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I hope this year has been great as we end 2019. I wish for a happy and prosperous 2020 to everyone. AWIS-SD held so many great events this year. We held our biennial Women in Science and Technology (WIST) conference in October at Thermo Fisher Scientific, our Platinum Sponsor, in Carlsbad. This was a fantastic conference organized by our WIST committee led by Robyn Wygal, with the theme “Sharing Strategies for Success.” Our keynote speaker was Dr. Steffanie Strathdee, an infectious disease epidemiologist at UCSD. She gave a heart-felt talk on her race to save her husband from a super bug that he contracted while they were on vacation, by using phage therapy. Her talk was an inspirational start to the conference, which was filled with networking, roundtable discussions, as well as interactive sessions.
As I close out this letter, I would like to say what a pleasure it has been serving AWIS-SD as President for the past two years. I have met so many great people and made so many amazing connections with everyone. I would like to congratulate Dr. Kina Thackray on becoming our next President for 2020-2021. I know she will do great things as President of our local organization to carry out our mission. I wish you all the best. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
by Jennifer Overklift
The 2019 WIST Conference was my first ever professional networking event. I was nervous. I have always been introverted, so the idea of meeting with strangers and trying to convince them to sit down for an interview with me was quite daunting. However, from the time I entered the conference to the time I left, I was able to not only accomplish my goal of finding interviewees, but also learn how to succeed in the working world.
The first thing I noticed when the conference started was that everyone was shy. I had come in expecting to get lost in the crowd as everyone mingled. But the calm environment put me at ease. It was also relieving to know that almost everyone I met seemed to be just as reserved as I was. The variation in networking experience, combined with the diversity of the conference attendees, helped me feel more comfortable throughout the entire event.
I also realized how easy it was to actually meet people. This was not unexpected, but I did not realize how genuinely helpful people would be. Often, after conversing with someone, they would recommend someone else for me to talk to, based on what they learned about me. Many of them even took the time to personally introduce me to others. I was able to sit down with numerous people working in the career field I plan on entering after college, or currently attending college studying the major that I want. Best of all, everyone was open to being interviewed about their experience.
I went to three roundtable talks throughout the day, all of which discussed topics that were relevant to me, even as a high school senior. The speakers leading these talks provided many valuable insights and encouraged all of the attendees to think critically about how the topic related to their lives. I learned about the importance of self-advocacy, mentors, and volunteering. I came out of each talk feeling more knowledgeable of the topic discussed, but also of myself as a working professional. The talks also allowed me to make additional connections with people I might not have met otherwise.
I ended the day having gained new connections and knowledge about everything from the major I plan to pursue to how to succeed in the working world. I felt exhausted from learning so much, but overall happy to have been able to have this experience. The conference allowed me to gain experience networking and to learn valuable lessons from professionals with years of experience. I look forward to attending again next year.
by Jennifer Overklift
The second session roundtable was on Environmental Science and Ecology. Speakers Becca Lewis, professor at SDSU, and Romina Schiess, a chemist for the County of San Diego, discussed a variety of topics including employment in the field of ecology, communication, mentorship, and leadership.
The talk began with Lewis discussing the diversity in science backgrounds of people employed in the field of ecology. Ecology employs people with degrees not just in the natural sciences, but also in mathematics and business. They also explained that Environmental sciences combined physical sciences with humanities.
Schiess explained that a big part of her job involved learning how to read people. In order to do inspections on businesses, she had to learn to communicate with others based on their personality. She prefers using the Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness (DiSC) method in order to read people. DiSC uses four different personality traits to characterize people. This method allows Schiess to work with people based on their communication and working style.
Lewis also highlighted the importance of having multiple mentors, and how even having a bad mentor can teach you ways to be a better one. She explained that mentor should be spelled with a lower case “m,” meaning you should have multiple mentors, not just one. Utilizing mentors can help you get valuable feedback and give you someone to bounce ideas off of. Schiess also added that her mentor was someone she could always consult regarding job changes, work environment, and how to communicate effectively with supervisors. Lewis explained that one of her biggest challenges was learning what she looked like as a leader, and not comparing herself to what other leaders looked like. Asking for specific feedback from some of her mentors helped her improve as a professional.
As someone planning to study Environmental Science in college, this talk provided me with a lot of insight into the career field. Schiess stated that funding could sometimes be cut back depending on the political climate. She also said that her job made her feel like she was helping others because she was able to determine when beaches were safe to swim in.
Both Schiess’ and Lewis’ perspectives on careers in Environmental Science and Ecology were refreshing yet practical. The overall message of the talk was that finding mentors and asking for personal feedback is important, and that both Environmental Science and Ecology are diverse fields with endless career options.
by Corine Lau
The mid-day session began with Katherine Nguyen Williams, PhD and Laurie A. Lindamer, PhD holding a workshop on “assessing and addressing unconscious bias for professional success.” The purpose of the workshop was to understand the meaning of unconscious bias, how to recognize it, and what we can do to minimize it, as it can impact our professional careers.
Lindamer began by defining bias, which is a tendency resulting in judgment without question. For example, we may associate a person or a group of people with a certain assumed behavior based on their gender, ethnicity, social status, beliefs, and physical or mental abilities. Unconscious bias, also called implicit bias, occurs when we make these associations without awareness, intention, or control.
Unconscious bias is inevitable. As Williams explained, we learn at a very early age to associate objects or people with certain attributes, like good cops and bad thieves, so that we can process information automatically and make decisions quickly. However, our judgment can be wrong during times of exceptions. Nonetheless, everyone’s unconscious bias is different based on his/her life experiences.
To illustrate one’s unconscious bias, first we have to be aware of it. Our first activity was to write down words and descriptions that identified each of us, and if any of these aspects place us in the ‘majority’ of the group. As attendees of a ‘women in science and technology’ conference, most of us identified ourselves as women in science. Then we dived into another activity to measure our level of unconscious bias using an Implicit Association Test developed by Harvard University (http://implicit.harvard.edu). Of the many tests available, our speakers challenged us to do gender vs science or liberal arts test. Using our phones, we had to click as quickly as possible whether we associate gender with liberal arts subjects like music or history, or with science subjects like biology or physics. After 6-7 rounds of these quick association tests, we were given a qualitative tendency score towards associating females with liberal arts subjects, and males with science subjects.
Unconscious bias is impossible to eliminate, but there are many strategies we can develop to address and to minimize unconscious bias at a personal level, as well as at an institutional level – for example, keeping an open mind and being aware of our unconscious attitudes towards others of different beliefs or origins. Take the time to assess the entire situation before making judgements based on the people involved. Once we recognize our own unconscious bias, we can also help others to do the same. In the workplace, screening job candidates by blocking out their names and promoting diversity and inclusion can help avoid gender and race bias.
The take home message of this session is that the more we are aware of our unconscious bias, the better we can learn to minimize the impact it could have on our personal and professional interactions.
About our speakers
Katherine Nguyen Williams, PhD
Williams is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCSD and the Director of Strategic Development and Clinical Innovations at Rady Children's Hospital–San Diego. Williams earned her doctoral degree at Loma Linda University (LLU). She is the author of Psychology Today: The Modern Child and Modular Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Children and Adolescents with Depression: A Clinician’s Guide to Individualized Treatment. Williams's clinical teaching and supervision is in the area of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, as well as clinical psychological assessment.
Laurie A. Lindamer, PhD
Lindamer is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCSD and serves as the Director of the Education and Dissemination Unit for the VA Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health (CESAMH) and Director of Education for the VA San Diego Healthcare System (VASDHS) Mental Health Care Line. She received her PhD in clinical psychology from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Lindamer’s research interests have been directed at designing and testing psychosocial interventions for health behaviors for persons with psychiatric disorders, and the implementation of evidence-based practices and health technology.
by Nora Shafee
On Wednesday September 11, 2019, AWIS A2I members were given a wonderful opportunity to host our monthly meeting at Takeda Pharmaceuticals. The meeting took place at their brand new, state-of-the-art facilities located at 9625 Towne Centre Drive, in the UTC area of San Diego.
We arrived at the building entrance around 5:15 pm, registered and were led to “The Grove”, their central meeting space and cafeteria. We sat comfortably around a big coffee table. The room was very spacious with glass walls which allowed natural light to shine in. Soon after, Dr. Jill Wykosky walked over to greet us with a big smile and welcomed us to Takeda.
Wykosky is the Director and Head of Biology in the Gastroenterology Drug Discovery Unit. She leads a group of scientists working on drug discovery for GI disorders. She also serves as a Portfolio Leader for GI Motility Disorders. After inviting us to coffee from their shiny new nitro coffee kegerator, she started to share with us her career journey.
Wykosky obtained her PhD in Molecular Medicine from Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Her studies focused on the characterization of novel targets for brain tumor drug development. The research led her to discover a previously unknown function for a soluble ligand in tumor cells.
After completing her PhD, Wykosky pursued her post-doctoral work at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in San Diego. Her work on therapeutic resistance to small molecule inhibitors in brain tumors allowed her to apply her multi-disciplinary knowledge, which includes oncology signal transduction, cell and molecular biology, and in vivo models of brain tumors. Wykosky's research efforts were focused on translational neuro-oncology emphasizing the use of clinical materials with basic laboratory science.
Wykosky began to look for career opportunities in industry following her post-doctoral training. Like other women in STEM, she had to juggle a busy schedule between career and family. She remembered that her opportunity to join Takeda came after the birth of her son. At the time, Takeda was venturing into a new innovative target discovery following an acquisition and they needed someone to lead new GI studies. Wykosky knew she was facing a steep learning curve due to the new company focus and would have a hectic schedule with her new baby. But she was thrilled to accept the challenge and embraced the opportunities that came with it.
After joining Takeda, she was tasked with starting a GI research group and given projects to lead. That was 6 years ago. Now Wykosky is successfully leading a productive GI disorder research team comprised of 17 members. Wykosky reminded AWIS members to be open to changes and ready to be flexible in research focus when joining industry. She pointed out that if we encounter something unfamiliar, we just have to be honest and open to admit that we do not know it. If we are open to learning, then other team members or supervisors are typically willing to teach us.
Wykosky’s word of advice to AWIS members was to be “comfortable being uncomfortable” because it will take us far. The highly collaborative multi-disciplinary industry environment requires the ability to quickly adapt and adjust our scientific creativity to new project directions. Adaptability is key given the dynamic and evolving nature of the biotech industry.
by Emily Bentley
For decades, people urged Ben Barres to write an account of his unusual life. He transitioned to male at the age of 43, having already become a tenured Stanford neuroscientist while presenting as a woman. After his transition, he commented that others now “treat me with much more respect; I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.” Challenging this unequal treatment, he became a crusader on behalf of women in science, demanding they receive equal treatment, protection, and respect.
In The Autobiography of a Transgender Scientist, Barres recounts this story. His writing style is straightforward and scientific – just the facts. His candor is often charming and funny. When he shares righteous anger, I often found his scathing criticisms so delightful that I read them aloud to whoever was nearby. Ironically, Barres’ call for justice contains no hint of apology. In my organizational efforts on behalf of women in science, I often talk myself into accepting compromise, partial improvement, or even a minimal display of effort from the powers that be. But Barres’ demand for true equality is profound and unrelenting. “Dear Sir,” he writes in one correspondence, “You have a hell of a lot of nerve inviting me after sending me that speaker list. [It] looks like out of your last 35 speakers, only 1 has been a woman??! I wouldn’t visit your school if you were the last school on earth.”
In her foreword to the autobiography, MIT professor Nancy Hopkins describes asking Barres how he was able to be so persistent. He replied: “[I]t’s not particularly stressful for me… [What’s] stressful to me is having such an unfair world.”
Barres spends the first 60 pages of the book giving an account of his life, primarily describing his scientific training. While growing up as “Barbara,” Barres experienced both persistent gender dysphoria and several examples – recognized only in hindsight – of sexism. Several times throughout his life, his discomfort living as a woman was so severe that he contemplated suicide. However, he suggests that his internal sense of being male protected him from many of the psychological effects of gender discrimination, which plagued women scientists at the time of his training in the 70s. For a reader following his journey uncovering the neurological role of glial cells (often thought of as support for the more famous neuron), the widespread acceptance of his gender transition by his mentors and colleagues is the only satisfying conclusion one could ask for.
Next, Barres moves on to discuss his neuroscience career in detail. In his Neuron essay “How to Pick a Graduate Advisor,” Barres criticizes mentors who fail to adequately credit their trainees when presenting their work. “The output of a truly great lab is not measured only in Nobel prizes and research articles but just as importantly in how many successful scientists it trains,” he argues. By this metric, the Science section of his Autobiography marks Barres as a great scientist indeed, as he introduces topic after topic with the name of the trainee who performed the work. The details of this section may only be of interest to other neuroscientists, but its outlines reveal the great curiosity and the strategic questioning that drove Barres’ lab forward for decades.
Finally, and very briefly, Barres discusses his Advocacy: the areas he wants to see academia improve. His most famous work, “Does Gender Matter?” published in Nature in 2006, described his objection to arguments that women are underrepresented in science because they are, on average, less capable scientists. Chiefly, Barres argues that “individual merit cannot and will not be recognized in the face of pervasive negative stereotyping.” Here, Barres extends this argument to other minority groups, and concludes “Every one of us has the responsibility to work to recognize and lessen these barriers lest the passion for science that drives many of our best and brightest diverse young scientists is extinguished.”
While I would argue that reading his autobiography fails to give a full account of Barres’ life – he alludes to much of his other writing while promising not to repeat himself – it tells his story from beginning to end. Barres passed away in 2017, having written the book as he was dying of pancreatic cancer. He leaves behind a lengthy list of successful trainees, many of whom continue to study the neurobiology he pioneered, and a public record of mentorship available to young scientists everywhere. His work, here and elsewhere, remains an inspiration.
by Nora Shafee, Qiong Song and Takako Noguchi
A small group of AWIS-SD members visited Celgene facilities at 10300 Campus Point Dr, San Diego, CA 92121. The tour took place on November 6, 2019 and was hosted by Laurie Phillips PhD, Celgene’s Senior Director Discovery Operations and Strategy. Phillips was very kind to accommodate us despite her busy schedule handling Celgene’s merger with Bristol-Myers Squib. Celgene’s acquisition by Bristol-Myers Squib was announced in early 2019 and was expected to be completed by the end of November.
Phillips met us at 9:15 a.m. in the lobby and invited us to their conference room for a discussion and information-sharing session. For this session, she brought together an impressive line of Celgene’s successful women scientists and leaders to be the panel members. They were Mercedes Delgado, PhD (Senior Manager Project Management), Christina Trout, PhD (Manager Research Alliance), JC Xu, PhD (Senior Director R&ED China Strategy) Lisa Morrison, PhD (Principal Scientist), and Natalie Hawryluk, PhD (Director Global Health). Their fields of expertise included medicinal chemistry, immuno-biology, preclinical development, protein homeostasis and cancer biology. The one-hour discussion was focused on the topic of “Working in the Biotech Industry.”
The participants asked questions ranging from career decisions, hiring practices, work culture and family-career balance. The discussion session was very motivating and extremely informative. We all learned a lot from it and enjoyed getting to know the panel members. Overall, it was agreed that any challenges faced by women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) could be encountered with strength, perseverance and persistence.
After the panel discussion, Phillips led us to a tour of Celgene laboratories. We were briefed with specific rules during the tour to ensure compliance with Celgene’s policies and safety regulations. The sprawling facilities were equipped with advanced state-of-the-art equipment manned by attentive and focused scientists. We were guided through their chemistry laboratories, cell culture facilities, and other impressive laboratory spaces and technologies. We were awed by the discoveries and innovations made in these laboratories by their dedicated scientists, who specialize in more than 40 disease areas. Phillips reminded us that one of the main personality traits needed when working in the industry is the ability to quickly learn new techniques and adapt to new experimental directions in accordance with current company directions.
Following the tour, Phillips provided us with boxed lunches and paired each of us with a mentor. She arranged it in such a way that our fields of interest matched those of the mentors’. We were then asked to find a quiet space to have lunch and talk. The scientists that were invited to be mentors were Emily Rychak, PhD, Senior Scientist (Protein Homeostasis), Sanaa Torres, B.S., Scientist (Protein Homeostasis), Josh Mugford, PhD, Principal Scientist (Protein Homeostasis & Sequencing), Denise Hickey, Vice President Deputy Chief Patent Counsel, Jen Riggs, PhD, Associate Director Medicinal Chemistry, and Kamran Ghoreishi, M.S., Senior Scientist (Exploratory Toxicology). The one-to-one style arranged by Phillips was very effective in encouraging networking and providing a personalized mentoring session. Everyone had a great time and wonderful conversations. After lunch, we said good-bye to our mentors and planned to keep in touch.
All participants then assembled for a final session in the conference room. Phillips presented an overview of Celgene and its drug discovery efforts. Celgene’s focus is a singular mission of improving the lives of patients worldwide. The company fulfills this mission by instilling trust in their colleagues, patients, partners and the public at large through their words and actions. Celgene is now part of Bristol-Myers Squibb and continues to lead in addressing the needs of patients with serious diseases.
AWIS-SD would like to thank Celgene Corporation for giving us the chance to tour its San Diego facilities. We also extend our sincere gratitude and appreciation to Dr. Laurie Phillips for all her hard work in planning and leading the exciting and informative tour.
by Corine Lau
On Monday, August 5, 2019, the Strategy Sessions Committee hosted Denise Brannon to conduct mock interviews with about 10 AWIS-SD attendees. Brannon is a seasoned regional recruiting manager for Kelly Scientific Resources. She specializes in recruiting, sales, and services.
Brannon began the session by understanding where we were in finding our next position, whether it was seeking advancement or career transitions. We were then summoned one by one to the “interview room.” This was a great opportunity for us to talk about our career achievements, goals, strengths and weaknesses. Brannon was the perfect mock interviewer. She was interested in what we were doing and she used her experience in recruiting and team building to provide guidance on how to bring out our strengths. One suggestion she had on tackling behavioral type of questions such as “how do you deal with conflicts,” is to provide specific examples from your work experience. It is acceptable to bring a notepad with bullet points prepared to help cue those types of questions.
While we were waiting to be interviewed, AWIS-SD attendees also tested each other on our responses to difficult questions or non-traditional interview settings. Video interviews have become a popular screening method. However, answering questions at a computer screen while being videotaped may create additional anxiety for the interviewee, not to mention the likelihood of having “technical difficulties.”
Overall, it was a great session practicing how to communicate effectively during an interview to bring out the best in us. Effective job interviewing is a life skill that we all need to perfect no matter what career stage we are at! Thank you, Sabrina Treadwell and Myan Do from the Strategy Sessions Committee for putting this event together!
by Michelle Muldong
This year’s 32nd annual Chem Expo was held on October 26, 2019, on the campus of San Diego Miramar College. Local companies and organizations exhibited chemistry demonstrations and hands-on activities for San Diego students ranging in age from elementary school to college. The campus was buzzing with excitement and curiosity from the numerous students visiting each booth as they were able to see how chemistry can be applied in real life, day-to-day contexts.
AWIS Outreach volunteers were ready to go with an activity called “Crime Scene Analysis”, which consisted of testing the chemical and physical properties of known solids and liquids. Students were able to learn about pH, solubility and starch content using iodine and vinegar. Through observations of the different chemical reactions, students were successfully able to determine the unknown. The booth was inundated with students anxious to solve the chemical mysteries. One seven year old boy ran up to the booth eager to independently mix the compounds, turning down any help from his dad. After dropping vinegar onto baking soda and asked to describe what just happened, he excitedly answered, “An explosion!” An explosion of excitement indeed.
The organizers of this outreach booth, Jenny Cornell and MIchelle Muldong, would like to extend special thank yous to the volunteers for their time and enthusiasm: Antonia Darragh, Alexandra Dawson, Ellen Eberhard, Ivy Fernandes, Jamillah Murtadha, Hao Pham, Katherine Tian and Jaine Tores. This event couldn’t have been successfully accomplished without them. AWIS would also like to extend a big thank you to the ACS organizers as well as the Miramar College Science faculty group who helped provide extra supplies and volunteers. Overall, the event was a fun-filled and successful day. AWIS can’t wait to do it again next year!
Jennifer Overklift was born and raised in San Diego and is scheduled to graduate from Clairemont High school in June 2020. She hopes to pursue a degree in environmental science and plans to be a scientific writer once she enters the workforce. Some of Jennifer’s hobbies include reading, running, and swimming. Jennifer also has a passion for wildlife conservation. She is currently interning at AWIS San Diego as a Communications Specialist.
Corine Lau received her Ph.D. in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and her B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of Washington, Seattle. She pursued her post-doctoral training at the University of California, San Diego. She is currently a clinical oncology lead at Human Longevity Inc. Corine has been involved with AWIS-SD since 2006, and held various AWIS-SD leadership roles including Treasurer, Board member, and Website Committee co-chair. She currently serves as Newsletter co-chair and WIST planning committee.
Emily Bentley is a Ph.D. candidate in Molecular Biology at Scripps Research, where she studies the biophysics of intrinsically disordered proteins with a particular interest in transcription. In addition to her year of participation on the AWIS-SD Newsletter Committee, she also serves as the Chair for the Scripps Research Network for Women in Science. She spends her free time playing viola with the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus and tutoring English language learners in reading.
Norazizah Shafee is a scientist at UC San Diego and a Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology at the University Putra Malaysia. During her graduate studies at the University of Malaya, she investigated the mechanism of cellular responses to viral infections. Intrigued by the way certain cells self-destruct upon sensing potential virus attack, she decided to investigate why these cellular responses were de-regulated in some cancer cells. She pursued this interest during her post-doctoral training at UC Irvine, where she helped develop a mouse model of breast cancer and provided initial evidence of cancer stem cells as a potential cause of chemoresistance. Combining her background in anti-viral responses and cancer cell biology, Nora is currently focused on characterizing cellular responses towards oncolytic virus infections. Nora joined AWIS and became a co-chair of the Academia-2-Industry committee in January 2019.
Michelle Muldong is a Research Associate at the University of California San Diego’s Moores Cancer Center. She works in Dr. Christina Jamieson’s lab studying bone-metastatic prostate cancer performing in vivo and in vitro experiments utilizing patient derived samples. Michelle obtained her B.S. from the University of California San Diego with a degree in General Biology. She has been involved in AWIS since September 2019 and is passionate about teaching the next generation about STEM. Outside of lab Michelle enjoys hot yoga, hiking, snowboarding, iced coffee & hanging out with her French bulldog/Boston Terrier mix pup- Stitch!
Contribute to the Newsletter
AWIS-SD Newsletter Committee
Co-chairs: Alyson Smith, Jean Spence, and Corine Lau
Members: Pat Rarus, Juliati Rahajeng, Emily Bentley, and Swathi Hullugundi