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ASPIRE Trainees Fly to San Diego

Posted by on Wednesday, July 14, 2021 in Announcements .

This article was originally published in the 2018-2019 Annual Report. 

By Lorena Infante Lara, PhD, with contributions from Salma Omer, Graduate Student

La Jolla, San Diego, CA, is home to a sizable life sciences cluster, housing over 1,200 life sciences companies and more than 80 independent and university-affiliated research institutions. For trainees interested in developing a career in the biotech or pharmaceutical industries, La Jolla is a networking and informational gold mine – if they can get there.

The ASPIRE Program prides itself on providing career exploration and development opportunities to trainees that would not normally be available to them. Last month, ASPIRE on the Road took 12 trainees to La Jolla to visit 6 pharma and biotech companies, where they met and interacted with industry postdocs, research scientists, and executives, many of them Vanderbilt alumni. These interactions afforded the trainees the opportunity to learn first hand what it is like to work in this sector, and to get informed on whether or not that path is for them.

Over a period of two days at the end of April, the nine graduate students and three postdocs visited Fate Therapeutics, Sirenas, Biocom, Janssen, the Eli Lilly Biotechnology Center, and Illumina, as well as the start-up incubator JLABS. The trainees had the opportunity to interact with many of the alumni they met during the company tours in a more informal setting during a happy hour, which also brought together many San Diego-area biomedical sciences alumni working in a variety of industries including academia, consulting, business, and more.

Also on the trip were Ashley Brady, Assistant Dean of Biomedical Career Engagement and Strategic Partnerships; Larry Marnett, Dean of Basic Sciences; Kathy Gould, Associate Dean for Biomedical Sciences; Taylor Wood, Associate Dean of Development & Alumni Relations; and Aaron Conley, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations. ASPIRE on the Road is in its second iteration. The first trip occurred last spring and took trainees to Boston.

A Snapshot of ASPIRE on the Road in La Jolla:

Fate Therapeutics

  • Understanding R&D, manufacturing, quality control, and translational science
  • Question and answer session and tour of the facility

“What’s really interesting is that cell culture media is transferred into IV bags to reduce exposure to air and contamination. They also require getting in full hazmat suits before entering a culture room.”


  • Tour of facility
  • Question and Answer Session



  • Welcome and Orientation to San Diego Biotech Ecosystem

“This meeting [at BIOCOM] was really helpful in putting into perspective the kind of pharma in California and the quantity of one specific sector (consumer, medical parts, R&D etc).”

Janssen & JLABS

  • Meet and Greet with a Scientific Director
  • Tour of Janssen, Tour of JLABS
  • Meet and Greet with a panel of Janssen postdocs

Lilly Biotechnology Center

  • Lilly Biotechnology Center Short Talks on Functionality
  • Panel discussion with research scientists
  • Automation Lab Tour

“There was a panel discussion with scientists in different positions. The group asked informative questions about their career trajectory and lessons learned from pursuing postdocs in academia or industry.”


  • Company Overview
  • Campus and Lab Tour
  • Employee Career Panel and Networking

“After the overview, we were given a tour of the campus, which was the largest campus we visited that trip (they had a soccer field, basketball courts, volleyball courts, and an amphitheater). We were also shown an exhibit of the Illumina DNA sequencing machines, which felt like a mini Illumina museum.”

San Diego-area Alumni Networking Happy Hour

“This was one of the most useful networking events I have attended. There were about 40 Vanderbilt alumni who work in the San Diego, CA, area in a mixture of fields (academia, industry, consulting, business, etc.)… Each person I met made a profound connection.”

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