So Many Research Scientists Doing Well



The New York Times added (yet again) to the many articles about the oversupply of biomedical PhDs looking for jobs as professors.  This new article is titled, “So Many Research Scientists, So Few Openings as Professors.”

The article concludes with this advice, “For those thinking of science as a career, said P. Kay Lund, director of the division of biomedical research workers at the National Institutes of Health, perhaps the best thing would be for a mentor to sit down with them and have a heart-to-heart talk, preferably when they’re still undergraduates.”

I posted this on the CSUPERB Facebook page and a follower responded, “I am starting my PhD in September. Looks like I better focus on industry when I graduate.”  I was glad to see the resulting discussion. I am not sure Facebook comments count as the “heart-to-heart talk” Dr. Lund recommends – but we’re doing our best to raise students’ awareness of career path options (HT to Dr. Kelber* at CSU Northridge for jumping into the fray!).

Of course here at CSUPERB we’re interested in finding out where the undergraduate and graduate students we support go next in their careers.** We want to know whether the education they received in the classroom and working alongside CSU faculty mentors prepared them to be ‘life-long learners’ and creative problem-solvers capable of contributing throughout society.

Last year at annual reporting time we made our first attempt to reach out to Howell and Presidents’ Commission Scholar alumni.  This year*** we mined final reports, surveyed graduates, and followed up with about 700 undergraduate and graduate students we supported over the last handful of years. I can’t resist sharing our first cut at the data (preliminary data! thus the screen-shot quality of the figure!). Amazingly only 16% of the CSUPERB-supported students are lost to the sands of time and faculty lab websites (we loved great examples like this, this and this!); we were able to determine the remainder graduated, completed their degree programs or continue in their studies on CSU campuses.

Our “CSUPERB alumni” are doing great things and working in fascinating organizations nationwide.  The word cloud at the top of the post adds some flavor to these rolled-up data (the bigger the font size, the more CSU alumni are working or studying in that organization****). About 26% (an earlier version of this post said 32%) of CSUPERB-supported student researchers entered graduate school (this figure mixes undergraduate and graduate student outcomes; see slightly larger figure here). The majority (58%) have degree-relevant positions in biotech companies, universities, hospitals, government laboratories and non-profit research settings.  Most are still hands-on scientists, clinicians and engineers working in research, production and design facilities.  Some of the alumni who have been working for a while (> 3 years) are working their way into management roles, gaining regulatory expertise and even starting companies.  About 10% are employed in a field unrelated to biotechnology. By including CSU I-Corps alumni, we see business students don’t always continue on in the life science industry – but some do!

We’ll talk more about this data at the summer Faculty Consensus Group meeting Monday, August 1st. I’m looking forward to the discussion with CSUPERB’s committed and effective faculty mentors!





*Dr. Kelber noted the NY Times article didn’t “cite any employability stats for those with PhDs vs others (it only states that most PhDs were employable).”  Some graduate schools are starting to track graduates’ career paths and even publicize the outcomes. For instance, UC San Francisco (UCSF) posted their 2012 data on a website ( The NIH, NSF and others are also improving their data collection methods, aiming to better track career outcomes for doctoral level researchers.

**There’s a new level of controversy about linking career outcomes with higher education. It is extraordinarily inexact to try linking life outcomes to a set of genes; likewise it’s difficult to predict career outcomes on a combination of courses and co-curricular activities like undergraduate research.  So – I’ll use the classic “SEC-type disclaimer” here; our data are not “forward-looking,” it’s based on past student cohorts and can’t be used to predict individual outcomes!

***We did this work with the very capable help of our CSU STEM VISTA Summer Associates, Ms. Zarate and Ms. Stelter!  They investigated “last known status” of ~700 students supported on CSUPERB Major Grants (2011 – present), Howell Scholars (2007 – present), Presidents’ Commission Scholars (2011 – present), Student Travel Grants (2011 – present) and I2P/CSU I-Corps participants (2012 – present).

****Yes – it appears that CSUPERB-supported alumni seem to beat a wide path to UCSF…

Word cloud image credit:

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:  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 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)

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:


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.

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:

Mapping CIRM Bridges Program Impact

Last week a CSU team made public comments in support of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) Bridges program.  The CIRM board* decided to extend the program for one year.  Of course, we’re hoping CIRM will decide to extend the program even longer.

Along with Ephraim Smith, Jill Adler-Moore and me, Sara Downey from ViaCyte made comments. Sara is a Humboldt State University graduate.  Ms. Downey is a former CIRM Bridges Scholar who did an internship at University of California, San Francisco before landing a job at ViaCyte in San Diego. Even though Drs. Smith and Adler-Moore made important points, all ears in the room were on Ms. Downey as she made her remarks. You see, she represents the collective outcome and effectiveness of the Bridges program better than numbers and reports** can.

In 2009 we made the case that the Bridges program would operate as a networked workforce development program. The CSU educates undergraduate and master’s students.  After they complete their degrees, they have a spectrum of career paths to follow: into industry, into medical school, into doctoral degree programs, etc.  CIRM hopes that Bridges graduates continue their interest in regenerative medicine and take their skills into positions and programs to accelerate developments in the stem cell field.  As they advance so does the field.

In fact Sara Downey’s presence at last week’s meeting was electric because most everyone in the room knew she’s on a team developing an embryonic stem cell-derived product as a treatment for type 1 diabetes.  In fact ViaCyte announced this week they implanted their device into the first patient as part of its FDA-approved phase I/II clinical study.  No one knows how the clinical trial will work out but hopes are high that the device is safe and effective and, especially, that patients might benefit.  It was a blast talking with Sara over lunch after the meeting.*** After four years on the job, she’s transformed from a fresh biological sciences graduate with academic research experience into a biotech professional comfortable talking about Six Sigma, cGMPs, regulatory affairs, biotech business cycles, and even process engineering! My impression is that her learning curve mirrors the learning curves at CIRM as well.

So how do you show that a workforce development program is successful and effective? If only we could get in-person updates from all 702 of our Bridges Scholars!  We did the next best thing (in a more efficient but less personal way) by asking for “last known status” data from the Bridges PIs.****  We discovered that 89% of the Bridges Scholars (n=530) find a job or enter a stem cell research-related graduate degree program within one year of their degree completion.  This is pretty convincing evidence that employers and admissions officers value our graduates’ knowledge, skills and accomplishments. For comparison, only 40% of life sciences graduates found degree-related employment during the Great Recession.  Likewise, the students themselves choose to continue in stem-cell inspired pathways, suggesting their experiences were supportive and transformative; only 6% chose to do something entirely different.  As CIRM decides on what form a Bridges 2.0 program might take, I’m sure the Bridges PIs will be investigating “what worked” and what needs improvement in each of their programs.

Last week I really wanted to show a “last known status” map – but when you make public comments you’re lucky to get a microphone and three minutes!  I’ll share the data here. Red map markers indicate CSU campuses hosting CIRM Bridges programs. Blue map markers with flask icons indicate organizations employing Bridges graduates (dark blue = company; light blue = non-profit). Green markers with a portico icon indicate universities at which Bridges graduates are attending graduate or medical school programs. (The map is not accurate down to street level; markers indicate only approximate city vicinity!) As I dust off my *.kml skills and the Bridges PIs provide new data, I’ll work to make a more layered map with interesting data queries – but for now – click on the markers, zoom and pan (don’t forget to zoom out to get the international view).

I am happy to see the number and diversity of companies in California hiring Bridges graduates. The roster includes not only early-stage, “next gen” California biotech companies, but also some venerable heavy weights in the pharmaceutical business. This is a healthy mix of organizations working to advance stem cell technologies. In spite of the recession and a drought of early-stage capital, California is still blessed with entrepreneurs and innovative developers choosing to work in the biomedical field. Just think what the map will be like when a few more classes of Bridges alums join the regenerative medicine efforts, additional product development investments are made, and technological challenges are worked out!

It’s been a good month for the CSU’s researchers.  In addition to the CIRM Bridges extension, CSU campuses won Helmsley Trust-supported STEM Collaboratives grants and NIH-funded BUILD awards.  In combination these investments help us offset cuts in public funding, build inspiring and engaging, up-to-the-minute courses, and support the CSU’s faculty research mentors who make all of this possible.  Most of all these investments guarantee we’re graduating CSU students ready to make a contribution, to develop viable technologies, and to move companies and research teams forward.


* The CIRM board is called the Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee, the ICOC.

**The report (.pdf) we submitted to CIRM is linked here.

***She’s agreed to speak at CSUPERB’s Strategic Planning Retreat in mid-November. She not only speaks as an alum or an industry professional – but also as an employer. She supervises CIRM Bridges interns from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo at ViaCyte!

****Many thanks to the Bridges graduates who answer repeated surveys from the CSU and to the PIs and program administrators who collated this data together for me!


It was a huge day for undergraduate researchers and biotechnology faculty mentors at CSU Long Beach, CSU Northridge and San Francisco State University.

The NIH announced today that all three universities won BUILD grants. These are huge grants ($17million – $22million over 5 years). Each grant will help to prepare greater numbers of undergraduate students for biomedical research careers, to intentionally support students’ work towards their goals, and to carry out studies to gauge the effectiveness of campus programming. Because the CSU’s students – as a whole* – reflect California’s demographics, these grants are also designed to help improve the diversity of the biomedical research workforce.  Interestingly each of the three CSU BUILD programs will be studying a different angle of the cultural and institutional changes needed so that more underrepresented students persist and succeed in biomedical research-based career paths.

BUILD programs will support undergraduate researchers on the three campuses and at partner sites – including both community organizations and research-intensive universities. We all know that mentored research experiences (faculty-mentored and peer-mentored) are high impact practices, shown to engage and inspire undergraduates.  They also happen to be exactly the kind of experiences biotechnology employers, medical schools and doctoral programs are seeking in our graduates.  So – all in all – this new investment in the CSU’s students and faculty mentors is a huge win for California (and the nation’s) biotechnology and biomedical communities!

From left: Professor of Biology Carmen Domingo (CSUPERB PI), Professor of Cognitive Psychology Avi Ben-Zeev, Professor of Biology and Lead Investigator for SF BUILD Leticia Márquez-Magaña (CSUPERB PI) and Associate Professor of Chemistry/Biochemistry Teaster Baird Jr. Photo Credit to SFSU (

From left: Professor of Biology Carmen Domingo (CSUPERB PI), Professor of Cognitive Psychology Avi Ben-Zeev, Professor of Biology and Lead Investigator for SF BUILD Leticia Márquez-Magaña (CSUPERB PI) and Associate Professor of Chemistry/Biochemistry Teaster Baird Jr. Photo Credit to SFSU (

But the news is also tremendously exciting and personal to the CSUPERB community. The grants involve many of our friends and colleagues, CSUPERB PIs, chief research officers, Presidents’ Commission and FCG members. For years it seems we’ve been talking amongst ourselves about the strategic need for more public and private support for undergraduate education and research.  Even at the national level there has been much talk and reporting about closing achievement gaps, but relatively few dollars were targeted to undergraduate students and researchers on our campuses.  Of course – taking into account last week’s announcement of the Helmsley Trust-supported STEM Collaboratives – it’s plain to see CSU faculty and administrators are doing much more than talking about things. But now they have some new resources with which to innovate and address head-on the implicit biases in our education and research culture.  I’m just saying – tonight many of us have goosebumps!


*Not our STEM graduates, however.  See data here.


Why we do what we do

There is a fun meme circulating the Twittersphere these days thanks to the NatureJobs blog.  Scientists are tweeting in answer to the blog’s prompt #IAmAScientistBecause. The answers are all over the map; my current favorite is from @mimimibe who tweets, “it sometimes made me feel like a cartoon character.” The #IAmAnEngineerBecause and #IAmAnEntrepreneurBecause hashtags haven’t really taken off yet – but maybe they will!

Program administrators don’t have their own hashtag yet,* but there is nothing like annual reporting season to remind us why we do what we do.  At first glance annual reporting might seem like a big data gathering and excel chart-making exercise with an audit cloud over it.  But once the data are organized and normalized, the stories, exceptional accomplishments and program impacts begin to rise above the noise.

We collect these stories to explain what CSUPERB is all about in our annual report. Stories about CSU faculty, students and alumni personalize and make real the numbers represented in those excel charts. This year’s version is linked here for your reading pleasure.

We never have room to share all the great stories we hear from CSUPERB-supported faculty and students.  This year I purposefully asked investigators, instructors and researchers for permission to share their stories or quotes here on the blog.


Shannon Wood (center) presents her research results at the 26th annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium in Santa Clara, California.

My correspondence with Shannon Wood caught her mid-job search.  Ms. Wood worked with Dr. Sean Murray at CSU Northridge and completed a master’s degree this spring. Ms. Wood won a Spring 2014 CSUPERB travel grant to travel to Germany for an EMBO workshop titled “Stalked alpha-Proteobacteria and Relatives: From Genes to Structure.” She wrote in her final report, “…I was able to meet many of the researchers whose papers I cited in my thesis. It’s amazing how ‘real’ even the most established researchers are. I met Lucy Shapiro, one of my biggest idols; she revolutionized developmental biology research using Caulobacter crescentus…I was able to sit across from her at meals and listen to her endless stories…Needless to say, this meeting was more than I could have ever dreamed it would be.”  Ms. Wood is an exceptionally successful researcher; she was an Eden Award Finalist at the 26th CSU Biotechnology Symposium and won the Young Investigator Award at the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) meeting in May 2013.  In her final report to CSUPERB she said she thoroughly enjoys research and wants to “stick with it.” I found out this week Shannon landed a job at the USC Norris Cancer Center in August, where she’s working on the PsychENCODE project in Peggy Farnham‘s lab. My guess is she’ll be an exceptional mentor – and maybe even an idol some day – for up-and-coming students and trainees as she establishes her own research career.

Here are some other noteworthy updates and comments from CSUPERB-supported students and faculty to help bring voices to the annual report data:

“This CSUPERB grant was instrumental…The funding came at a critical time and I am very grateful for the support…If possible please share my appreciation with the grant reviewers.” – Andrew Voss (CSUPERB New Investigator PI, Cal Poly Pomona, now Wright State University), who made a pivotal discovery related to Huntington’s disease.

“This program is invaluable! It is particularly important…(as) national grants are becoming more and more difficult to come by. Also, belonging to a small biology department (like the one at CSUEB) with faculty pursuing diverse research interests, faculty like me can feel isolated at times. It is difficult to stay up to date in my field when I am working in isolation and do not have access to all the latest publications. Going to these meetings helps ameliorate these issues to some degree.” – Maria Gallegos (CSUPERB Spring 2013 Travel grant, CSU East Bay), who presented lessons learned teaching a discovery-based course at the 19th International Caenorhabditis elegans Meeting.

“This has been an incredibly valuable program for us. It has allowed us to develop critical preliminary data for grant submissions, as well as funding student research, which has helped them get into top biomedical PhD programs in the country…It has also allowed me to continue my research and earn tenure and promotion to associate professor.” – Miri Van Hoven (CSUPERB Research Development PI, San Jose State University), who was also featured in The Chronicle as a mentor to graduate students interested in transitioning to faculty positions.

“This is a great program for New Investigators who are looking to apply for extramural funding and need key data to demonstrate that (1) their objectives and specific aims can be validated and (2) they are capable of performing these experiments in their laboratory setting…With the data gathered with the CSUPERB grant, I can now show that I have the training and resources at CSULA to execute the experimental design I propose.” – Katrina Yamazaki (CSUPERB New Investigator PI, CSU Los Angeles) who started up her lab with the help of five remarkable undergraduate and master’s students who are continuing on in biotechnology-related career paths.

“The CSUPERB grant program is a keystone in the CSU system’s support of student training in biotechnology and molecular biology. The program not only provides research funding support for faculty to pursue innovative, and potentially transformative, avenues in biotechnology research, but it also provides the financial support needed to train students in the technologies of tomorrow.” – Sean Lema (CSUPERB New Investigator PI, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo) who obviously understands CSUPERB’s “dual strategy” of funding!

Dr. Lema’s quote is a fitting book-end to the 2013-2014 academic year at CSUPERB. At the August Faculty Consensus Group meeting, we kicked off our strategic planning process.  We write a new strategic plan every three years.  This fall CSUPERB leadership will be pouring over annual reports, PI final reports, and feedback from our communities of interest, learning, and practice to figure out how best to serve the CSU’s biotechnology instructors, researchers and entrepreneurs.  Check back in this spring to read not only about “why we do what we do,” but also how we’ll do things 2015-2018.  My guess is that we’ll continue to invest in promising young researchers, engaging, effective curriculum and inspirational mentors across the California State University.


*maybe because we still self-identify as scientists, engineers or entrepreneurs!