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Graduate Peers' Schedules

Fall 2014
Peer Advisor Availability

Professional Development Peer:
Shawn Warner-Garcia
Tue: 10 a.m. to noon, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Thu: 10 a.m. to noon, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Diversity & Outreach Peer:

Funding Peer:
Kyle Crocco
Wed: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Thu: 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Writing Peer:
Ryan Dippre
Mon: 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Tue: 9 to 11 a.m., 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Wed: 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Communications Peer:
Melissa Rapp
Wed: 9:45 to 11:45 a.m.
Thu: 1 to 5 p.m.

The peers sometimes hold events or attend meetings during their regular office hours. To assure you connect with your Graduate Peer Advisor, we encourage you to contact them by email and make an appointment.


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UCSB Grad Students, Show Your School Spirit in Forbes’ #MyTopCollege Social Media Campaign

Forbes updates its interactive map on a regular basis to show which campuses have the most school spirit via its #MyTopCollege social media campaign. On July 14, Cal State Fullerton led the nation.

Grad students, what makes UC Santa Barbara so special? Oh, there are so many things – award-winning departments, programs, and schools; our nationally recognized and imitated Grad Slam competition; exceptional, successful students and alumni; distinguished faculty; a spectacular, scenic campus location; to name just a few.

UCSB Graduate Division's award-winning Grad Slam competition is nationally recognized.Now Forbes wants to hear from you. Every year it ranks America’s Top Colleges based on such factors as graduation rate; student satisfaction; and post-graduate success. The magazine is asking students and alums to tell them, via social media, what makes their college special.  

Use the hashtag #MyTopCollege (and #UCSB) on your Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook posts to make your voices heard. Forbes has created an interactive national map that shows which campuses have the most school spirit. As you can see in the College Leaderboard above, as of today, July 14, Cal State Fullerton and San Diego State University lead the country in school spirit.

Forbes plans to publish its annual Top Colleges ranking on July 30. “Everyone who submits their own college fun fact or unique tradition has a chance to appear [on Forbes' My Top College website] and in Forbes magazine,” Forbes says.

So share a photo, a fun fact, or a simple reason why you think UC Santa Barbara is tops in the nation. Don't forget the hashtags #MyTopCollege and #UCSB. Read a Forbes blog post about the campaign.

#MyTopCollege #UCSB @Forbes

UCSB is our Top College because of its exceptional graduate students who go on to become successful alums. Credit: Patricia Marroquin


Graduate Student in the Spotlight: Linguistics Ph.D. Student and Professional Development Peer Advisor Shawn Warner-Garcia

Shawn Warner-Garcia is a 5th-year Linguistics student and the Graduate Division's new Professional Development Peer.It was probably inevitable that Shawn Warner-Garcia would pursue an education in a communication-related field. Shawn’s mother is a speech pathologist and her father is a journalist. Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, she had many opportunities to travel with her family and her church, “which has cultivated my respect and enthusiasm for cultural and linguistic diversity,” she said. She is also a performer, classically trained as a vocal musician. Shawn calls upon all of these skills and passions in her roles as a UCSB 5th-year Linguistics Ph.D. student and the Graduate Division’s new Professional Development Peer.

After graduating from high school, Shawn left the Sunshine State and moved to the Lone Star State, where she earned two degrees from two Texas universities: a BA in Language and Linguistics from Baylor University in Waco, and an MA in Linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin.

When she moved to Texas she didn’t know a soul, but she soon met “some of the most wonderful friends and mentors.” Texans, she said on her website, “really do have a special brand of genuineness and camaraderie.”

She ended up marrying “one of those amazing Texans,” Jonathan Garcia, who she says has been “incredibly supportive” as she pursues her Linguistics studies, specializing in Sociocultural Linguistics with interdisciplinary emphases in Language, Interaction, and Social Organization; Applied Linguistics; and Feminist Studies. The couple live with their 8-month-old son Austin in UCSB Family Student Housing.

In this column, Shawn shares details of her research; how she has dealt with graduate school life; who has been a source of motivation for her; her greatest accomplishment; and more.  

Tell us a little about your research.

My research is on issues of language, gender, and sexuality in Shawn Warner-Garcia, with her husband Jonathan on their wedding day; and with son Austin.Christian contexts. I chose this topic because it combines many of the things that I am passionate about: linguistic analysis, social justice, equality and diversity, and religion and spirituality. I hope to be able to shed light on the ways in which contemporary Christians are forging new identities and ideologies about issues of gender and sexuality. 

What has graduate student life been like for you?

I have really enjoyed the ebb and flow of graduate student life. There have been seasons of feverish activity – when I am taking lots of classes, attending lots of workshops, going to lots of conferences. And then there have been seasons of purposeful pulling back – when I travel during the school breaks, when I gave birth to my son last fall, when I enjoy leisure activities with friends and family on the weekend. Finding a balance between working at a high level and enjoying people and experiences are really important for me as a graduate student. It’s not always easy to do, and I’m constantly having to make adjustments, but it helps me build a lifestyle that is both fulfilling and sustainable.

Is there any particular event that had a big impact or influence on you and helped shape who you are today?

Such deep questions! I suppose I can briefly talk about what made me decide to go to grad school and pursue a career in academia. I was sitting in one of my linguistics classes as a junior at Baylor, and I looked at my professor, Dr. Clay Butler, and thought to myself, “I want his job. I want to teach and research and mentor in all the ways that I see him being successful.”

What has been a source of motivation or drive for you in your graduate studies?

My husband, Jonathan, has been incredibly supportive of me in everything that I’ve done, but particularly in my pursuit of a career in academia. He really is the best partner and friend I could ever ask for. When he pursues his passions like theology, politics, and fitness, it inspires me to pursue my passions. 

Shawn Warner-Garcia attended the International Gender and Language conference in Vancouver, Canada, in June with friend and colleague Chris VanderStouwe. Shawn, in the bottom row second from right, is proud of her participation in the SKILLS program. These are the 2010-2011 participants.

Name an accomplishment you are most proud of and why.

For the last four years, I have been proud to be a part of SKILLS (School Kids Investigating Language in Life and Society), which is an academic outreach program that brings linguistics curriculum into Santa Barbara County high schools. The program encourages high school students to see themselves as researchers and experts in their own cultural and linguistic heritage. The students are introduced to college-level materials and mentored by UCSB undergraduate and graduate students throughout the program. I have alternately served as a curriculum consultant and program coordinator for SKILLS.

What do you do to relax? Any hobbies, pastimes, favorite places to go, favorite things to do? What makes you happy?

The men in Shawn Warner-Garcia's life: husband Jonathan and son Austin.Good people, good food, and good wine are all I need to make me happy. In equal parts, I love spending time outdoors as well as relaxing in front of the TV with my family.

I love to travel. And when money and time permit, I actually do it! I have been to probably half of the states in the U.S., and I’ve even liked most of them. Outside of the U.S., I have traveled to Thailand, France, Romania, Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic, Brazil, Mexico, and Canada. I’d love to add Australia, New Zealand, Israel, India, Japan, Germany, and England to that list. And I just wish I lived in Italy.

I was a classically trained vocalist in high school and minored in music composition in college, so naturally I love music of almost all sorts and kinds. I play a little guitar, a little piano, but mostly I just like to belt out show tunes when no one is looking.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

I am a BIG football fan. I am currently in mourning until August 3, when preseason games start up again. In the NFL, I root for the Jaguars, Cowboys, and (since moving to California) Chargers. In college football, I grew up an FSU fan (much to the dismay of my parents, who were UF fans), then started rooting for Baylor and UT when I attended those schools. I would say that Baylor is my ultimate college team (and I'm so proud of the success they've had in recent years).

Explain what you do in your role as Professional Development Peer advisor. What are your goals as Professional Development Peer advisor?

As the Professional Development Peer advisor, I help graduate students achieve professional and personal goals related to their graduate career, whether it be conducting a job search, learning how to network more successfully, or finding a good work-life balance. My goal is to reach as many students as possible in ways that are relevant and meaningful to them, through workshops, GradPost articles, and one-on-one meetings.

(Editor's note: You may email Shawn for professional development assistance or to schedule an appointment to meet with her one-on-one.)


New UCSB Alum Casey O’Hara Puts His Bren Education to Work as Oregon Science Reporter Through AAAS Fellowship

Recent Bren School grad Casey O'Hara is working as an environmental journalist this summer at the Oregonian newspaper in Portland.Casey O’Hara has worked in the roles of high school science teacher; musician in Bren School’s Brengrass band; medical-device developer; award-winning documentary filmmaker; and Bren School master’s student. This summer he’s tackling a new role back in his hometown of Portland, Oregon, putting his Bren education to good use as a science news reporter at the Oregonian newspaper.

Casey is one of 15 students nationwide to be awarded a Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellowship by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). This is the 40th year that AAAS has assigned science and engineering scholars to top newsrooms for summer reporting jobs. 

Since the program’s inception, more than 625 student scientists, engineers, and medical professionals have been supported. In some cases, AAAS says, the fellows have produced the only original science-news reporting at their assigned media outlets over the summer.

Casey and the 14 other fellows were selected from a pool of 130 outstanding applicants. Collectively, the fellows are likely to generate 200 to 300 original science stories for print articles, blogs, podcasts, radio segments, and multimedia features.

Casey, whose focus at Bren was the school’s new Strategic Environmental Communications and Media emphasis, said he learned about the fellowship opportunity from his brother, Corey O’Hara, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in sustainable agriculture at Tufts University. “He realized that it was just the sort of thing I would be interested in,” said Casey.

The Bren alum is honored to have been selected, noting that AAAS “is one of the most well-respected organizations in promoting scientific collaboration, education, and outreach worldwide” and has supported many notable science communicators. Previous fellows include Erica Goode and Kenneth Chang of the New York Times; Richard Harris, David Kestenbaum, and Joe Palca of NPR; and renowned biologist Eric Lander, co-chair of President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Casey received both the University Award of Distinction and the MESM Academic Achievement Award at Bren's Commencement ceremony in June. Credit: Patricia Marroquin“I am excited to have a chance to work with professional environmental journalists and editors at the Oregonian,” said Casey, “and to build a network with the other fellows in the program, who will be working at media organizations across the country.”

Casey headed off to Oregon after participating in Bren’s Commencement ceremony, where he received his MESM degree and was honored with the University Award of Distinction and the MESM Academic Achievement Award.

During the summer, Casey will work with the editor of the Oregonian’s Investigations Team, focusing specifically on environmental issues. “The Oregonian, like most newspapers, has shifted in large part to digital media, so I expect to be incorporating multimedia into my work over the summer as well,” he said.

“While my fellowship is technically a ‘Mass Media Science Fellowship’ through the American Association for the Advancement of Science, much of my writing has been on topics that cross between environmental science, policy, and management,” Casey said. “So my Bren background has been invaluable. It has definitely prepared me well to communicate the bigger picture of these issues.”

Already a few weeks into the fellowship, Casey is doing just that, and has had a number of articles published.

Some of the topics he has reported on so far include mass bumblebee die-offs attributed to pesticides and starvation; funding for wolf conservation and livestock replacement; and tent caterpillars’ war with wasps and other natural enemies. “I'm currently working on a story related to fishery management that I think fits in well with some of my Bren classes as well,” Casey said. You can see the complete list of Casey’s Oregonian articles here.

Once his fellowship is over, Casey hopes to continue working in the education field. “Prior to UCSB/Bren, I taught high school physics and green tech engineering in the San Francisco Bay Area,” Casey said. His goal, he said, is “to extend my career in education, working with other teachers and education professionals to improve environmental science education and outreach.”

For more information about the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Fellowship, visit the AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows Program website. You may also read about all 15 AAAS fellows.

Casey O'Hara, second from right, performed with the band Brengrass during his Commencement ceremony in June. Credit: Patricia Marroquin


Academic Achievements and Excellence Are Celebrated at UCSB Graduate Division’s 2014 Commencement Ceremony

More than 400 students participated in Graduate Division's 2014 Commencement ceremony on Sunday. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

There was a common message expressed to the 410 graduates at UC Santa Barbara Graduate Division’s 2014 Commencement ceremony on Sunday, June 15, and it was this: The academic excellence and expertise graduates achieved at UCSB will empower them to make significant contributions to the nation and the world.

UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang said "You have demonstrated just how special you are." Credit: Patricia MarroquinOn this warm and sunny afternoon, Dr. Carol Genetti presided over her second Commencement ceremony as Dean of the Graduate Division.

In greeting the graduates, faculty, friends, and family members, UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang  expressed his gratitude and appreciation.

“You have demonstrated just how special you are,” the chancellor told them. “We have come to appreciate your curiosity, your devotion, and your determination. And, of course, your endurance. We look forward with excitement and confidence to what you will go on to do – in your lives and in your careers,” he said.

“There’s one thing I want you to always remember,” he added, “and that’s how you have helped make our campus a better place. For that, I say thank you.”

Chancellor Yang acknowledged the six students lost in the May 23 Isla Vista tragedy, and he called for a moment of silence. The chancellor announced that six scholarships have been established in the students’ memories and each will be awarded a bachelor’s degree posthumously.

"It was you and you alone who did the work to get this degree," Dean Carol Genetti told the graduates. Credit: Patricia MarroquinDean Genetti urged the graduates to “do your best not to lose touch” with your grad school friends. These colleagues shared laughs, tears, food, and office space with you, she said. They listened to your ideas, encouraged you, and provided constructive criticism when needed. “Old, dear friends are one of the greatest blessings that life gives us,” Dean Genetti said.

Faculty, too, were a great support system and “enabled and empowered your scholarship,” she told them.

While all of these people have been critical to your success, she added, “it was you and you alone who did the work to get this degree,” through determination, commitment, and persistence.

The ceremony’s keynote speaker was Dr. Mike North, a UCSB alumnus who is the founder of the nonprofit ReAllocate and a Discovery Channel show host. (We featured him in a Graduate Alumnus in the Spotlight column.)

“I think that being a grad of UCSB means that you have built into you a spirit of caring, community, and collaboration,” Dr. Mike North told the graduates. Credit: Patricia Marroquin“I think that being a grad of UCSB means that you have built into you a spirit of caring, community, and collaboration,” Dr. North told the graduates. “And I just want you to know that that’s very valuable in the world that you’re heading off into. Maybe it’s not something you studied. It’s in the ethos here. And so it’s something you’re going to carry with you for the rest of your lives."

The student speaker was Physics Ph.D. Lucile Savary (featured in a Graduate Student in the Spotlight column). She said that the combination of academic excellence and kindness found at UCSB is “truly unique.”

“We have contributed to knowledge,” she said. “This is something which will always be ours, which is important and lasting. Knowledge is forever.”

Dr. Savary told the graduates that “the qualities and values needed to graduate and the people we interacted with here will help us make well-informed decisions for a better future.” She ended her address by leading the audience in an enthusiastic cheer of “Go Gauchos!”

Student speaker Lucile Savary led the audience in the cheer, "Go Gauchos!" Credit: Patricia MarroquinHonors and recognitions during the ceremony included:

The Louis and Winifred Lancaster Dissertation Awards were presented to Dr. Carly Thomsen of Feminist Studies for Social Sciences; and to Dr. Ahmed Almheiri of Physics for Mathematics, Physical Sciences, and Engineering.

Three students were recognized for University Awards of Distinction: Dr. Torrey Trust of Education; Dr. Emily Rivest of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology; and Dr. Carly Thomsen of Feminist Studies.

A significant milestone was celebrated at the ceremony. Dr. Thomsen is the first recipient of a Ph.D. in Feminist Studies from UCSB. She and the entire Department of Feminist Studies were congratulated.

Music master’s graduate Colleen Beucher sang the National Anthem and led the audience in the University song, “Hail to California,” at the ceremony’s conclusion.

For more photos, visit the GradPost Facebook page’s Graduate Division Commencement 2014 photo album.

Congratulations to all our graduates!

Education graduates wait in the sunshine before the ceremony began. Credit: Patricia MarroquinColleen Beucher led the audience in singing "Hail to California." Credit: Patricia Marroquin


A Milestone Moment at UCSB Bren School’s 2014 Commencement: 1,000th Degree Is Conferred

Rose petals were strewn as Louisa Smythe, the 1,000th graduate of the Bren School, took the stage. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Four of the five Ph.D. recipients were on hand Friday at Bren Hall to accept their degrees. They are, from left, Eric Edwards, Sheetal Gavankar, Rebecca Toseland, and Trevor Zink. Credit: Patricia MarroquinUC Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management marked a milestone on Friday at its 2014 Commencement ceremony when it conferred a degree on its 1,000th student. This “green” grad school celebrated by showering that student, Louisa Smythe, not with paper confetti but with multicolored rose petals.

At the 10 a.m. ceremony in Michael J. Connell Memorial Courtyard, the 18-year-old Bren School graduated 79 students: 75 earning MESM (master of environmental science and management) degrees and four earning Ph.D.s. Chancellor Henry T. Yang pointed out that the Bren class represented 1.4 percent of this year’s total UCSB graduating class, calling the ceremony “small but very special.”

Assistant Dean Satie Airame and Bren Dean Steven Gaines sing "Joy to the World." Credit: Patricia MarroquinBoth the chancellor and Bren Dean Steven Gaines acknowledged the six students lost in the May 23 Isla Vista tragedy, with Chancellor Yang calling for a moment of silence. Yang announced that six scholarships have been established in the students’ memories and each will be awarded a bachelor’s degree posthumously.

Awards and recognition were given to both students and faculty. Taylor Debevec was honored with the MESM Service Award, and two students – Casey O’Hara and Maxwell Ludington – received MESM Academic Achievement Awards. Professor Roland Geyer was presented with the Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award.

Ashley Conrad-Saydah, Deputy Secretary for Climate Policy at the California Environmental Protection Agency and a 2008 MESM graduate, delivered the keynote address, “Time to Leave the Choir.”  She called for students in the graduating class to “take a harder path,” and quoting Frost, urged them to “take the road less traveled, diverge, and cultivate alliances where you might otherwise be a lone ranger.” The student address was given by Emily DeMarco (MESM 2014).

Class Chairs Alison Amrhein and Elizabeth Ross applaud their class for 100% participation in the MESM 2014 Class Gift. Credit: Patricia MarroquinClass Chairs Elizabeth Ross and Alisan Amrhein presented the class gift, noting that this year they were able to get 100% participation from the graduating class. The gift, sun shades, will help shield students from the sun on the Deckers Outdoor Corporation Terrace, also known as the Deckers Deck.

Before, during, and after the ceremony, musical entertainment was provided by Bren School’s own student band, Brengrass. The music included a rousing rendition at the conclusion of the ceremony of Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World.” Joining in the singing was Dean Gaines and Satie Airame, Assistant Dean for Academic Programs.

Appetizers, desserts, and mimosas were served at an outdoor reception afterward. One table featured foods from Salty Girl Seafood, which won two awards – the Elings Prize and the People’s Choice – in the recent New Venture Competition 2014, hosted by the Technology Management Program. Salty Girl Seafood is a sustainable seafood distribution company founded by two Bren MESM graduates: Norah Eddy and Laura Johnson.

Congratulations to all the Bren School graduates; and congrats on reaching the milestone of 1,000 graduates!

Bren School graduates celebrate their degree with the traditional tossing of the caps. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Brengrass performed such songs as "Happy," "This Land Is Your Land," "America the Beautiful" and "Joy to the World." Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Bren School graduates share a laugh at the ceremony. Credit: Patricia Marroquin


Commencement Speaker Mike North: UCSB Ph.D. Alum, Nonprofit Founder, Discovery Channel Host, and ‘Indiana Jones of Technology’ 

Dr. Mike North, who holds three degrees from UC Santa Barbara, will address graduates at the 2014 Graduate Division Commencement ceremony on Sunday.

It’s impossible to pigeonhole Mike North. On his resume, you will find these diverse titles: founder of the nonprofit Reallocate; founder and president of creative agency North Design Labs; creator/host/producer/cameraman of “In the Making” on Discovery Digital; Chief Technology Officer of Nukotoys; host of “Outrageous Acts of Science” on the Science Channel; host of “Prototype This!” on Discovery Channel; co-founder of [freespace], a global network of civic engagement centers; co-founder of the co-living space concept The Embassy Network; and a UC Santa Barbara Ph.D. alum. Now he can add yet another title to that list: guest speaker for the 2014 Graduate Division Commencement ceremony, on Sunday at 4 p.m. on the Faculty Club Green.

There are other words that have been used to depict the multifaceted Dr. North, some of them self-descriptions: inventor; innovator; inspirational speaker; scientist; engineer; collaborator; risk-taker; teacher; mentor; world traveler; Burning Man aficionado; docnorth (his Instagram username); “wild child”; “the black sheep of my group”; and “the Indiana Jones of Technology.”

He has gone scuba diving with sharks; built a 30-foot, 90-m.p.h., fire-breathing Viking ship and driven it from Santa Barbara to Burning Man; and lives in an eight-bedroom San Francisco Victorian that some have called a “high-tech commune,”  but which North describes as “co-living with intention” with creative “family.”

The Gaucho grad alumnus, born Michael Thomas Northen, holds three degrees from UCSB: a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 2001; a Master of Science in Materials in 2002; and a Ph.D. in Materials with an emphasis in nanotechnology in 2006. His Ph.D. project involved studying the natural adhesive found on the pad of a gecko’s foot and designing and fabricating the world’s first synthetic adhesive that can be turned on and off electronically.

"I was always building and making things," Dr. Mike North recalls.Mike wasn’t playing with geckos during his childhood in Laramie, Wyoming, but he was a curious and adventurous boy, describing himself as “a bit of a wild child.”

“My parents were very hands off with me and allowed me great amounts of freedom,” said North, who spent time with his parents and brother in a cabin at an elevation of 10,000 feet in Medicine Bow in Wyoming’s Snowy Range.

At the age of 5, he was driving a snowmobile and going cross-country skiing. “I was always building and making things, whether it was a secret fort in the mountains, or a zip line between a tree and my basketball hoop.”

In those days, his mother was a home economics teacher and his father worked for the University of Wyoming in the Atmospheric Sciences department as a photographic engineer and expedition leader. Later, his parents would move on to other occupations, including running a delicatessen and catering company after the family moved to Petaluma, California. From the ages of 10 to 19, Mike helped out in that family endeavor, learning how to run a business from his dad and how to interact with customers from his mom.

As a junior in high school, 16-year-old Mike traveled to Sweden for a year of study in Lund. The town is “kind of my second home now,” and North, who is fluent in Swedish, maintains a close relationship with the family he lived with there. 

North took a roundabout route to get to UCSB. He enrolled at Santa Rosa Junior College; dropped out after his first semester to work and live in Boston and then Sweden; and returned to Petaluma to work a construction job and re-enter junior college. He earned Associate degrees in Engineering and English from the Santa Rosa college in 1999.

My older brother [Trent Northen], now with his own lab at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, attended UCSB, and I'd be lying if I said that those trips down to visit him in IV in the early ’90s weren't part of the inspiration for coming to UCSB,” he  said.

Mike North is an inventor, innovator, and scientist.From 1999 to 2006, UCSB was North’s home. Throughout his undergraduate and graduate studies here, he gained the skills and experience that would lead to success in many areas. At UC Santa Barbara, collaboration, innovation, and yes, even failure, he said, helped him to grow and equipped him to take on the challenges of a nonprofit startup, ReAllocate; to travel the world (more than 40 countries) telling innovators’ stories online and on TV; and to share with and learn from diverse groups of exceptional people.

His UCSB advisor, Mechanical Engineering Professor Dr. Kimberly Turner, is looking forward to hearing what North has to say on Sunday.

“Dr. North is definitely one of those students who continues to have lifetime lasting impact on me,” she said. “It was clear from the first time I met him, as a UCSB undergrad, that he was destined for great things. He is definitely a man with passion for discovery, and a deep humanitarian side as well. From the highly engineered ‘fire-breathing dragon’ art car he built to take to Burning Man, to the first reversible gecko-based adhesion, Mike takes on everything at full speed. I cannot wait to hear what he has to tell our graduates, and I can be certain it will be energetic and profound.”  

In the following question-and-answer section, Dr. North shares details of his gecko dissertation research; what fascinates him about Burning Man; a little-known historical fact about himself; and more.

How was it that you came to UCSB for graduate school? You said that your older brother, Trent Northen, attended UCSB.

At Santa Rosa Junior College, I really enjoyed my Materials classes, and I fell in love with the Santa Barbara area. My brother was at UCSB at the time and told me about the five-year master’s/bachelor’s program. The combo of mechanical engineering and Materials seemed perfect to me, and when I looked at how strong the Materials program at UCSB was, it seemed a pretty clear choice. Interestingly, this was a big step in me letting go of my ego – at first I wasn’t going to go to UCSB, because I didn’t want to follow in my brother’s footsteps. But then I realized that was a silly reason to not do something. I loved UCSB from visiting my brother, it was a great program, and quite frankly the in-state tuition made it possible for me and my parents to afford me going to college there.

What kind of a student were you when you were at UCSB?

I was a great student. At my junior college I had tons of friends and a lot of social obligations. When I transferred to UCSB I had very few friends, and loved it! It allowed me to do want I really wanted to do, focus on my studies. (When I first went back to college – I dropped out of college for a year and a half during JC – I was working full time and going to school full time. This put me in a place of always wishing I had more time for my studies, to really enjoy them. When I transferred to UCSB, I was given that.) I was also extremely competitive. The best feeling in the world was absolutely crushing a test. The goal was to not only get the highest score, but also to finish the test first. A group of us really did compete, and also study together. We pushed each other forward. I received numerous honors and awards. I was also president of Pi Tau Sigma [International Mechanical Engineering Honor Society].

Please tell us a little bit about your gecko dissertation research.

Dr. Mike North is a popular inspirational speaker.I was the black sheep of my group. The project was a complete departure from my PI’s research focus. Her primary focus was parametric resonance in MEMS. My project was developing and characterizing a micro/nanostructured adhesive inspired by the gecko. Kim [Turner] was 100% supportive and loved the project, and gave me the confidence to be bold and daring in my work.

At the same time there were research groups at heavy-hitting institutes such as Stanford and Berkeley working in the same field. My work was different and allowed us to form nice alliances with these groups.

When I started the research, others were focused on just creating a nanostructured surface to mimic the gecko. My take was that there was a lot more to the gecko system than just the nanostructure. My premise was the hierarchical structure must play a significant role. We were the first to make a hierarchical structure integrating both micro and nano. This revealed that not only did this allow the adhesive to be effective on rougher surfaces, but also made it more resilient to damage.

But for me it was not about making an adhesive that sticks well – pressure-sensitive adhesives are hard to beat for that! To me it was about an adhesive that could be turned on and off. I decided to take the ball and run right for that goal line. I could have taken the structures I was making and optimize them for adhesion, but I was more about inventing and taking big leaps toward reversible adhesion. And that’s what I created, an adhesive that you could turn on and off electronically. The process was a lot of work (80-hour weeks in the cleanroom) and required a lot of experimentation. I failed often. I wore a hat that said “frequent failure” (much to the chagrin of my classmates – “how can you want to fail?”). I loved failure, because in those failures I would have moments of serendipity, of discovery of something new I hadn’t anticipated. Ultimately some of these discoveries are what led to the final success.

What was your first job out of graduate school?

Mike North on location with a flyboarder for one of his shows. Credit: @docnorth on InstagramPutting together and hosting “Prototype This!” on the Discovery Channel. The roles involved were: concepting the show, casting the other hosts, building the shop/set, coming up with the ideas for the projects, helping storyboard the episodes, bringing in partners, designing and building the prototypes, and even helping to produce the episodes.

Describe your current jobs and what they entail.

ReAllocate: Founder/Chair of an organization that leverages a volunteer network of high-level technologists, designers, and innovative thinkers to holistically address real-world problems. Its motto is “World Class Talent, Real World Solutions.” My roles now are largely spreading the word, bringing in partners, and continuing the vision for the organization.

“In The Making”: Creator/Host/Producer/Cameraman of my own new online show distributed through Discovery Digital Networks. They are three-minute episodes [think Grad Slam talks online!] on breakthrough inventions and technologies. I literally travel around the world discovering and shooting short episodes on people creating breakthrough projects. Discovery approached me and asked what my dream show would be. This is it. They are calling me the “Indiana Jones of Technology.”

[freespace]: I have helped to create a global network of participatory civic engagement and empowerment centers.

The Embassy Network: I have helped to create a global network of co-living spaces for individuals striving to make a difference in the world. My San Francisco roommates include the deputy innovation officer for the city; an executive at the satellite company Planet Labs; and a neuroscientist.  

North Design Labs: Innovation consulting and inspirational speaking.

Please explain your time as Chief Technology Officer of Nukotoys.

Nukotoys' Monsterology trading card app.Nukotoys was just getting started when they found me. They had just gotten a little bit of funding, and needed someone to help them develop their physical products. At first I just helped them out, but that quickly turned into consulting, and then as I took on a more and more significant role, I became the CTO of the company. Along with a savant programmer, we were a two-person research and development team, developing prototypes and ultimately products. At first I was drawn to the educational aspect, using video games and toys to educate kids. Our first product, Mission to Planet 419, was for helping kids get past the fourth-grade reading slump. We developed a space exploration game that taught kids how to use books and other methods to find useful information. During this process I was able to work in first-, second-, and third-grade classes in an underserved school in Chicago. I saw the power of using video games in the classroom. Kids were focused on the games, intent on completing tasks. This freed the teacher from her usual role keeping order and allowed her to become a one-on-one coach for kids. It was work that was doing something good for the world.

That project wrapped up and our attention turned to more money-making products. We developed a couple of video games that had integrated trading cards. Both Monsterology and Animal Planet trading cards made it into major retail stores and the Apple Store. It was a major accomplishment, but somehow after a couple years of working on it, didn’t completely fulfill me. Also, at this time ReAllocate was really getting up to speed and it was clear that if it were to succeed it needed my full attention. So I stepped down from my position at Nukotoys to completely focus on ReAllocate.

Dr. Mike North, in a clinic in Nicaragua, assembled a team of experts to help create a brace to treat children from developng countries who have club foot.

You are passionate about your nonprofit ReAllocate. How did you come to found it and what has the impact been on you?

I was working at Nukotoys. One day the CEO asked me if I’d be interested in doing some volunteer design and prototyping work to help his nonprofit develop a low-cost brace for treating kids in developing countries with club foot. Much like I did on Prototype This! I assembled a team of experts, including the prototyping expert from Burton Snowboards, Objet 3D printers (now Stratasys), and designers. We iterated various braces and nine months later I found myself testing prototypes in a clinic in Nicaragua. The moment I put this brace (which utilized the advanced skills and resources we have in the developed world) on the foot of a child who would be disabled for life without a device like this, it struck me. I was doing something powerful with these resources and it was without question the most meaningful thing I had done in my life. When I returned to the U.S., I decided that I not only wanted to make it possible for people in under-resourced parts of the world to have access to our resources, but I also wanted experts to have the experience that I did. So I founded ReAllocate to bring these two worlds together for their mutual benefit.

Please tell us about the Cooperative Innovation class you teach at UC Berkeley.

Dr. Mike North takes time out for a selfie while sitting in the makeup chair before recording an episode of "Outrageous Acts of Science." Credit: @docnorth on InstagramI teach this course in the fall. My goals with the course were to create my dream class and also to teach students valuable skills that I have learned since college/grad school. I also wanted to take a stab at a different way of “teaching.” The class is completely workshop- and project-based. Each week we have a three-hour workshop, where I generally bring in top practicing professionals from the Bay Area and the rest of the country. I work with the workshop leaders to design a course around what they think is the most useful skill they have to teach. Leaders range from the former Chief Marketing Officer of Sun Microsystems to the founder of bit-torrent.

The project aspect is the students form teams and select projects in the local community that address some sort of social need. Examples are helping transition prisoners out of San Quentin; developing a business incubator in West Oakland; and a community fish association. The skills they learn in class they apply immediately to their projects, and often the workshops focus on their projects.

At the end of the semester students then travel to international locations such as Kenya, India, and Guatemala to work on projects there.

I really try to emphasize the four deep skills I feel are critical for this sort of work: empathy, creativity, collaboration, and storytelling. On the first day of class, I told the students there would be a whole lot of written assignments, because I don’t feel like reading a bunch of papers, and neither does the world. The world is evermore communicating with pictures and videos. It was a little tongue-in-cheek, but I do believe that being able to tell meaningful stories in video is an essential skill. To my surprise this is where the students struggled most; most had clearly never created a video before.  

You enjoy attending the annual Burning Man in the northern Nevada desert. How many times have you gone, and when did you first start going? What fascinates you about it, and what do you do there?

On this Instagram photo, Dr. Mike North says goodbye to Barcelona and the freespace residence he visited. Credit: @docnorth on InstagramMy first trip to Burning Man was when my older brother called me up from Santa Barbara and asked if I wanted to go “camping.”  I was 18 and my older brother in college asking me to go camping was the coolest thing ever. I said yes, asked what I needed to bring. “You know, camping stuff, tent, sleeping bag.”  Five hours later he picked me up and we were off to the Burning Man.

I’ve been 16 times since.

I could go on and on about Burning Man. But to be brief it’s the highest density of creativity on the planet for that week. It’s a test bed for trying new things, both technologically and socially. People are open, friendly, caring, and supportive. It’s where I meet some of the most interesting people, doing some of the most significant work on the planet. Not to mention we create a city of 70,000 people for a week and then leave without a trace. Burning Man itself is like a rapidly iterating prototype of a city, changing and innovating every year.

I’ve built everything from art cars to giant art pieces. Now I help organize a camp of 200 global change makers called IDEATE (From Ideas to Reality). We have a power grid, water, kitchen, showers, and most of all community.

In what ways did UCSB prepare you for your career?

The usual stuff like a strong education, etc. I think the unique things to UCSB are the extremely collaborative nature of the school. I was able to work with people from different departments on my projects. People were open and helpful, the basis of collaboration. This is probably the most important skill that I possess, being able to find and work with others. My role on Prototype This! was largely bringing people together to work together.

Dr. Mike North is a creator and collaborator.I also learned a lot about innovation, how to take chances, how to fail and how to learn. This is largely due to my advisor Kim Turner giving me a lot of freedom to explore and try new things. An engineer’s ability to operate in a place of ambiguity is essential for innovation.  And guess what, it’s something engineers often struggle with.   

Do you have any suggestions for the UCSB educational system on how to better prepare our grad students for careers?

Create a state of the art maker space open to the entire university.

Who has been and/or is a hero, mentor, role model, or inspiration to you?

Instead of calling out individuals I’ll be a little more philosophical. Everyone you surround yourself with is a mentor or role model in some way. That’s why the most important thing in life is to surround yourself with people you respect, like, look up to, and enjoy. Spending time with people, you can’t help but be more like them.

What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment and/or something you are the most proud of?

My biggest accomplishment in life and the thing I am most proud of are my friends and colleagues. Being surrounded by such an exceptional group of people is the greatest thing I could ever aspire to.

What does it mean to you that you will be returning to speak to our graduating grad students as our guest speaker?

Frankly, I’m just excited to share what is going on out in the world with the students. I’m involved in some pretty exciting projects and communities. The opportunity to share and inspire with the grads really gets me going! I also recognize it’s a huge honor, which means a lot to me because it means a lot to my parents.

Credit: @docnorth on Instagram

You live in a communal residence in San Francisco, an eight-bedroom Victorian called The Embassy, with other creative types. Please tell us a little about this.

Co-living at The Embassy is really about living with intention. It’s about surrounding yourself with people who are working toward something in life, something to improve the world. It’s about having a support network around you so that you can try things that are a bit more daring and bold. For me, it’s largely about having a family. I’m passionate about what I do in life and not ready for a family. But I think people do need family. This is a way to have family, without having to get up in the night to change a diaper.

What’s on your bucket list of things to do that you haven’t done?

I don’t have a bucket list. I keep my vision wide and take what opportunities appear on the horizon.

With your schedule, is it difficult for you to get together with family?

It is, but I make it happen. I flew back from Mexico City to go to my 6-year-old niece’s play. I spent Easter with my family and then crammed a trip to Switzerland and back into 4 days. A friend told me of an app that helps you calculate how many more times in your life you’ll see your parents. I got the point without downloading it and now make every effort to spend time with my family.

What is something that very few people know about you or that would surprise people about you?

I’m related to 11 of the Mayflower families. Now that’s American!

What do you do for fun and relaxation?

Relaxation: Yoga.

Fun: Dance my head off in front of a giant sound system.

Related links about Dr. Mike North:

UCSB Ph.D. Alum, Discovery Channel TV Show Host, ReAllocate Founder Mike North to Be Keynote Speaker at 2014 Graduate Division Commencement

No Tie-Dye Required. Bay Area Millennials Are Flocking to Communes, New York Times

How 3D Printing Saved Christmas, by Dr. Mike North


Commencement Student Speaker, Lucile Savary, Wants You to Take Advantage of Your Time Right Now

Lucile SavaryLucile Savary. Credit: Lucile SavaryYou probably don't know Lucile Savary, a graduate student in Physics, who will be this year’s UCSB commencement speaker. For the past six years, she has been busy studying condensed matter theory, and in the fall, she will continue her research as a postdoc at M.I.T. She’s also a French citizen.

Unlike other French citizens, Lucile decided to pursue her graduate studies in the United States, which is very unusual, since most French graduate students in the sciences stay in France.

On the website for the Balent's Group, a research group in the Physics Department at UCSB that conducts theoretical studies of condensed matter, Lucille's interests are listed as “impurity effects in frustrated magnets,” “quantum order-by-disorder,” “quantum spin liquids in quantum spin ice,” and “quantum criticality in iridium pyrochlores.” I was eager to find out if this had anything to do with time travel or teleportation.

We met in her office in Broida Hall 6113. Broida Hall turned out to be different than any other campus building I have ever visited. A person in a mouse suit joined me on my elevator ride up. On the elevator wall someone had installed a working model of a scale to measure the resistance of pull and push, which jerked up or down every time the elevator came to a halt. And when I arrived on the sixth floor, I noticed chalkboards on the walls covered with equations.

Since I got there a little early, I had time to admire the view from the sixth floor, which looks out over the campus and toward the Pacific Ocean. Not a bad place to work when you're a theoretical physicist interested in condensed matter theory.

When we met, Lucile looked a little tired and told me that she had just finished writing her dissertation the week before, her commencement speech this week, and still had to write for her dissertation defense on Friday.

We talked about her research in condensed matter theory, her life as a grad student, and her advice to students in her commencement speech.

You received a B.A. and M.A. degree in Physics at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon. How did you end up studying theoretical physics at UCSB?

It’s a funny story, actually. As an undergraduate, we had the option of finishing our degree with three months of research and three months of classes, or six months of doing research anywhere. So I looked for a nice place to study and found UCSB. Then I looked for someone interested in condensed matter theory. I contacted Leon Balents [her advisor] by email and when he didn’t reply I called him up after only two days. It worked out well. This was the only school I applied to for graduate school.

You do research in condensed matter theory and your dissertation is “Exotic Phenomena in Quantum Pyrochlore Materials.” Does this have anything to do with teleportation or time travel?  (Laughs). No. I study materials like the ones you have in your iPhone, electronic stuff. I look at such topics as how these materials can store more data in smaller spaces than the silicon materials we use today. I usually say that I study solids at the electronic scale, that I try to understand the things around us at the scale right below ours. My work has the potential to be useful in the future.

Let’s talk about your life now. You’re from France and went to school in Lyon. Where did you grow up?

Lots of places. I was born in Rodez, in one of the best cheese regions in South-Central France. I also lived in Limoges, Bordeaux, Paris, and for four years in Washington, D.C. Then later also in Grenoble and Zurich.

What do people find most interesting about you?

Lucile Savary doing impvovLucile Savary doing improv. Credit: Lucile SavaryThat’s a hard question. I’m not sure. Probably how often I moved and traveled and where I lived is relatively unusual. I lived in D.C. for four years when my father was working for the World Bank. It’s where I learned to speak English. I’d like to think this, and other things, have given me a little bit of perspective. But one should really ask other people (smiles). Otherwise, people are usually surprised that I like acting and comedy, when I am generally quite shy.

What is the one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?

That’s also a hard question. But physics-wise, certainly: From early childhood, most people love physics, but I didn’t like physics until the final year of high school. There were all these different ideas and they weren’t clear to me. I had a good teacher who explained things very well.

What is one piece of advice would you give to an incoming graduate student?

The most important thing is to understand things fundamentally, not just superficially. On another note, we’re so worried and focused on the future. We spend much of our time working a lot. We forget to take advantage of our time right now as a graduate student. This is our twenties: we should take advantage.

On that note, what do you do to relax?

I play tennis, bike a little bit, and do hiking. I like to play board games: one of my favorites is pandemic. In France, I really enjoyed acting, and improv. Otherwise, I read an incredible amount of news. And I enjoy some amount of geeky things, like fun programming.

Lucile Savary in BoulderLucile in Boulder, Colorado. Credit: Lucile Savary

What is your biggest accomplishment in life and why?  

Getting my Ph.D. here. (Pauses to explain). Virtually zero Ph.D. students (in physics anyway) from France go to the US to do their study. Much of my school system in France was saying, why are you going there? I had to figure out everything. At one time, it was unclear at all if I was going to be able to finish.

Who has had the biggest impact or influence on you?

Leon Balents, for sure, has been fantastic. My physics teacher from high school; another teacher in my classes préparatoires, who got me to continue in this field. Most people with me in “classes prépa” went into engineering at one point.

What is the one thing you hope to be doing 5 or 10 years out of graduate school?

I hope to get a faculty job. It’s extremely difficult to get a faculty post/position. Some people do many post docs before getting one.

You were chosen to be this year’s commencement speaker. How did this come about?

Graduate Student Spotlight logo

I read a reminder email about it on the GradPost. I thought, maybe I should do that. Normally, when I do something it takes me a long time because I’m super careful. But I only had a couple days left to apply. I thought I would apply if I had something to say. It turned out I had a bunch of ideas.

What do you plan to talk about in your speech?

Accomplishing something. Don’t just study to do well, but to learn something. This way it will always be yours and it won’t be taken away from you. Learn to appreciate the wide variety of talents, and the broad array of aspirations. I try to convey that despite the variety of our fields we all kind of do the same thing: think logically, and rigorously. That also gives us some responsibilities.

Also, there’s so much emphasis placed on being smart. Academic intelligence is not the only useful skill in life, and academic success is not the only measure of our worth. I want you to remember that this is not the only quality in life. There are other things that matter as much, or more: openness, understanding, love, tolerance, and improvement.


UCSB’s First Feminist Studies Ph.D. to Be Awarded on Sunday, to Carly Thomsen

“The Feminist Studies department at UCSB has provided me with immense support, encouragement and inspiration,” said Carly Thomsen, who will be the first recipient of a doctoral degree from the department. Credit: Spencer Bruttig

In 2009, the Feminist Studies graduate program was born, and on Sunday, the department will see its first recipient of a doctoral degree: Carly Thomsen.

Carly holds another honor as the 2014 winner of UC Santa Barbara’s Winifred and Louis Lancaster Dissertation Award for Social Sciences. Her dissertation, “Unbecoming Visibility Politics and Queer Morality,” focuses on tensions and estrangement among and between LGBTQ women in the Midwest and mainstream gay rights organizations.

Carly Thomsen presented her research in a three-minute format in this year's Grad Slam competition. She was a co-winner of preliminary Round 6. Credit: Patricia MarroquinCarly – who will move to Houston after graduation for a two-year postdoctoral appointment at the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Rice University – praised her department and her advisor for their guidance throughout the program.

“The Feminist Studies department at UCSB has provided me with immense support, encouragement and inspiration,” Carly said in an Office of Public Affairs and Communications news release. “I feel extraordinarily grateful to all the people who made it possible for me to be the first person to complete a Ph.D. in feminist studies here. Mostly, I thank my advisor, Leila Rupp. She’s a huge name in the area of sexuality studies and she recruited me in a way that made me think we would have a stellar relationship. And I was not wrong about that.”

In the release, Eileen Boris, Hull Professor and chair of Feminist Studies, said:  “It bodes well that our first Ph.D. is recognized by the larger academic community through the postdoctoral appointment and through the Lancaster Award.”

The GradPost featured Carly in June 2012 in a Graduate Student in the Spotlight column. In the article, she talked about how a single class changed her life and steered her on the path toward women’s studies. Also, Carly was a co-winner of Preliminary Round 6 of this year's Grad Slam competition, in which she presented a three-minute talk based on her dissertation.

For the full news release, read A Feminist First.


2014 Graduate Division Commencement Ceremony on Sunday: What You Should Know

Graduates from the 2013 Graduate Division Commencement ceremony. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

This Sunday, 409 students will be receiving their degrees in Graduate Division’s 2014 Commencement ceremony. Once again, Commencement falls on Father’s Day, making it an especially wonderful celebration for our graduates who are fathers, as well as the fathers of our grads.

Graduates wait for the ceremony to begin in 2013. Credit: Patricia MarroquinThe ceremony begins at 4 p.m. on the Faculty Club Green, but if you are unable to make it to the ceremony, UC Santa Barbara will again be broadcasting it live on its Live Webcast 2014 page. If you post any photos or other social media items on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or elswhere, UCSB is asking that you use the hashtag #UCSB2014 plus the applicable hashtag #PhinallyDone or #MasteredIt. Your Tweets and photos will appear on the UCSB Commencement page below the live webcast window.

This year, UCSB is surpassing the 9,400 mark for the number of doctoral degrees awarded, and surpassing the 22,500 mark for Master's degrees awarded. Last year, UCSB celebrated 50 years of doctoral graduates. Our first doctoral students received their degrees during the 1962-63 academic year, so we are now launching into our second half-century of doctoral education.

Here is some other information to know about Sunday’s ceremony:

The guest speaker will be Dr. Mike North, UCSB Ph.D. alum, Discovery Channel show host, and founder of the nonprofit ReAllocate.

The student speaker will be Lucile Savary, who will receive her Ph.D. in Physics this summer.

The student singer is Colleen Beucher, master’s candidate in Music.

A student is hooded in the 2013 Graduate Division Commencement ceremony. Credit: Patricia MarroquinUC Santa Barbara will be recognizing its first recipient of a Ph.D. in Feminist Studies. Carly Thomsen will accept her degree on Sunday.

The first Master of Science in Actuarial Science is being bestowed on Sunday, to Tiffany Sun.

The Graduate Division ceremony is both the most colorful and the most traditional of UC Santa Barbara’s eight graduation ceremonies. Degree candidates are dressed in regalia that have changed little in appearance since medieval times, when the hood served much the same purpose as a modern-day student's backpack. Over their shoulders, master's degree candidates wear hoods that are trimmed in colors representing the different disciplines.

The colors you will see most often on our master’s degree candidates on Sunday will be powder blue for the master’s degree in education; orange for engineering; gold for science; copper for economics; pink for music; and white for humanities and social sciences. 

Ph.D. graduates, if you are a little puzzled about the hooding process, view our how-to video below from last year on Managing Your Doctoral Regalia. More information for students – including marching; checking in at the Events Center, and photography – can be found on the Graduate Division student page.

Congratulations to all of our graduates!


In Career Pathways Series Kickoff, 3 UCSB Ph.D. Alums Share Their Biotech Career Success Stories  

Speaking at the inaugural Career Pathways event, which focused on the biotechnology field, were, from left, Brent Gaylord, Miguel de Los Rios, and Patrick Johnson. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

The saying goes, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” In the case of UCSB Ph.D. alum Miguel de los Rios, the journey began with a single hand drawing.

Miguel de Los Rios still has the original drawing he used to pitch his big idea. "I should frame it," he said.Armed only with a vision, a simple sketch, some naivete, and even a few aspirin, Ph.D. student De Los Rios was able to found a biotech startup, Chimeros, that launched his successful career in the biotechnology industry.

De los Rios was one of three panelists, all grad alums, who shared their biotech career success stories in the May 16 kickoff of Graduate Division’s Career Pathways series. This new series will give graduate students the opportunity to hear from graduate alumni about how they navigated the road to various types of careers. Future panel sessions will highlight careers in such areas as academia, industry, nonprofits, and government, and all will focus on the skills that alumni found to be critical to their success.

In welcoming the panel and the more than 50 graduate students in attendance, Graduate Division Dean Carol Genetti expressed her hope that these events “will help all UCSB graduate students to realize the broad variety of opportunities that their graduate degrees are creating and the steps they can take to move forward in the direction that best fits their life goals.”

Dr. Pierre Wiltzius, the Susan and Bruce Worster Dean of Science and Professor of Physics, served as the moderator of the lunchtime discussion, which delved into such issues as the challenges and rewards of launching a startup; the qualities and traits important for success in biotech; and the differences in style and operation between a small startup and a large biotech or pharmaceutical firm.

The panelists were:

Miguel de Los Rios
Ph.D., 2005, Biophysical Chemistry, UCSB; B.S., Cell and Developmental Biology, 1998, UCSB
Vice President of Research, Senesco. Previously Vice President of Research and Development, Fabrus Inc. (On May 16, 2014, Fabrus became a wholly owned subsidiary of Senesco Technologies.) Sole founder in 2003 of Chimeros Inc., a venture-backed biologics therapeutic company (Chimeros was acquired by Fabrus in 2012.) At Chimeros, he was Chief Executive Officer and Chief Scientific Officer.

Patrick T. Johnson
Ph.D., 2000, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, UCSB; B.S., 1994, Biopsychology, UCSB
Senior Director, Business Development, Allergan. Previously, Vice President of Development and Director of Cell Biology, Chimeros.

Brent S. Gaylord
Ph.D., 2004, Materials, UCSB; B.S., Chemistry-Material Science Engineering and minor in Mathematics, United States Air Force Academy.
Co-founder (with Patrick Dietzen and world-renowned UCSB material scientist and Professor Guillermo Bazan) and Director Dye Development, Sirigen. In fall 2012, BD (Beckton, Dickinson and Company) acquired Sirigen Group Limited.

The biotech panel members, from left, Brent Gaylord, Miguel de Los Rios, and Patrick Johnson, chat with Graduate Division Dean Carol Genetti. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Each panelist gave brief biographical introductions, explaining how they got to where they are today and sharing lessons learned on the journey, before answering questions.

Patrick Johnson said he enjoyed his graduate studies at UCSB. Credit: Patricia MarroquinPatrick Johnson told the audience that when he came to UCSB as an undergrad in 1990, he “had no clue what I even wanted to major in.” In 1994, he said, after three or four switches in his major, he earned an undergraduate degree in biopsychology. He fell into a master’s degree program after that because, he said, it was “the best of all my options at the time and I was able to advance my knowledge in my potential career opportunities by continuing my education.” He had a “great time” pursuing his master’s degree and transitioned from it to a Ph.D. program.

Don’t feel like you have to know what you want to do

But even after he earned his Ph.D., he wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do. “Don’t feel like you really ever should,” Johnson advised. “Sooner or later something will click and then hopefully you’ll follow that path.”

So Johnson stayed on at UCSB as a postdoc for several years, receiving a teaching fellowship and grant money.

Miguel de Los Rios simulates the drawing he shopped around to investors. Credit: Patricia MarroquinMeanwhile, Johnson’s friend and fellow UCSB grad student, Miguel de Los Rios, had an idea. “The idea that I had had nothing to do with the work I was doing at UC Santa Barbara or with my Ph.D.,” De Los Rios said. “There were no professors or projects running at the time at the campus who could help me develop the idea.” His friend, Brent Gaylord, had just finished his Ph.D. and started his own company, Sirigen, founded on research and work being done on campus. Gaylord encouraged De Los Rios to pursue his dream.

De Los Rios put pen to paper, sketched out the idea, and set out to turn that idea into reality.

“I started to meet with everyone I could possibly meet in the community to talk about my idea,” De Los Rios said. He talked with high-tech investors, former Amgen employees, and angel investors; and attended investment conferences and venture capital meetings. Patrick Johnson was among those friends who also helped.

“My first real break was when I called up a Tier 1 venture capital firm,” De Los Rios said in an interview after the panel session. He called Versant Ventures, which had previously been active in Santa Barbara. “So I think they were keen to talk to folks from UC Santa Barbara.”

“One of their more notable investments in Santa Barbara was Inogen,” said De Los Rios. Inogen is an oxygen therapy product company founded by three UCSB students, based on a winning idea that came out of the UCSB Technology Management Program’s business plan competition.

Grad student Miguel met with Camille Samuels, managing director at Versant Ventures who recently left Versant to join Bay Area-based venture capital firm Venrock.

“She spent two hours with me at her office,” said De Los Rios. “And she just tore me apart. The idea, everything. It was this eye-opening experience as far as what I needed to do, what I needed to learn before I could have a conversation with a VC [venture capitalist].”

‘Communication is an important part of how you drive your inner visions’

De Los Rios said he is thankful for the “hard, informative, constructive criticism” he received. “Most people can’t even get three minutes with a VC. And to have someone of her caliber spend two hours with me completely changed how I did everything.”  

The conversation, he said, “shaped my pitch, how I approached investors, and it made me think about the future of the company and what things I needed to figure out. It basically gave me the tools to go forward and actually try to present the company in a feasible way.”

Another person who played a big role in helping De Los Rios get started was Santa Barbara attorney David Lafitte of Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. De Los Rios said  Lafitte “really didn’t understand everything I was talking about, but he liked how I said what I said.”

“He took a big risk and basically offered a line of credit to me” of about $150,000, De Los Rios said.  “What a fantastic mentor in those early years. I think that was another defining moment for what allowed Chimeros to launch.”

The panel members enjoy a laugh with the session's moderator, Dr. Pierre Wiltzius. Credit: Patricia Marroquin“Communication,” De Los Rios said during the panel session, “is an important part of how you drive your inner visions and your life forward. So always be cognizant of how other people perceive what you’re saying.”

So what was De Los Rios’ big idea? Here’s how he explained it to us:

“We figured out how to make protein building blocks self-assemble into nanocages that are exactly 32 nanometers in diameter. While controlling that assembly process, we can encapsulate any drug payload of choice. When the protein nanocage is fully assembled, with the drug payload encapsulated, we can now decorate the surface with a variety of targeting molecules or peptides to direct the nanocage to organs or tissues of choice.” Useful applications, he said, include oncology (such as prostate cancer) and metabolic disorders (diabetes; liver and kidney disorders).

Why the name Chimeros? De Los Rios coined the name from “chimera,” a monstrous, fire-breathing creature in Greek mythology that has the parts of three animals – a lion, a snake, and a goat.

“The idea was that all the parts come together for a unique organism,” said De Los Rios. “In our case, we were making something called a ‘chimerasome,’” a term he created for the company’s technology.

As a grad student in those early startup days, De Los Rios funded the company on a shoestring, using his monthly stipend of $1,200 to pay for such things as his grad student research, the experiments he conducted in his garage, and living expenses including his food, which consisted of a lot of Top Ramen.

“It was a very tough time,” said De Los Rios, but he doesn’t regret it. He is also thankful to his advisor, Dr. Kevin Plaxco, for keeping him grounded and urging him to finish his Ph.D.

‘We were naïve; we just did what we thought was right’

As young grad students and postdocs pursuing their dreams, “We just didn’t take no for answer,” Patrick Johnson said during the panel discussion. “We just did what we thought was right. We were naïve. Which is very helpful to be naïve. Because you don’t realize some of the challenges you’re up against,” he said.

“So I encourage you not to let knowledge get in the way,” Johnson added to laughter from the audience.

At a certain point, Johnson said, he realized he had to “take a leap of faith.” Johnson, who was helping out Miguel with the startup, said he had “a nice, cushy position” as a postdoc at UCSB and could have stayed a long time.

But he finally made the decision to leave the position and join De Los Rios’ startup full time. “You’ve got to balance the risk and the reward at the same time,” he said.

“We had a very fun time working for the company,” Johnson said. “It really was a very rewarding endeavor. We had no experience in the biotech industry.”

During his time at UCSB, Johnson took advantage of a course through the Technology Management Program that included biotech speakers. The goal was to have one person from each sector of the biotech industry come and talk every week for the entire academic year.

You never know where networking will lead you

Johnson said, “That’s how we got to meet Roy Hardiman [a UCSB alum and then an executive at Genentech], who has continued to engage with the campus.

“You never know where introductions are going to lead you,” said Johnson, adding that he was fortunate to meet a lot of these biotech individuals, including executives from Amgen.

“I finally got experience in the biotech industry through Miguel,” Johnson said. “We created our own experience. And then after that, it’s a little easier to meet people, to know what the industry’s like, to know what to do next. And then I was recruited out of our company to Allergan, where I’ve been for the last four years.”

Johnson worked on both the science side and the business side at Chimeros. “And now,” he said, “I’m all business at Allergan, where I look at new technologies, acquiring companies, bringing new therapeutics into the spectrum of our product offerings.” He’s currently doing all of that from an office in San Diego, where the company moved to stay competitive and to be in one of the big hubs of biotech activity.

Brent Gaylord is co-founder of Sirigen. Credit: Patricia MarroquinBrent Gaylord took a different path to the biotech industry and the founding of Sirigen, one that started within UCSB.

“My graduate work here at UCSB was definitely a product of the interdisciplinary nature of the research that goes on,” said Gaylord, who worked with researchers from Physics to  Chemistry to Biology.

Sirigen was founded by grad students Gaylord and Patrick Dietzen, and UCSB material scientist and Professor Guillermo Bazan. The company’s technology is based on Nobel Prize-winning research conducted by Professor Alan Heeger in conductive plastics and creates the potential for the development of novel dyes that are four to 100 times brighter than conventional dyes. Sirigen is another success story for the TMP program. Dietzen and Gaylord won the business plan competition in 2003, founded the company shortly afterward, and licensed all the key intellectual property exclusively from UCSB.

“One thing that’s definitely clear: There’s technology and then there’s that commercial plan,” said Gaylord. “And I think sometimes as scientists, you don’t appreciate the value of having a clear business plan or commercialization plan. Because they’re two very different things and both are very important. But sometimes you tend to focus very much on the technology.”

“We built a support network,” he said. “And I think that is so critical – meeting other people who are doing the same thing.” The company partnered with the UCSB technology transfer office “because we had to ultimately license that technology back,” Gaylord said.

For Gaylord, launching a career with a startup “was definitely for me a career choice. Because at the time I had been offered a position at Dupont to do central research there. Do you take the classic job or do you create your own destiny and try something?” He made the decision: “Let’s give this thing a try.”

Nuggets of knowledge from the biotech experts

Other advice, tips, perspectives, and reassurances from the panelists included:

  • Get your elevator pitch down. You must be able to communicate your big picture idea when you arrive at the elevator with the president of the company. You’ve got 30 seconds.
  • “Where you can take opportunities to present your research and talk and get in front of people, take every opportunity to do so.”
  • “If you have a good idea, and you have a good plan, and you have the right people, I think there’s always a way to make it happen.”
  • “You get told no a lot. It requires a lot of tenacity to keep going.”
  • “Sometimes you look at startups as cool and glamorous things, but it’s hard work.”
  • You’ve got to go where the jobs are. “The moral of this story is, ‘If you want to fish, go where the fish are.’”
  • Other career avenues include patent attorneys (“very much in high demand”); communications; and investor relations. All of these benefit from someone with a science background.
  • Being versatile and creative and having a can-do attitude are crucial when working in smaller companies. The “I’m just this” types don’t get very far.
  • “I think it’s becoming increasingly more important for even a scientist to be able to communicate specifically in a business environment.”
  • In any company it’s all about shareholders. You’re trying to drive that.
  • On the difference between working for a small company and a large company: “Before it was: We could make a decision and go take action. But we never had the resources to do anything. And now we’ve got all the resources we need but it’s impossible to make a decision and get a consensus. You spend a lot more time in meetings and working with other colleagues and trying to pull things together” in a big company.
  • “I would never trade in my graduate career or my postdoc for anything. Because you’re learning the entire step of the way. And that learning is invaluable.”

At this point in Miguel De Los Rios’ career, he’s having “a fantastic time.” He has worked on the science side of things, then shifted to the business side, and now he’s back on the science side again. He’s paying it forward, helping companies out of UC San Francisco, UC San Diego, and UCSB launch. “I’m certainly a nerd at heart. And happy to be a nerd,” he said.

“I think the story of how you start a company involves not just one person but usually a large network, a support group, so to speak, in many different aspects,” he said.

If De Los Rios could give one piece of advice to Ph.D. students who wish to get into the biotech industry, it would be simply this:

“Never give up.”

More than 50 graduate students attended the inaugural Career Pathways panel session, which focused on the biotechnology industry. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

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