CSUPERB-supported students – who are they?

Each year CSUPERB organizes and hosts the annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium. The 28th annual event January 5-7, 2016, brought together 403 student researchers from 21 of the 23 CSU campuses.*

The post-symposium surveying is now complete.  96.4% of students responding (28.5% of those who attended) would recommend it to other students. 100% of faculty responding (40% of those who attended) would recommend the meeting to students or other faculty.

These endorsements are a real testimony to the Faculty Consensus Group (FCG) members (if you follow that link you might want to hit play and mute your computer!) who put significant thought, work and creativity into this year’s program.  We also – of course – had a small army of invited speakers, industry mentors and evaluators who brought their perspectives, stories and verve to the meeting.  It’s amazing to see all the moving parts come together each January. This was my 9th symposium. The fall ramp-up to the symposium is draining from a small office organizational viewpoint – but I can tell you the CSUPERB program office floats through the year on the energy and goodwill we harvest during the symposium!

CSUPERB and our sponsors subsidize the cost of symposium participation for CSU students.  Each year as they register, we ask students for information about themselves so that we can track the make-up of the students we support. I’m a sucker for free web-based software so I graphed out student responses using Piktochart this year (see below – or surf to the dynamic version on the web: https://magic.piktochart.com/output/11020572-csuperb-supported-students).  I can’t tell you how many times during the year I use this data for grant proposals and presentations outside the CSU – so I wanted to share this data with the CSUPERB community. We’ve been tracking this dataset for 3 years now; this year’s responses are not significantly different than previous years’ data.

It’s policy report season so I’ve recently read lots of thought-provoking and sometimes frustrating higher education, workforce development and research-related monographs. However, one worth discussing here is a new (prepublication) report out of the National Academies Press (NAP) titled, “Promising Practices for Strengthening the Regional STEM Workforce Development Ecosystem.” (Free PDF available at www.nap.edu/21894). It leans heavily on National Science Board (NSB) data found in the 2014 “Revisiting the STEM Workforce” report.

As readers of this blog know well – I’ve often railed against general calls for more STEM graduates.  The NAP and NSB reports do a great job describing the “heterogeneity of the STEM workforce and lack of consensus on how to define it…” However the reports (rightly IMHO) offer data and citations that focus on “high level of attrition, especially of women and underrepresented groups, among students in STEM majors.”  That’s why I’m so proud to share our data on the student researchers and entrepreneurs who presented at the 28th CSU Biotechnology Symposium.

The recommendations outlined in the NAP report map surprisingly well to the strategies adopted by CSUPERB these past 8 years or so. The annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium itself is a classic example of a “larger-scale, convening event” called for in the report!  The NAP report lists promising practices, including:

  • “More hands-on, project-based learning activities for students.
  • Professional development for teachers in project-based learning instruction.
  • More opportunities for students, teachers, and parents to interact with STEM professionals and learn about employers and career opportunities.
  • Outreach to females and underrepresented minorities that includes opportunities to meet role models and mentors who look like the students. 
  • Mechanisms to facilitate connections between teachers and STEM professionals who wish to function as volunteer speakers and/or mentors.”

The annual symposium program incorporates these promising practices, including the opportunity to showcase the high level of “hands-on, project-based” research and entrepreneurial projects the CSU’s students produce.  The 264 posters and 13 CSU I-Corps team presentations represent faculty-student research supported by NSF, NIH, HHMI and other national funding organizations. While none of the CSU campuses are classified as Research 1 universities, the hands-on, project-based learning opportunities mentored by CSU faculty systemwide are of outstanding quality and have tremendous impact on the career trajectories of our students.**

The educators, industry professionals, sponsors and policy leaders who come to the symposium “recognize the importance of strong college-university-industry collaboration in preparing the STEM workforce of the future.” CSUPERB works with “intermediary organizations,” like BIOCOM and California Life Sciences Institute, who understand the bi-directional partnerships needed to nurture a healthy biotechnology industry ecosystem. Doctoral program representatives and community college colleagues join us at the event to build bridges and pathways for our students and theirs.  We thank Gilead Sciences, Inc., Agilent Technologies, BioDiscovery, CourseKey, Grifols Biologicals, Inc., Rare Science, Inc., Slater Hersey and Virun for their financial support – but also their employees who were a vital part of the 28th annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium.  The National Science Foundation provided funding for the CSU I-Corps program – a very popular, new part of the symposium program. These relationships and ongoing partnerships are the basis on which CSUPERB carries out its strategic goals; the annual symposium is the “convening event” that brings us together again face-to-face (even in nano-second drive-bys!).

The real reason we all keep coming back to the annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium is to meet the students who come to the symposium each year. Having 9 symposia under my belt now, my LinkedIn network is beginning to swell with CSU alumni working in the biotechnology industry. This year many of them came back to the symposium as mentors and speakers.  I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to see them again, hear their stories and watch them give back to the current students attending the symposium. Join us next year – it’s a great event!

*See three symposium-related photo galleries on the CSUPERB Facebook page: (1) Speakers, Career Networking Session and more, (2) The Eden & Nagel Symposium Award programs and (3) CSU I-Corps

**For student impacts, see here and here. Most CSU faculty in biotechnology-related departments earned their PhDs and spent postdocs at R1 universities in the US and they do world-class research!  Browse this year’s poster abstracts for a flavor of the biotechnology research going on across the CSU.

csuperb-supported-students (2)

    New CSUPERB Annual Report – bigger and full of news

    CIRM issued its new Bridges 2.0 Request for Proposals in August.  In answer CSUPERB scrambled to organize two proposal writing workshops for interested campus proposal writing teams.  We figured it was worth delaying our annual reporting to make sure campus teams had the information they needed to respond to CIRM’s new program requirements; there are millions of training grant dollars at stake!  Many thanks to Dr. Michael Yaffe (CIRM) for spending afternoons at Cal Poly Pomona and San Jose State University explaining the new program requirements. Bridges 2.0 proposals are due tomorrow; good luck to all the applicant campuses and their partners.

    The poster abstract deadline for the 28th Annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium was this past Monday.  Tyson Gadd is still culling through the submissions, removing duplicates and checking for completeness, but it looks like the poster abstract selection committee has their work cut out for them again this year; we predict we will only be able to accept 75-80% of the abstracts submitted. The preliminary count suggests there are over 20 Eden Graduate Research Award nominations and 13 Nagel Undergraduate Research Award nominations. Because we can only accommodate a limited number of award talk presentations in the symposium program, the award selection committees must narrow the Eden and Nagel fields by naming finalists in these highly competitive system-wide award programs.  Finalists and authors on selected posters will receive email notifications from CSUPERB the first week in November.


    So this month as the fall academic term began in earnest, research teams wrote abstracts, and Bridges 2.0 teams did the hard work of building partnerships, CSUPERB finished up our AY 2014-15 Annual Report (linked here).  We figure most people read the electronic version of the report these days.  This year we concluded our previous efforts to keep the report’s page length short meant we were using ridiculously small font sizes and leaving out some of the best news from CSUPERB’s PI and student researcher community.  So this year’s annual report has grown from six pages to ten!

    As always the annual report features some wonderful, follow-on outcomes from our seed grants. Each year our supported researchers – students and faculty – write graceful, reflective and thoughtful final reports.  As we read through the final reports, it is clear that the “extracurricular,” high-impact practices, partnerships and creative projects we fund open doors, opportunities, and paths that transform careers, departments and campuses at both the student and faculty levels.  We are so glad we have the ability to “put our toe on the gas” of these career and research program trajectories; we are proud of what these researchers have accomplished!

      Guest Blog: Paula Fischhaber Teaches in China

      The CSU’s biotechnology faculty are remarkable educators with wide-ranging research interests and partnerships both on and off-campus. CSUPERB continues to focus on building partnerships as part of our professional development programs, but many (most?) research-active CSU faculty already have wonderful research collaborations and external partnerships worldwide, as you’ll see!  The beneficiaries of successful and collaborative research partnerships? Students, of course! Faculty who collaborate with external groups bring not only cutting-edge science and technology into their CSU classrooms and labs, but also new perspectives to their teaching and mentoring.

      Occasionally someone will tell me a great story and I ask them for a “guest blog post.” As regular readers can tell, our busy faculty don’t take me up on the offer very often!  But – Paula Fischhaber (Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at California State University Northridge & member of CSUPERB’s Strategic Planning Council) did so despite a crazy, start-of-semester schedule!

      Paula-Great WallPaula traveled to Beijing this July to teach a one-week Biochemistry course at Capital Normal University (CNU), a relatively small university (~20,000-25,000 students) in China. That’s Paula on the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China in the photo on the right.  Here are her reflections on the experience:*

      My class constituted 20 hours of instruction with 2-hour sessions held morning and afternoon each day. Most of the students in my course were senior Biology majors who had taken Biochemistry the previous year, taught in Chinese. Many Capital Normal University (CNU) students aspire to enter the teaching profession in the K-12 age range. Others plan to pursue Ph.D. degrees following graduation, so I got lots of questions about applying to doctoral programs in the United States. One student was even planning to take part in a summer program at UCLA within a few weeks of my return home.

      Class PhotoI was first struck by how the demeanor of the students (photo above) was so similar to those at Cal State Northridge. There were some who were more outgoing and eager, others that were shy or timid about speaking in English. Some were highly advanced, both in their English language skills and their understanding of biochemistry. Some were so afraid of me that they would scarcely make eye contact. As the week wore on, the ice broke and they asked increasing numbers of questions, especially during the afternoon interactive problem-solving sessions (yes, flipping the classroom has its advantages universally). The students were ALL very respectful toward me, and several brought food items to share that represented Beijing specialties that I was not to leave town without trying.

      One particular student was soft-spoken and shy-ish but had an eagerness about the material that was contagious for the other students. He asked many questions throughout the week and I could see was not just improving his English, but also his understanding of the biochemistry, which was gratifying for me. On the last day of class, I called on him to explain the last figure of a paper and (being shy about his English) was shaking a little as he reached for the words, which he did successfully.

      At the end of the class when I was saying my good-byes, he came up to me to say that all the students had learned a lot from me and they were grateful for the class and would miss me. As he waved and left the room, I realized that he might have had to summon courage and to practice his remarks ahead of time. Those are the moments in a professor’s life that make it all worthwhile, but it reminded me that Cal State Northridge students are also often intimidated by their professors and must summon courage to ask a question or come to office hours.

      Paula_CaiXia_BGIDr. CaiXia Guo, at the Beijing Genomics Institute, recommended me to the summer course director to teach the short course. CaiXia and I worked together in my postdoc lab group and recently coauthored an invited review in Epigenetics (here we are right next to the 2008 Olympic village; the Olympic torch is in the background).

      In conversations with Chinese faculty during the week, I came to realize that we share much with the Chinese academicians in our struggles to get and maintain research funding streams in the face of fewer and fewer available grant dollars. We share their frustration with time-consuming bureaucratic barriers. Like us, the Chinese universities are facing a difficult budget climate that leaves faculty underpaid and buildings with significant deferred maintenance. What I heard over and over was how competitive everything is because they have so many people. Everyone worries about whether they will be able to get and keep a good job. Overall, I gained a new appreciation for the education and research system in the U.S.


      *Lightly edited for style and clarity.


        CSUPERB in the news



        Before I hit the road for vacation, I want to share some quick news hits.

        The new 2015 Vision & Change Report (“Chronicling the Change, Inspiring the Future) from AAAS, NSF, HHMI, NIH and USDA highlights CSUPERB.  Check out pages 8-9 (pages 28-29 of the pdf)!  The feature content is pulled from a poster that Jim Henderson and I presented at the 2013 Vision and Change meeting.  Who knew our participation would result in CSUPERB’s inclusion in such an important national publication?

        AAAS.org published a teaser story yesterday at their website; I’m quoted in it. Surprisingly Ms. Wren (the author) wanted to follow up on things she read on this blog. CSUPERB is not alone in seeing the connections between high-impact practices, deep learning, and a creative and professional life sciences workforce.

        Our work on the WM Keck Foundation-supported PKAL Framework project is featured in the Spring 2015 issue of Peer Review, titled “Navigating Institutional Change for Student Success in STEM.”   This work led to the CSU STEM Collaboratives projects across the CSU, just now ramping up their summer bridge programs, as well as follow-on funding from Keck to support a STEM Service Learning Research Study led by the Center for Community Engagement.

        The CSUPERB community was happy to see that the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee (ICOC) approved a 5-year Bridges 2.0 program.  CSUPERB will host proposal writing workshops for campus teams after the official Program Announcement issues (we’re nervously eyeing the predicted October 1 deadline looming).  The CSU is proud of the work the existing Bridges programs have done; it is wonderful our Bridges graduates are and will continue to be integral to the growing regenerative medicine ecosystem.

        Lastly yesterday was a big day for the Innovation Corps (I-CorpsTM).  The White House announced an expansion of I-Corps across a new set of federal agencies, including the Small Business Administration.  With SBDC’s hosted on many CSU campuses, I see many interesting ways to scale what we’ve started with CSU I-Corps.  I’ll keep monitoring these new I-Corps programs as they launch.

        I occasionally struggle to explain the reach, effectiveness and impact of the CSU’s biotechnology education and research network.  How can I explain the power (and magic?) of a renewing, system-wide community created to support biotech education and research? Why invest in CSUPERB, its peer review community, its collective experience “on the ground” in deans’ offices, departmental units, in classrooms, laboratories and communities, its institutional memory?  In short – I think communities like CSUPERB provide an effective way to scale up evidence-based ideas, test out promising ones, or “bend” culture (or accelerate tipping points, as NSF names it). When we learn together, we can make real and meaningful impacts on student success, in innovation ecosystems, and on scientific and technical frontiers.  This is deliberate, intentional systematic work that plays out over time. It doesn’t flit from one shiny object to the next; it shouldn’t die on the vine if one player exits the stage.

        So – while I’m vacationing – keep pushing the envelope, CSUPERB!


        *Photo credit: http://www.businessinsider.com/pictures-that-will-make-you-want-to-visit-iceland-2015-1?op=1

          Mentoring Student Researchers

          CSU students at the 2015 CSU Biotechnology Symposium (Santa Clara Marriott).

          CSU student researchers at the 2015 CSU Biotechnology Symposium (Santa Clara Marriott).

          Tomorrow is the Summer 2015 Faculty Consensus Group meeting at the Chancellor’s Office in Long Beach, so I’ve been getting some slides together this afternoon to report out on a variety of topics.

          One theme that CSUPERB decided to focus upon these next three years is “mentoring.” During our strategic planning process last year, we heard about the ongoing need to mentor and offer professional development opportunities to assistant professors, grant proposal writers at all levels, instructors interested in active learning pedagogies, nascent entrepreneurs, research students and classroom learners.  CSUPERB faculty saw the need to support and set up for success all these stakeholder groups.

          To get started on this 3-year plan, tomorrow’s FCG meeting includes a ‘mini-symposium’ on Research Student Mentoring (“Developing Effective Faculty Mentors & Building Longer-lasting Student-Faculty Relationships”). CSUPERB is keenly aware of the need to mentor our diverse student researchers; like all CSU students, they are diverse in many ways (socioeconomic, ethnicity,* geographic, first in family to attend college, what they want to do with their degree, etc.). We especially understand the work we do (at scale!) in the CSU can have great impact on the number of underrepresented students we graduate into biotech jobs, medical schools and graduate programs.  Indeed, we have compelling data showing that over 80% of the student researchers supported on CSUPERB grants do go on to life science-related careers.

          Tomorrow Dr. Aisha Taylor (JONES Inclusive Leadership) will kick off the discussion with some background on critical race theory and cultural competency skill development.  Then we’ll hear from the three programs starting up their NIH BUILD programs at CSU Long Beach, CSU Northridge and San Francisco State University.  Each BUILD program has a unique perspective on what it takes to effectively mentor student researchers.  We plan to expand this mini-symposium into another workshop for faculty in the “Effective STEM Education” series we offer at the annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium – so stay tuned for that opportunity!

          We always ask our annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium participants what they plan to do after graduation or degree completion.  Here is what they reported this year (click to make figure larger):

          plansAs many of us know, graduates with biotechnology research experience have a leg up in the job market or graduate school admissions process. There are many career paths to pursue for students with team-based, hands-on research project experience!

          We’ve also been hearing back from our Howell and Presidents’ Commission Scholar alumni this summer.  We can compare our current students’ career plans to the “last known status” of our Howell Scholars (2008-2014; n = 79) to see what really happens after graduation (figure below, click to see larger version; remember this data spans the Great Recession!). The outcomes are surprisingly similar to our current students’ dreams!lastknownstatus_Howell2015

          Alumni have opinions about what made a difference to them, now that they can look back with some real-world perspective.  The Presidents’ Commission Scholars are particularly interesting to us – this is the program that funds students for a summer research experience after their freshman or sophomore year. Eligibility is restricted to those students who are not part of a research learning community already (MARC, RISE, HHMI, etc.) or have had research experience before. We encourage faculty to sponsor “at risk” students and look beyond GPA and the other usual indicators of academic success.

          Using some of the alumniGallup-Purdue indicators of what matters in an undergraduate education, we asked the Howell and Presidents’ Commission Scholar alumni about their relationship to their research mentor (figure at left, click to make larger). The green bars show agreement; the red is disagreement. We still see that alumni were not always exposed to a variety of career path options, even though student researchers – even as undergraduates – already have a diverse set of opinions on where they are headed. Scholars are candid about admitting they were hesitant to confess dreams of medical school or biotech jobs to their research mentors.

          FCG and CSUPERB faculty know that mentors need to listen to students’ goals and dreams. But we also need to listen to and respect the choices of students who plan to pursue careers in non-academic research settings – the very field about which our faculty mentors are most informed!

          In answer, CSUPERB organizes the Career Networking Session (CNS) at the symposium every year.  Alumni and professionals working across the life science industry come together to talk with students about preclinical research, regulatory affairs, discovery research and other “research-relevant” career paths outside academia.  The CNS is one “touch” a year, admittedly, but with NIH and CIRM-funding campuses are mimicking the format and organizing similar sessions on campus to increase access to this important information.

          Meanwhile, every year the CSU’s biotechnology faculty mentor thousands of students in their research labs.  To gain perspective on the impact of that experience, I’ll leave the last words to our Presidents’ Commission graduates.




          * Here is the breakdown for student participants at the 2015 CSU Biotechnology Symposium, by ethnicity; nearly all present research posters at the event.  You can compare these data to the CSU’s Fall 2014 enrollment, by ethnicity, found here: http://www.calstate.edu/pa/2015Facts/documents/facts2015.pdf


            Non-academic career paths are not hiding











            Two very different articles and an unsettling conversation came across my radar this month.

            The first is an article in the July 2015 issue of Nature Biotechnology, “Emerging network of resources for exploring paths beyond academia,” written by postdoc Fanuel Muindi and doctoral candidate Joseph B. Keller, both from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They explain, “…some trainees may simply lack the information necessary to make an informed decision about their post-training careers.” The second article is “A hidden start,” by Trisha Gura at the Science Careers website. Both articles offer guidance on finding information about non-academic jobs. As if it’s a underbrush-choked trailhead.

            The unsettling conversation involved a staffer who was unaware of the makeup of the biotechnology workforce and the job prospects for doctoral level scientists. The perception that NIH, NSF and HHMI funders care only about PhD attainment is still rampant throughout training program staff rank and file. It’s no secret I think each and every biomedical training grant PI should know (by heart) the data from the 2011 paper in which Cynthia Fuhrmann and coauthors write, “Since 2001, fewer than 20% of PhDs in the biological sciences have been moving into tenure-track academic positions within 5–6 yr of receiving a PhD. In fact, the most recent data (2006) show only 14% of these PhDs in tenure-track positions.”  (Where do the other 86% end up? Are they considered failures…really!? What are you doing to prepare or mentor the 86% for life-long learning?*)

            CSUPERB faculty and leadership know that 80% of the jobs in the biotechnology sector (the life science industry) are filled by professionals with degrees at the masters degree or below.**  I am continually surprised (and – yes – shocked! shocked, I tell you!) to find out administrators, program officers, professors, postdocs and graduate students – who are part of this biomed/biotech ecosystem themselves – are unaware of this workforce reality. Perhaps paths to non-academic biomedical careers remain hidden because mentors, program officers and administrators themselves cannot see the trailheads through the trees on campus.

            These workforce facts underpin CSUPERB’s ongoing efforts to offer Career Networking Sessions (CNS) and Graduate School Information Sessions for the 375+ CSU undergraduate and masters-level researchers attending the CSU Biotechnology Symposium each year. We’ve organized these two sessions the last seven years. As much as we’re tempted to tinker with the formats, they remain unchanged because alumni, mentors, and students all agree it works best for them.*** We are determined to build a mentoring network for our students. We don’t want to point them into the woods without a flashlight.

            So in answer to Muindi and Keller – yes – the CSU has been doing our level best to “engage undergraduates about the various doors a PhD degree can open.”  But there is another communication point that can be made at that same time in a student’s career. They should also know there are many rewarding, great-paying life science career options that do not require a PhD degree.

            Despite the very good intentions underpinning the article, Muindi and Keller fall back on well-trodden and tired “non-academic” options and emerging resources in their article. They un-ironically mention science policy fellowships, graduate data science programs, academic job boards like Vitae, and science conferences of interest to academic researchers. Perhaps science policy is an oft-cited, non-academic career example because academic researchers understand what program officers at NIH and NSF do.

            I would have liked to see Muindi and Keller place more emphasis on the variety of career paths and employers in non-academic settings and point to established network opportunities and websites offered by professional societies like RAPS, ASQ, DIA or PMI. In my opinion no article on non-academic careers is complete without a nod to preclinical research, regulatory affairs, clinical or product development. See “Career Opportunities in Biotechnology and Drug Development,” by Toby Freedman, for the wide range of options available to academically-trained researchers. Researchers aiming to understand the world outside academia should find conferences attended by life science industry professionals, like BIO, DIA or the Personalized Medicine World Conference.

            When approving CSU I-Corps travel requests, I look at conference programs to see that 50% (or more) of the speakers are from biotech or pharma companies to make sure teams will be able to network with and gain perspective from non-academic researchers, regulatory professionals, and commercialization experts. One CSU I-Corps faculty participant explains, “…it introduces you to the business world and forces you to actually meet with industry people. It really changes your perception of things, and [reveals] how different academia [is from] industry.” Without question CSU I-Corps reduces the gap between academic research and industry practice.

            Happily Gura’s article pulls back the curtain on rewarding research jobs at start-up biotechnology companies. The premise – that these jobs are hidden – is what I take issue with here. Boston, San Francisco and San Diego are blessed with vibrant communities of biotechnology employees and companies – early-stage start-ups to big pharma companies.  Gura focuses on the boundary-spanning functions of incubators and entrepreneurship centers as a way to discover new and growing companies.  While these organizations host fantastic events, you can also stumble into a critical mass of start-up founders, employees and boundary-spanners at regional biotechnology industry organization meetings, breakfasts, networking events and workshops.

            Here in California organizations like SARTA, San Diego Entrepreneurs Exchange, BIOCOM, OCRACalifornia Life Science Association and many others, host events weekly and post calendars for all to see.  All you have to do is Google “biotech event (your city/state).” (You’ll also see that many very early-stage start-ups advertise jobs on Craigslist!) Go ahead try it – it’s just that easy to unmask non-academic biotech and biomedical activities all around you…if you’re willing to get off-campus.  Admittedly this exercise works best if you live near a biotech/biomed industry hub.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) most biotech industry hubs are also regions dealing with a glut of biomedical postdocs.

            Educators and mentors should open doors for their students, not herd them into a chute toward professorships.  There is no question we need more female faculty members in engineering and computer science, more Latino/a faculty across the board, and an academic workforce that reflects our demographics. Any and all efforts to level access to academic careers is good, essential and very important work from where I sit. However, both underrepresented and well-represented researchers also deserve information about and access to careers – at all degree levels – in companies, national labs, government agencies and non-profit institutions as well.  Research mentors and policies should view non-academic employment as a desirable, normal (86%!), expected and worthwhile outcome.

            Get out the energy bars, machetes and compasses!




            *I’m thinking a lot about research mentoring this month. CSUPERB is organizing a session on the topic for our August 3 Faculty Consensus Group meeting at the CSU Chancellor’s Office.  Key personnel from the three NIH-funded CSU BUILD projects will present their approaches to research mentoring (CSU Long Beach, CSU Northridge and San Francisco State University).  In addition I’m hearing back from our Howell-CSUPERB Research Scholar alums as part of our annual reporting – they are doing great things nationwide! Look for a blog post about them in the future!

            **It is important to understand that the life science industry is defined as including companies, businesses, research institutes, universities and national laboratories – the entire “ecosystem,” as we say. The best report I’ve seen about the life science industry workforce is the 2014 Talent Integration report issued by a group of California biotechnology industry associations and the California Community Colleges last year.

            ***When a CSU student chooses to attend the symposium two years in a row, they report it’s usually to attend one or both of these two sessions.  These students report they were overly-focused on presenting a research poster the first time they attended the symposium. They admit that they skipped out (...or spaced out) on these crucial programs the first time they attend.  The CNS format, in particular, is challenging for students. At the students’ request back in 2009, we do not organize a panel of talking heads or alumni telling career stories.   Instead students must engage in several rounds of roundtable discussions with alumni and professionals working in the industry.  I think Muindi & Keller would agree this session format models the behavior they recommend to readers, that is, that trainees “must be active participants in their future and use all available resources to learn about available career paths.”

            Articles cited:

            Muindi, F. & Keller, J.B. Emerging network of resources for exploring paths beyond academia. Nature Biotechnology 33, 775–778 (2015). doi:10.1038/nbt.3282
            Published online 08 July 2015.

            Gura, T. (2015) A hidden start. Science Careers.  Published online 01 July 2015. http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2015_07_01/caredit.a1500167

            C. N. Fuhrmann, C.N., Halme, D.G.,  O’Sullivan, P.S. & Lindstaedt, B. Improving Graduate Education to Support a Branching Career Pipeline: Recommendations Based on a Survey of Doctoral Students in the Basic Biomedical Sciences. CBE Life Sciences 10, 239-249 (2011). doi: 10.1187/cbe.11-02-0013

            Photo credit: hawaiianforest.com

              Applause & Pain for AmeriCorps


              I’d like to share photos from yesterday’s moving close-of-service luncheon for the first class of CSU STEM VISTAs – an AmeriCorps program.  It was a lovely event at Rancho Los Alamitos next to the CSU Long Beach campus.   Our own Shannon Palka was selected by her peers to do the “closing thanks” for the group.  Afterwards Shannon and I agreed that we haven’t really come to grips her public service stint at CSUPERB is ending!

              I am not sure it’s been captured anywhere at the CSU STEM VISTA program level yet – but I was asked to present our first year CSU I-Corps experience at the National Innovation Network (NIN) meeting in Reston, Virginia, last month. To remind infrequent readers, CSU I-Corps is a systemwide entrepreneurship education program for curious researchers and nascent academic entrepreneurs funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).  We are already finding it to be a highly engaging student program with surprisingly large dividends of learning and commercialization activities systemwide. I didn’t realize before attending NIN that I was one of only a handful of I-Corps Nodes/Sites asked to present our first year experience.

              There is no group more demanding and perfectionist than the CSUPERB program office. We tend to think all 23 campuses will show up for all our programs.  So we were a bit daunted that “only”  34 teams, 116 students and 24 faculty members from 9 universities have signed up for I-Corps in our first year. Apparently NSF thought that was pretty good for a $100,000/year investment.

              I received a surprising burst of applause, shouts and hoots from the audience when I said 44% of the year-one CSU I-Corps participants are female.  Afterwards people told me this is a significantly higher female participation rate than many of the other more engineering/computer science-heavy I-Corps programs.  The other reaction I got to my presentation was amazement that CSU campuses (and colleges) would work together to offer programs like this – it was a culture unfamiliar to some participants.  These are features I take for granted in my job.  But the NIN meeting served to remind me our efforts to build and nurture this systemwide, diverse (in many ways!) community are not insignificant; new programs like CSU I-Corps and investments in CSUPERB build upon our 30 year history and a deep base of good will.

              These early CSU I-Corps outcomes are also the result of Shannon’s student outreach. Despite our formidable CSUPERB community, we historically do our work through faculty and research office networks, as well as chair and deans’ councils. For I-Corps to go systemwide, we need connections to student groups.  Shannon’s effectiveness was also due to her ability to fit into the CSUPERB program office team and her willingness to just dive into (or work around) our unforgiving administrative calendar of rotating programs and events.  I wish she could have been in Reston to hear that applause.

              So yesterday I clapped long and loud for the CSU STEM VISTAs. This is an outstanding group of motivated, strategic thinkers – a really remarkable group of young leaders.  It was an honor to be a part of this.

              In the midst of this emotional week for the nation and our program office, I learned that Congress has proposed cutting AmeriCorps programs.  Even as we make progress on many complicated policy fronts across this nation – we still manage to trip up on little things that matter.  As Pell grants and biomedical research received additional funding, AmeriCorps will face deep cuts.  This kind of short-term, give-and-take, winners-and-losers process is a constant in national policy, budget negotiations and priority setting, but I find it so disappointing to watch tiny programs like AmeriCorps get swept under the losers rug.

              The day before I heard this bitter news, I had a meeting about a Kresge Foundation-funded project around student success.  The CSU faculty and administrators on the project all pointed to the pain point* around the need for temporary help (people = release time or human resources!) in ramping up programs and experimenting with new approaches around student success initiatives. We know that impactful and effective STEM programs require cross-divisional collaboration, relationship-building and even culture change before they become part of the fabric of how students learn.  The VISTA program addresses this very real (and painful) pain point for resource-challenged organizations like ours, as well as non-profit and community service programs nationwide.

              I’m hoping some of you might have read this far, are willing to invest in a longer-view of community service, and be moved** to contact your legislators to restore this little program with such a large impact on resource-limited programs, economically distressed communities, and promising young people nationwide.


              *Pain point is an I-Corps phrase that comes from Alex Osterwalder’s Value Proposition Design and other writings on understanding customer or market needs.