everybody, but if you are not happy with your current job and want to start your own company, then don’t let anything or anyone to stop you.


AWIS Outreach at Chem Expo 2017: How to Solve a Mystery Using Science?

by Laure Kayser

On Saturday, October 28, the 30th Annual ChemExpo was hosted for the third year in a row by San Diego Miramar College. The beautiful and inspiring campus welcomed hundreds of middle and high school students. More than 20 booths from local scientific companies, non-profit organizations, and universities were set-up to promote this year’s central theme: Chemistry Rocks! The American Chemical Society celebrates National Chemistry Week by organizing the ChemExpo to showcase how chemistry is applied at work and in everyday life by holding hands-on demonstrations.

AWIS-SD did not miss this opportunity to share some fun chemistry with the local community. Volunteers at the AWIS-SD booth offered students the opportunity to solve a “crime” using science. Students were given both a mystery liquid and solid that had been left at the “crime scene” with the goal of identifying the mystery compounds. The students performed a series of experiments including the analysis of pH, the determination of starch content using Lugol’s Iodine test, the observation of solubility, and the reactivity of solids in vinegar. Through these basic chemical tests, they scientifically determined the identity of the mystery compounds.

The volunteers also introduced the following key concepts to the students: chemical vs physical properties, acid-base reactions, and the transformation of starch into sugar. The transformation of starch into sugar was demonstrated by testing green and ripe bananas for their respective starch content. Acid-base reactions were illustrated by making an at-home pH solution using cabbage juice. The juice changes from red to blue to indicate acidity, and from red to green to indicate basicity. The booth was very popular and AWIS-SD received excellent feedback. At the end of the demo, one high school girl said: “it was a great activity and I actually learned something!”


caption: AWIS-SD booth at the ChemExpo 2017.


The organizers of the AWIS-SD Outreach booth, Anita Pottekat and Laure Kayser, wish to thank the wonderful volunteers, without whom this event would not have been such a success: Melba Nuzen, Kamala Janiyani, Carlos Avila, Isabela Avila, Cyrus Rustomji, Jennifer Ngolab, Sue Lowery, William Strube, Bridget Kohlnhofer, Diane Retallack and all the student and staff volunteers from Miramar College. We also wish to acknowledge the American Chemical Society and Paul Bruinsma for organizing ChemExpo. We are already looking forward to next year’s event!

Ringing in the New Year at Calibanzo

by Ray Seraydarian

On Wednesday, January 17, 2018, the San Diego AWIS chapter celebrated its annual New Year’s event at Calibanzo, a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern family-style restaurant in Scripps Ranch. The venue was bright and friendly, the food was satisfying, plentiful, and delicious, and everyone seemed to have had a great time. The sold-out crowd of over 40 AWIS members sitting around a U-shaped arrangement of tables was a lively and cheerful group.


caption: AWIS-SD attendees enjoying dinner and conversations at New Year's celebration.  


At the tables were fresh salad fixings, flat breads and hummus, and dolma (stuffed grape leaves, served cold as an appetizer). The self-serve buffet included rice, chicken kebobs, and lula kebabs (grilled ground beef or ground lamb with spices). Congratulations to the Events Committee for putting on such a successful event.

Opening Doors to New Opportunities- Finding A Job after Getting a Ph.D.

by Annie Rathore

About 8 years ago, I started my journey as a scientist with a B.Tech. degree in biotechnology from the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, India. Currently, I’m a Ph.D. candidate at UC San Diego/Salk Institute.

I am coming close to the end of my Ph.D. and like every other professional, I faced this daunting question – What’s Next? Traditionally, Ph.D.'s stay in academia and continue research as post-doctoral researchers before applying to faculty positions. However, in this day and age, Ph.D.s have many opportunities beyond conducting research due to the training and specific skill set we developed as Ph.D. candidates. When I started networking and meeting new people at career conferences, on LinkedIn, or through friends, I realized that having a Ph.D. opens up numerous unconventional and extremely exciting opportunities in the non-academic job market; from management consulting, biotech startups, investment banking, market research, medical writing, medical science liaison, IP/Law and more.

Management consulting firms utilize the problem-solving skills Ph.D.'s develop to work on solving the toughest scientific problems in the world. Banking offers several positions to Ph.D.'s; Ph.D.'s can work as equity research analysts and investment banking associates, both of which require strong data analytical skills and an ability to ask right questions under pressure. Business investors without a scientific background may need a subject matter expert to consult with regarding companies performing similar research before investing his or her venture capital. As most people in the industry have told me, “We can teach business to a Ph.D., but can’t really teach a Ph.D. to a person with a business background.” As more and more Ph.D.'s have made a successful transition into similar roles in the past and contributed immensely to the companies, firms are getting more comfortable recruiting and investing in more Ph.D.'s.

I am excited about management consulting as a profession for multiple reasons. I would like to share the three critical things that I learned throughout the entire process of networking, preparing, interviewing, and meeting people from firms.

  1. Build a strong resume

It’s strange but true; you will be judged by that one sheet of paper. Having a good GPA and a degree from a good university will not be enough. Most of your peers who are applying for the same position will also be a Ph.D., M.B.A., or Masters students from top universities. How to make sure you stand out then? It is important to start building a strong resume as early as possible. It might take an hour or two to write and edit your resume but it takes from one to two years to build one. To differentiate yourself from other applicants, you must have experience holding positions of responsibility outside of research and academia. For example, consider working with a top pharmaceutical firm or biotech startup in a business development role. You could take up pro bono consulting projects, start or lead clubs on campus, write opinion articles on industry, venture capital/startup news, attend consulting workshops and competitions, etc. These activities do not just look great on a resume, but more importantly, they help you gain an understanding of the industry from a broader perspective and develop skills essential for the transition.

  1. Learn to pitch yourself

The acceptance rate into a top management consulting firm in the highly competitive job market is less than 5%. It is crucial to differentiate yourself from the other highly accomplished peers. Being smart and having a strong resume helps, but unfortunately it is not enough. You have to learn to pitch yourself. As Ph.D. students, we do not do this often and I too believe in letting our work and experience talk for itself. We have to train to pitch for ourselves. When you meet someone, think of what would excite them to learn about and why they should remember you. Leave an impression that you could add value to the team in the brief conversation you have by emphasizing the well-rounded experiences you have, and the ability to complement the existing skill set of the group. Another important thing for Ph.D.'s to learn is how to explain their research to a non-scientist and get the audience excited about the future application of your research. So the next time you are with your siblings or parents, practice by telling them what you are working on and make it interesting.  

  1. Network extensively

Since most firms do not recruit Ph.D. students from campus job fairs especially in the life sciences, networking extensively is the key to land a job at your dream firm. Start by researching the firm via their company website or using websites like, Glassdoor, etc. Next, reach out to people at the firm through networking events, friends, or LinkedIn. In the first few conversations, try to familiarize yourself with the firm, the work culture, type of projects, their day to day work routine, and seek their advice. The purpose should not be to ask for a job, but to honestly understand if you’d like to work at the firm in a similar role. After you have identified the places you are interested in, it’s best to have your resume forwarded to the company recruiter by an employee. Recruiters receive thousands of application for each job posting and it is highly likely that your resume will not be read unless you are referred by an employee. Also, remember to evaluate the company as much as the company is evaluating you. Determining the right fit for you is crucial to finding the right position that will help you realize your career goals.

Finally, I would like to end by saying that taking a step outside research into an unconventional job market for a Ph.D. can be intimidating, but start one step at a time. Take the initiative to develop an edge in your field of interest and it will prove to be the best strategy for transitioning.

Wishing everyone all the best for the next steps in your career!


 Academia to Industry Coffee Club Visit to Dart Neuroscience

by Juliati Rahajeng


Association for Women in Science San Diego Chapter (AWIS-SD) visited Dart Neuroscience, LLC on Friday, October 27, 2017. Thirteen AWIS-SD Academia to Industry (A2I) coffee club members attended the tour that was organized by Karsten Baumgartel, Ph.D., a scientist at Dart Neuroscience, and the A2I coffee club. Five scientists, including Baumgartel and Nicola Broadbent, Ph.D., hosted the tour. Each one of them took turn in talking to tour attendees about how they transitioned into industry and their roles in the company. Below we highlight one of the scientists.

Dart 20171027

caption: A2I members visiting Dart NeuroScience.

Broadbent is a Scientist II in the Behavioral Pharmacology group at Dart Neuroscience. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology/Behavioral Neuroscience from the University of Otago in New Zealand where she investigated the function of the hippocampus in memory. Then, she received her postdoctoral training with Drs. Larry Squire and Robert Clark at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) in the field of learning and memory. She continued this work as an Assistant Project Scientist at UCSD. Broadbent’s first industry position was with Helicon Therapeutics where she was hired for her expertise in the neurobiology of memory. At Dart Neuroscience, Broadbent designs and validates complex behavioral assays with the goal to provide better translation of preclinical results to clinical trials. Broadbent also serves as the lead Behavioral Pharmacologist for a several drug discovery teams. She enjoys working for Dart Neuroscience because it allows her to collaborate with scientists from variety of disciplines and because of the opportunity for continued training and professional development. Thank you, Dart Neuroscience for the inspiring and educational tour!


Academia to Industry (A2I) coffee club - An evening with Karen Sylvester

by Aime Lopez Aguilar


The first A2I coffee club of the year was held on Friday, January 12, 2018, testing a new location at the Corner Coffee Bakery of the UTC Westfield mall. We had 14 attendees ranging from senior students to experienced professionals. Our guest speaker was Ms. Karen Sylvester from Vertex Pharmaceuticals.


Sylvester is the Director in Human Resources at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a rapidly growing pharmaceutical company focusing on speciality drug development. Sylvester, a graduate from San Diego State University, has been with Vertex Pharmaceuticals for 20 years and therefore has a wealth of experience with hiring practices, and the transition from academia to industry from the employer’s perspective.

General job hunting advice

Sylvester mentioned that San Diego is one of the big biotech/pharma hubs in the USA, and therefore there are lots of potential employers. Jobs are usually posted on websites such as LinkedIn or Indeed, however there are other resources such as and that in addition to job postings provide lists of employers in the area. Directly checking an employer’s career website can also provide information about open positions.

Sylvester also mentioned that the use of recruiting agencies has become common practice for the biotech/pharma industry. While it is understandable most people want a permanent full-time job, short-term contracts or part-time jobs can be useful to gauge a company’s culture and our own interest in a particular job. Furthermore these contracts can provide valuable industry experience and contacts for future job searches, and in occasion they can serve as a foot-in-the-door for more permanent contracts. Sylvester mentioned that recruiting agencies such as Biophase, Aerotek, or Kelly often work with different employers and therefore it can be useful to join the talent pool of more than one recruiting agency.

Resume and Cover letter advice

Sylvester mentioned that she can receive hundreds of applications for a single opening, and therefore an initial screen of an application can take as little as 30 sec, therefore it is important to be concise and careful with details. Cover letters should be customized for each position, proof-read to be free of typos and grammar errors. Any contacts within the company or recommendations should be mentioned, as well as a description of why you fit the job description. Regarding resumes, Sylvester recommended keeping the length to 2 pages, and mentioning your best assets first. For example, for early career scientists, education might be at the top of their resume but more established professionals might want to move their work experience to the top. Ms. Sylvester also mentioned that she personally is indifferent to being addressed by name on a cover letter, or including detailed addresses in resumes or cover letters, and that she appreciates when a personal detail, such as a hobby or interest, is mentioned in the cover letter, however these are subjective issues that might bear different weight with other hiring managers.

The hiring process

Sylvester described the general hiring process at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, stating that while some elements might be translatable to other companies, each company maintains their own particular policies and practices. For example, while Vertex considers applications of Ph.D.s for Associate positions (as long as they are happy doing the work), other companies might not.

At Vertex, Sylvester and her team at the HR department review every incoming application and forward candidates meeting the criteria to the hiring manager. The hiring manager then selects possible candidates, which are then given a phone interview with someone from the HR department (~30 mins). Successful candidates are then invited for an on-site interview (often ~3 candidates/ position are invited) which is often a panel, area-focus style interview with people from different levels and positions. Interviewees are often asked a mix of behavioral questions to determine whether they are a cultural fit for the position, team, and company. At Vertex, Sylvester tries to schedule on-site interviewees within 1-2 weeks, however she mentioned that some positions can be hard to fill and postings remain open for months at a time.

She highlighted that researching a company and job description is key for being successful, especially at the interview stage. And that sometimes, excellent candidates are not selected because of external factors such as timing, specific profiles being sought, or even a different cultural balance within the group. Finally, Sylvester emphasized that while job hunting can be a grueling process, everything is in place to find the best match for each opening, benefiting both the employers and employees.


Member News

  1. Wendy Knowlton announced the arrival of her first child, Hannah Elaine Tsuji, on December 23, 2017. Mom, dad, and baby are all doing well.
  2. A recent study co-authored by board member Leslie Crews (Assistant Professor in the Division of Regenerative Medicine at UC San Diego) was published in Nature Communications in December 2017. In this paper, co-senior author Crews and colleagues identified a previously unknown role for the RNA-recoding enzyme ADAR1 in promoting disease progression and drug resistance in the second most common blood cancer in the US, multiple myeloma.

News Ticker

by Alyson Smith

  • The National Cancer Institute has awarded San Diego’s Aethlon Medical a contract to adapt the Hemopurifier, its blood-filtering device, to detect cancer. Aethlon plans to use the Hemopurifier (originally developed to filter viruses from Ebola patient blood) to detect oncosomes: small particles shed by cancer cells. Because oncosomes may aid cancer cells by suppressing the immune system, the company ultimately plans to use the device in cancer immunotherapy.

  • The Salk Institute has appointed geneticist Rusty Gage as its interim president following the retirement of Elizabeth Blackburn. Gage, who also served as interim president during the medical leave of former president William Brody, will continue to run his laboratory while the Institute searches for a new president. Following her retirement, Blackburn will serve the Institute as a paid consultant for strategic planning.

  • A team of researchers including UC San Diego scientists have genetically engineered CAR T cells to attack cancer cells when activated by the mechanical force of an ultrasound. This technology allows for targeted CAR T cell activation deep within the body (up to four inches), avoiding the need for risky global activation of these potent – and sometimes deadly – immune cells. In the future, scientists could apply this method to activate other disease-involved cell types.

  • Last fall, four Jamaican iguanas hatched at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, bringing the total successful hatchings of this critically endangered reptile at the park to 11. Once thought to be extinct due to predation by invasive species, the iguanas were rediscovered in 1990. San Diego Zoo Global is working to maintain an assurance colony with healthy, strong genetic lines protected from threats faced in the wild.

  • Ozanimod, a multiple sclerosis drug invented by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute, has proven more effective in reducing relapse rate than the current standard of care in two large Phase 3 clinical trials. The biopharmaceutical company Celgene will soon apply to sell the drug in the U.S. and the European Union. Ozanimod is also being developed to treat other autoimmune disorders, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

  • UC San Diego and Scripps Memorial Hospital recently participated in a nationwide trial using imaging data to build computational models of blood flow in stroke patients’ brains. These models helped surgeons make educated guesses about the location and extent of brain damage in newly admitted stroke patients, which guided treatment decisions. The quantitative data produced by these models will allow doctors to help some patients more than six hours after the onset of symptoms, which is otherwise risky.

  • UC San Diego Health has joined 11 other centers across the country in piloting a new iPhone-based medical records access system developed by Apple. The new system can store medical records from different health care providers, send medication reminders, and allow other iPhone apps to access select medication data.

  • Scientists at the Birch Aquarium and UC San Diego used a 3D-printed piece of plastic to fill a gap in the shell of a young, rescued loggerhead sea turtle. As the turtle grew, the shell gap began to cause spinal curvature, which the scientists hope the plastic brace will correct. Until the turtle reaches full size at about 250 pounds, they will continue to print larger and larger pieces of plastic.


Upcoming AWIS-SD Events

Scholarship 2018

Applications due Sunday, Feb 27, 2018

Open to female students actively engaged in a degree program in the 2017-2018 academic year.


Speed Mentoring 2018

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 05:30 PM - 07:30 PM

at National University, register here


STRATEGY SESSIONS: Decoding the Resume
Monday, April 02, 2018 06:00 PM - 08:00 PM

at Hera Hub, register here


See more AWIS-SD events here.


About the Authors

 TNoguchi1Crop 170403

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



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



Laure Kayser is a post-doc in the department of NanoEngineering at the University of California San Diego. After completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Strasbourg, she obtained a PhD degree in Chemistry from McGill University in Canada. She is currently an active member of the AWIS-SD Outreach Committee and the NanoEngineering representative for the UC San Diego Post-Doctoral Association.

Annie salk cropped

Annie Rathore is a Ph.D. candidate at Salk Institute and UC San Diego. She was awarded the AWIS-SD Scholarship 2017 honoree mention and Salk Women in Science 2017 award for her high impact research in uncovering the role of microproteins in human biology and disease conditions.  Prior to this, she completed her B.Tech. degree in Biotechnology from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and research at University of Iowa as a Khorana Program Scholar. Annie is a global traveler, enjoys running and cooking innovative dishes that combine different cuisines. After completing her Ph.D., she plans to transition to life science management consulting in New York.


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 cancer genomics scientist at Human Longevity Inc. Corine has been involved with AWIS-SD since 2006, and held various AWIS-SD leadership roles including Treasurer, Board member, and Website Committee co-chair. She currently serves as Newsletter co-chair. 



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


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.




Spring 2018 Newsletter Volume 26 Issue 2

This issue of the Newsletter will be available as PDF.

For previous newsletters, click here.


CourtneyB crop

Dear AWIS-SD Members and Friends,

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

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

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

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

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



Courtney Benson

President AWIS-SD

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

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

Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair EXPO day

by Mary Swinton

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




Oobleck in the grass - Logan Heights Library

by Chistina Grobin

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





Outreach at Expanding Your Horizons Conference

by Prathima Garudadri

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

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




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

In addition to a fun exposure to science, participants also had the opportunity to interact with female scientists. Participants utilized any free moment to ask the volunteers what they do, why they like science, and how participants can continue working in the field. The students who participated in our workshop were very enthusiastic and curious. Their enthusiasm was matched by that of the fabulous group of women who volunteered their Saturday to mentor these girls, which really made this event a success!

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


2018 Greater San Diego Science & Engineering Fair Poster Judging

by Alina Luk

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

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

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




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


AWIS-SD Science Poster Awards Dinner

by Varykina (Kina) Thackray

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


 science fair recipients 2018

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

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

AWIS-SD Annual Speed Mentoring

by Raymond Seraydarian 

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


speed mentoring 002



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

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


AWIS Strategy Sessions article for April event

by Sabrina Treadwell

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

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

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

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

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


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

AWIS-SD Visit to Eli Lilly Biotechnology Center

by Takako Noguchi

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

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


A2I Lillytour



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

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

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

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


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

by Juliati Rahajeng, Takako Noguchi and Aime Lopez Aguilar

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

Dr. Cohen's journey and life as a toxicologist

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

Toxicology at a glance

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

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

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

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

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

General advice

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

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


 A2I Cohen



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

by Juliati Rahajeng

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

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

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

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

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

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


by Alyson Smith

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



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



See more AWIS-SD events here.


About the Authors


Mary Swinton crop

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

 Chistina Grobin crop

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

Prathima G crop

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


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

Kina headshot

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

Ray S headshot

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

sabrina crop

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

TNoguchi1Crop 170403

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


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

 Aime Lopez crop

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





Summer 2018 Newsletter Volume 26 Issue 3

This issue of the Newsletter is available in PDF.

For previous newsletters, click here.


CourtneyB crop

Dear AWIS-SD Members and Friends,

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

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

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

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

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



Courtney Benson

President, AWIS-SD

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


AWIS-SD 2018 Scholars Celebration

by Risa Broyer

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

2018 scholars celebration gp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2018 AWIS-SD Scholarship Recipients

by Juliati Rahajeng

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

2018 scholars

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


Emilia Dyrenkova

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

Elena Estrada

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

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

Charlene Anderson

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

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

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

Sarah Moore

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

Olivia Pereira

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

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

Angela Szeciorka

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

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

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

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

Julie Paxman

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

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


AWIS-SD Member Profile: Dr. Dorothy Sears

by Alyson Smith

 Sears Dorothy

caption: Dr. Dorothy Sears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Dieanira Erudaitius


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

Background and Career at a molecular diagnostic company

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

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

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

The interview process

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

What her current position looks like

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

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

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

Advice to A2I members

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


AWIS Strategy Session June event- Decoding the Elevator Pitch

by Alison Huang

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

 elevator speech

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


Here are Dr. Title’s key suggestions:

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


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

by Dieanira Erudaitius


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

Transition to Industry: From Postdoctoral scholar to Medical Communications Specialist

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

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

The interview

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

What her current position looks like

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

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

Advice to A2I members

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


AWIS Spring Happy Hour

by Ray Seraydarian

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

 IMG 3540     IMG 3552

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


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


by Alyson Smith

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



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



1) Meet the Board

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

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

Light refreshments will be served.

RSVP here  


2) Happy hour and tour at Green Flash Brewing

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

Venue: Green Flash Brewing

Brewery Tour and Networking Event at Green Flash Brewing

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

RSVP here


3) Registration Deadline: AWIS-SD Visit to Takeda

Date: Friday, September 28, 2018

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

Register for the tour here


4) STRATEGY SESSIONS: Decoding Your Interpersonal Style

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

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

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

Light refreshments will be served.

Remember to bring your business cards!

Preregistration is essential!

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

RSVP here


See more AWIS-SD events here.

Non-AWIS events

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

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

Meeting information is available at

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


About the Authors


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



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


Dieanira headshot

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


Ray S headshot

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

Alyson Smith

Alison Huang





Upcoming Events

Date: 02 August 2021, 05:00 PM
Monthly Career Advancement Planning Committee Meetings 1st Monday of the Month at 5pm

Date: 09 August 2021, 07:00 PM
Monthly AWIS San Diego PR committee meeting 2nd Monday of the Month at 7pm via Google Meet.

Zoom Meetings
Date: 11 August 2021, 06:00 PM
Events Committee - Planning Networking Events for our members and community. Join us!

Date: 14 August 2021, 09:00 AM
AWIS San Diego Board Meetings (All Board Members Only)

Date: 07 September 2021, 04:00 PM
30 30

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
Go to top