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.

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What Students Thought: 25th Annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium

We’ve paid all the bills and closed the financials on the 25th Annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium, so it’s time to summarize the event in a symposium report.

To keep the report short we cut out some of the best content (look for the official report later in the month).

Today I worked to distill students’ anonymous suggestions and comments to a sentence or two* for the report. The students’ post-symposium survey responses are typically the best reflection of how the event went (the faculty comments tend to be nicer!).

This year the students who responded to the survey wrote lovely things in response to the question, “What will you remember about the symposium?”   I’ve shared their answers in chart** (click on image to see larger version) or text format below.***  Now you too can sit back to remember and reflect on what it was like to attend your first professional meeting as a scientist or engineer.  Enjoy.

Keyword analysis of student's open text answers to the question, "What will you remember about the symposium?" from 2013 Post-symposium survey.

A Selection of Anonymous CSU Student Survey Responses to the Question, What Will You Remember About the Symposium?

“There were some really wonderful and inspirational talks on Friday morning. I also will remember the graduate [Eden] students’ talks. I will also remember the I2P contest – it was really neat to see what people were coming up with.”

“This year’s event was my first and unfortunately will be my last as I graduate. I regret about not being able to take part in such an exceptional event earlier on in my college career as CSUPERB was more than I expected. I was able to discuss with other CSU students about their college journey at their campuses and what research they did. Not only that, but the information from each session that I did attend was more than I ever expected. Thank you for a wonderful experience!”

“It’s such a great experience- I’m so lucky I got invited to go! I wish more students could know about this opportunity earlier on in their career- at least at my school… Maybe you guys could send out newsletters (in email form so it will be cheap) informing students at colleges that this event happens annually and what we could acquire by coming here…”

“The graduate school workshop was personally the most helpful session of the entire weekend.”

“I will remember the amazing connections and friendships I made with other CSU students (including those from my own school who I’ve never met before). I will remember the great opening session with the amazing talks about what… alumni are doing and what they hope their research will contribute in the future.”

“I will remember the information I heard relating to graduate school and future jobs. I really like that this is part of the symposium because it’s what most of us are currently thinking about. I will also remember the advice I received about my research.”

“The Biofuels Taskforce Meeting was a fascinating opportunity for me to understand how my research applies to industry. I had a wonderful time.’

“3. Stem Cell Dance 2. Presenting my research/Learning about other people’s research 1. Being in a big room full of people as nerdy as me!”

“I really enjoyed being able to get to know other students who were also doing research on my campus. I never realized quite how many of us there were!”

“The stress from being involved in the I2P competition.”

“Career session, Don Eden Graduate Student presentation, Stem-cell dancing, I2P Finalist Presentations…”

“I found the Eden Finalist talks very interesting. The talks on Friday morning were rather long and thus, were less engaging. The food was also very bland with the exception of the banquet dinner, which was good.”

“How encouraging everyone was.”

“I heard that professionals from the field and business oriented sessions were included. It would be great to have more of the networking sessions. The table heads were extremely cooperative and were a wealth of information.”

“The networking sessions were not my favorite, I prefer the speaker sessions. However, I spoke with many students who gleaned a lot of info from these sessions, so I see their importance.”

“I will remember the atmosphere and what it’s like to be surrounded by student researchers with differing cultural backgrounds and education but with the same enthusiasm for science.”

“I noticed that students from the same campus tended to “stick” together. While that is certainly a great idea and demonstrates unity, I also noticed that there were very lonely students. I personally made an effort to include a number of those students in our group, but perhaps a more structured approach [that might] be effective would be to “mix” students from all of the campuses. A workshop of some sort, or any type of activity that would place students in environment to learn about other students, campuses, and research, would be a fantastic idea!”

“I will remember my experiences at the poster session, and what I can do to improve as a scientist in my research and as a presenter. I will also remember the talks given by the I2P finalists. Those talks truly inspired me, and, in my opinion, they were the most exciting talks given at the symposium.”

“It was a great experience for my first conference. I loved explaining my research to CSU faculty and students who had some understanding of what I was doing. I really enjoyed the graduate school information session because I learned a lot of useful information!”

“Have more career networking sessions…”

“If possible, can there be more at least 10 minute breather breaks between events? Me and some of the other people I attended the conference got really overwhelmed by all the information, and a couple more small breaks could help us digest the information better, I think.”

“I thought it was an excellent symposium– great topics, good timing between sessions, great mix of topics during the student sessions. The only thing I would say is to encourage speakers to keep to their time limit during the opening session speakers. Some speakers went over their time limit, so we didn’t have time for the scheduled break to relax a bit before listening to more talks.”

“More industry related advice and possibly recruitment. This is a hard job market and it would be nice to be able to get to know more industry related people.”

“I very much enjoyed hearing about the different journeys and current research from the Celebrating CSU Biotechnology Alumni session.”

“During the Career Networking Session, I was really glad that students were able to sit at 3 topic tables because there were quite a few ‘topics’ that sounded interesting. I really enjoyed discussing about Gilead and their opportunities, and so I highly recommend inviting Clifford Samuel from Gilead for next year’s event.”

“I felt like the industry talks were the most interesting. It gives one the feeling that [our] education is applicable in the real world.”



* 98% of students responding to the survey would recommend the CSU Biotechnology Symposium to other students in the future. 30% of students (106) who attended the symposium answered the survey.

**The chart presents a keyword analysis of students’ responses to the question, “What will you remember about the symposium?”  The wider the wedge the more times it was mentioned as memorable.

***To get visuals, see the 2013 Symposium Photo Gallery

Reflections from the 2012 CSU Annual Biotechnology Symposium

After a big meeting like the CSU Biotechnology Symposium, we survey the participants, the Faculty Consensus Group (FCG), our sponsors, and our speakers about how things went. We emailed the surveys out yesterday and responses are starting to come in. But before all the survey results are in, the program office purposefully carves out time to stop, reflect and de-brief on the event with Mike Goldman and Jim Prince, the FCG chairs. Yesterday we talked about this year’s meeting for almost 3 hours! There are a lot of “behind the curtain” details for a meeting this size, but there are some big things that I thought I’d share.

We agreed that the students brought an increased intensity to the symposium this year compared to past meetings.  All week Career Networking Session mentors and speakers contacted me to let me know they had received lovely thank you emails from students they met at the symposium (I haven’t even thanked them all yet!). We don’t know why, but students attended (all!) the sessions in greater numbers than before (without the lure of raffle prizes!). The Eden and Nagel finalists gave outstanding presentations; the award selection committees deliberated longer than ever before attempting to name award winners.  The Sacramento State student team (Jose Camacho, Rebecca Dalton, Neil Gee and Michael Hebert) competing for this year’s CSUPERB-I2P Early-stage Biotechnology Commercialization Challenge worked untold hours (we know they almost forgot to eat lunch Saturday!) starting Thursday afternoon to get ready for their final technology commercialization presentation in front of the judges Saturday afternoon.

This year’s Eden and Nagel Award winners both described cutting-edge research with an eye toward clinical applications. As Ms. Jones wrote in her nomination package, “Basic research and translational science are not separate fields, but are two sides of the same coin.” Behrod Katebian (CSU Northridge) was this year’s Nagel Undergraduate Student Research Award winner; Melissa Jones (CSU Long Beach) won this year’s Eden Graduate Student Research award.   Ms. Jones developed a model system (D. melanogaster) to study the regulation of metabolic genes perturbed in diabetes and other human disease states. Mr. Katebian is developing a mouse model to test immunotherapies for human leukemias.  Cindy Malone, his CSU Northridge advisor wrote, “he can think and make difficult connections between ideas in and out of science.” This big picture thinking bodes well for future biomedical science!

This year’s Faculty Research Award and Andreoli Award winners were both analytical chemists! Dr. Feimeng Zhou (Research Award) from CSU Los Angeles gave a wonderful talk on Saturday about detecting DNA molecules and copper ions at amazingly high sensitivity. Associate Dean Cathie Atkins introduced Bill Tong (Andreoli Award) as one of San Diego State’s most renowned teacher/scholars, famous for his development of nonlinear laser technologies sensitive enough to identify chemicals in the smallest concentrations. As a result he’s the “face” of the campus’s “Discovery Starts Here” campaign.  Bill and Feimeng had something else in common.  Both gentlemen scholars talked with feeling about their students and the importance of involving students in biotechnology research.

Latest Generation Sequencing waits for no one.  The symposium opened with a set of speakers talking about research projects based on latest-generation DNA sequencing technologies.  After hearing about the “latest” technology on Friday, Life Technologies and Illumina announced new sequencers that will decode a human genome in one day for about $1000/genome….on Tuesday. The sequencers themselves still cost more than $1000.

Industry interest in the CSU’s biotechnology students is growing (but our faculty might not know about it!). For the last four years we’ve organized a Career Networking Session (CNS) for the students. Each year it grows a little, more companies sponsor the event, and “bigger names” attend.  This year Terry Hermiston, the San Francisco site head for US Biologics at Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals, kicked off the session. The session offers students the chance to sit down with professionals from commercially-focused companies, government agencies and hospitals.  This year I put the first call out for mentors on October 21st. By December 1st, 46 mentors from 25 different organizations had signed up to staff tables about discovery research, technical communications, mobile health, clinical laboratory sciences, and 18 other topics. I had to turn away others because we didn’t have any more space in the room!  The U.S. Public Health agencies (Food & Drug Administration, Federal Occupational Health, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid) sent 8 uniformed, commissioned officers to the event!

At the Sunday FCG meeting, faculty mentioned several times we should have a session at which students can mix with industry professionals. Because the Career Networking Session is held during a separate session for faculty, some faculty didn’t  know there was a small army from the Northern California life sciences community in the house (you can read about all the CNS mentors, starting page 26 in the symposium program)! We’ll work harder to get faculty to attend the post-CNS mixer next year!

The dust will continue to settle here in the program office over the next three weeks or so. We’ll send out all our thank you’s to the wonderful speakers, sponsors and faculty volunteers who made this year’s symposium happen. We’ll report out on the survey results and post photos to the website and Facebook.  Stay tuned!