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California Aspiring

Posted by on Tuesday, December 5, 2023 in Announcements .

This article was originally published in the 2022 – 2023 Annual Report

By Sam Lisy

In May 2023, a select group of PhD and postdoctoral trainees packed their bags and headed to the birthplace of biotechnology. The ASPIRE Program’s 4th installment of ASPIRE on the Road took twelve trainees to San Francisco, California, for a jam-packed 48 hours that included six different site visits and an alumni happy hour. This competitive opportunity started with a dual-purpose
visit to scientific advocacy agency, Biocom. Dr. Gregory Theyel, director of the Biomedical Manufacturing Network, led this fruitful session by introducing a career in scientific advocacy while also prepping the trainees with the history and geography of the biotech industry in the Bay Area. Once armed with the lay of the land, the group toured Vir Biotechnology, led by Dr. Chad Garner and his team, through the lab spaces, short talks, and a candid panel in which trainees had the opportunity to ask questions of their own.

The group poses at Vir Biotechnology, Inc.

The next day started bright and early with a tour of JLABS, a Johnson and Johnson incubator for start-ups. The trainees learned about a space, support network, and community that fosters ideas into products, and eventually self-sustaining companies. In a nice contrast, the trainees then toured a satellite campus of a bigger company, AstraZeneca. The site visit was led by Vanderbilt alumna, Dr. Renee Iacona. Along with a building tour, the trainees heard from Dr. Nina Shah, the Site Head, and partook in a Q&A panel that included scientists from divisions spanning engineering device development, to translational medicine, to classic R&D, and more. The trainees then visited the first-ever biotech company, Genentech. Led by Vanderbilt alumna, Dr. Katie Hutchinson, the trainees learned the history of Genentech and heard from a panel of scientists, including many Vanderbilt alumni who are currently employed there. The session continued with a tour of the lab space, more talks from scientists, and a walk through of the massive campus along the scenic Oyster Point Bay. The happy hour assembled former trainees spanning many years and careers. With alumni hailing from start-ups, biotech, pharma, consulting, and more, the current trainees enjoyed learning first-hand about a large variety of careers. This networking “hour” over drinks and appetizers was so lively that it extended long past the allotted time until the restaurant started locking its doors!
On the last morning, the trainees snuck in a final site visit with Calico Life Sciences to learn about
the R&D of aging science, as led by the Principal Program Manager, Jake Foley, and once more had the opportunity to speak with a panel of scientists. At last, the trainees left San Francisco with an expanded network and a clearer image of what a career in the Bay Area and beyond may look like. Participants of the program had a lot to say about the event. “As a postdoctoral researcher in drug discovery by x-ray crystallography, the ASPIRE on the Road to San Francisco was an eye-opening adventure,” current postdoctoral fellow, Alejandro Madrigal-Carrillo, PhD, explained. “This one-of-a-kind trip made me realize the vastness and intricacies of the biotech ecosystem there, how everything relies on high quality team effort and support of one another, how they work, think, and collaborate. I had the opportunity not only to network, but also to have a glimpse into the lives of the scientists working at key industries.”