GrAdvantage GSA Career Nights

Gradvantage Career Nights expose graduate students to individuals that have transitioned to careers outside academia after receiving a graduate degree. The speakers will describe their career paths while offering “pearls of wisdom” to those in the audience that may be considering a career outside of academia.  The presentations will be followed by a networking social hour for local professionals and graduate students to mix, mingle and discuss career options over food and refreshments. See the Gradvantage calendar for the next Career Night!

The 2017-2018 academic year features the following speakers. The inaugural career night will feature a special panel of three speakers.

March 7, 2018

Career Services Horizon Room, 5-7pm

Lara Hochstein

Lead Curriculum Designer,

IXL Learning

Lara Hochstein is a Lead Curriculum Designer at IXL Learning, an educational technology company based in San Mateo, CA that is currently used by 1 in 9 students in the U.S. Lara has been at IXL for 3.5 years and currently leads the development of English Language Arts content for grades Pre-K through 2. Her team designs interactive and engaging skills that help students learn and explore grammar, vocabulary, phonics, reading, writing, and more. Lara also works closely with engineers, writers, editors, illustrators, and voice talent to ensure that her team's final product is of the highest caliber.

Lara received her bachelor's degree in French and Italian from Princeton University in 2008 and her PhD in Linguistics from UCSD in 2014. As a doctoral student at UCSD, Lara studied child language acquisition, and her dissertation research focused on pragmatic language development in typically-developing children and children with autism spectrum disorders.

May 9, 2018

Career Services Horizon Room, 5-7pm

Naomi Handly


Octant, Inc.

Naomi Handly is a Scientist at Octant, Inc., a biotech startup using NGS to develop a multiplex platform to cheaply scan thousands of drugs against hundreds of receptors simultaneously. Naomi joined Octant in 2017 and was the second full-time employee hired to set-up the lab and develop the first prototype.

Naomi graduated from Brigham Young University and received her PhD in Biochemistry from University of California, San Diego in 2017. Her thesis work focused on how mammalian cells communicate with one another immediately following a wound at the single-cell level using quantitative fluorescent microscopy.



Dr. Thuy Vo Dang is the Curator for the Southeast Asian Archive at UC Irvine. She earned her Ph.D. and M.A. in Ethnic Studies from UC San Diego and a B.A. in English and Asian American Studies from Scripps College. She began working at UC Irvine in 2011 as the Inaugural Project Director for the Vietnamese American Oral History Project, now Viet Stories. Outside the university, she serves on the Board of Directors for Arts Orange County and the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association, both nonprofit arts organizations. Vo Dang is co-author of Vietnamese in Orange County, published in 2015, and is currently working on A People’s Guide to Orange County (forthcoming, UC Press), a book project that foregrounds hidden stories of the region through a social justice lens. Part of a research team awarded an IMLS Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant in the community anchors category, she researches the intersection between ethnic studies theory and community archives practice. 

Ali Crawford is a Senior Scientist in Illumina’s Applied Genomics Product Development team. Illumina scientists work on many diverse applications such as oncology, reproductive health, forensics, microbiology, agriculture, complex disease and translational research. Ali joined Illumina in 2013 to aid in development of Illumina’s Undiagnosed Disease offering. She currently leads the Transplant Diagnostics product development team.

Ali graduated with honors from the University of Florida and received her doctorate in Neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego. Her thesis work focused on the molecular cues driving axon guidance and synapse formation in the developing nervous system. As a postdoctoral scholar, Ali focused on the genetic causes of pediatric brain disorders.

Nathalie Becker began her career in the USAF as a Personnel Specialist, where she had the opportunity to be stationed in Germany and Florida before transitioning into the civilian world. She spent her first 7 years in the agency domain before moving to an in-house Corporate Recruiter role for T-Mobile where she focused on recruiting for the CFO’s organization. After 5 years working for T-Mobile and seeing the company grow from 3K employees to over 30K employees as the Manager of Talent Acquisition, she made the move to Microsoft where she worked in Corporate Staffing and the Server and Tools Business. Nathalie moved to San Diego in 2012 and took a role at Illumina’s headquarters and currently drives all of Talent Acquisition for Finance, Global IS, Facilities, Global Business Performance and Legal.

Dr. Alex Guazzelli is currently leading a data mining and engineering group for in San Diego. Prior to that, he was the Chief Scientist at Opera Solutions, a company focused on extracting value and insight from Big Data. He was also the Chief Technology Officer at Zementis, a company focused on predictive analytics standards. As a result of his work at Zementis, Dr. Guazzelli has taught a course on open-standards as part of the data mining certificate at UCSD Extension.

Dr. Guazzelli has a bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science. He attained both degrees in Brazil where he grew up. He arrived in the US in 1994 to pursue his PhD in computer science at the University of Southern California where he studied and contributed solutions to the problem of how systems learn and apply such knowledge to navigate in the world. He went on to pursue a Postdoc in electrophysiology at the University of Washington.


Melanie Havey grew up in San Diego and started here HR career in Carlsbad at an Autism therapy agency, where she recruited clinical, education and administrative professionals. She came to NuVasive about two years ago to further her recruiting experience and make an impact at the medical device company. NuVasive has granted her the opportunity to recruit for sales, engineering, supply chain, technical and executive roles. She has a particular passion on impacting the company’s sales organization and funneling the best talent into the nationwide sales teams.

Lesley Blankenship-Williams is a tenured instructor at Palomar College in San Marcos where she teaches lower-division Human Anatomy, Human Physiology, Microbiology and Biology of Marine Mammals courses.  

During Lesley’s Ph.D. program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Lesley taught as an adjunct instructor or lecturer at multiple colleges in the San Diego area.  These rewarding experiences convinced her to pursue an academic career that focused on teaching rather than research. She is now tenured and happy (or happily tenured) as a full-time instructor at Palomar College. Lesley’s achievements include (1) winning the 2012 Distinguished Faculty of the Year award, (2) co-developing and writing a documentary on sea otter conservation that won five regional Emmys, and (3) writing and self-publishing a book to help unprepared nursing students succeed in their courses. Lesley is excited to discuss the opportunities for teaching in higher education, which range from an moonlighting gig to a full-fledged rewarding career.

Sabine Hadida, Ph.D. - Senior Director and Head of Chemistry at Vertex Pharmaceuticals in San Diego. Since joining in 2002, Sabine has led the chemistry efforts on Cystic Fibrosis that discovered multiple drug candidates including the approved medicines, KALYDECO and ORKAMBI. In 2013, her team was named Heroes of Chemistry by the ACS. Sabine received her PhD in Pharmacy from the University of Barcelona and spent two years conducting postdoctoral research at the University of Pittsburgh.

Jon Gonzales is a Business Consultant for ZS Associates in the San Diego office. He is part of the ZS Medical Affairs Leadership Team, as well as a contributing member to the R&D Excellence Practice Area within ZS. During his time at ZS, Jon has worked exclusively within the Medical Affairs/MSL consulting practice area. Jon has supported these Medical Affairs projects across the Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology industry, deriving insights by leveraging his scientific research background and analytical skills.

Prior to joining ZS, Jon worked as a Medical Writer where he was responsible for crafting the scientific message for educational materials for several pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Jon received a Bachelors of Science in Biochemistry from Colorado State University. He also holds a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he received the 2012-2013 Outstanding Dissertation Award for the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program.

Amber Mace, PhD is Deputy Director of the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) and is a Policy Fellow with the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy. Mace devotes her time to building new and revitalizing existing programs and organizations that are dedicated to increasing the impact and value of science-informed decision-making.

Prior to this, Mace served as the Associate Director of the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy. She also served as the executive director of the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) and assistant secretary for coastal matters at the California Natural Resources Agency. In this role she applied her background in ocean policy and marine ecology and collaborative leadership skills to guide the state in developing policies that promote the sustainable use of California’s ocean ecosystem. Prior to that, she served in the dual roles of science advisor to the OPC and executive director of the California Ocean Science Trust, a non-profit whose mission is to provide objective, high-quality science to decision makers.

She learned firsthand about the challenges of public policy-making at the federal level as a Knauss Fellow in the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and at the state level as a California Sea Grant state fellow at the California Natural Resources Agency. Amber was recognized as a Coastal Hero by Sunset magazine in 2011 and her California coastal research experience includes piloting a submersible with the Sustainable Seas Expedition. She earned a bachelor of arts in geography from UC Berkeley and a doctorate in ecology from UC Davis and the Bodega Marine Laboratory.


Ken Lau is the Technical Marketing Manager at BioLegend, a biotech company that produces antibodies, recombinant proteins, and multiplex reagents for assays like flow cytometry, microscopy, ELISAs, and western blotting. As the Technical Marketing Manager, Ken oversees tech support to ensure customers are both happy and educated on how to use BioLegend’s products. On the marketing side of things, Ken utilizes his scientific background in immunology to generate creative content for brochures, flyers, ads, and webpages. He also trains both local and international teams on the company’s newest product line releases. He received both his B.S. and Ph.D in Microbiology and Cell Science from the University of Florida. His graduate career focused on immunology, specifically the interaction between gut bacteria, Th17 cells, and Type 1 Diabetes onset. 

Katrina Oko-Odoi is the Founder and Chief Editor of EditingWorm, a writing and editing company that works with entrepreneurs, businesses, and scholars. After years immersed in academia, Katrina channeled her passion for words into entrepreneurship, launching EditingWorm in 2012. Based on Katrina’s own experience navigating the chasm between the higher ed. and business worlds, one of her company’s primary goals is to bridge that gap through high-level research, analysis, and content development strategies. An avid writer and researcher, Katrina has published numerous journal articles, poems, and cultural and literary essays and is a regular guest blogger for several higher education and business websites.

Katrina received her B.A. in Spanish Literature and International Studies and her PhD in Literature from the University of California, San Diego. She is passionate about supporting graduate students to achieve success in their fields, and offers a monthly webinar series that provides guidance on different stages of the doctoral process. She is also committed to educating graduate students regarding the reality of the academic job market and the many alternative careers available to PhDs. She strives to spark a deeper discussion surrounding how graduate programs can better prepare their students for diverse professional opportunities post graduation, including cultivating transferable job skills that are applicable for employment in the private sector.


Elizabeth Vu is a Co-Founder and Implementations Lead for Learning Equality, a start-up non-profit organization dedicated to enabling universal access to high quality open educational resources by creating tools optimized to work in areas where Internet access is lacking or costly. As Implementations Lead, she supports the use of KA Lite, an offline version of Khan Academy, in over 160 countries. She uses her research background to understand how students and teachers use educational software in varied formal and non-formal educational contexts. Dr. Vu has a B.S. in Environmental Science from UC Berkeley and a Ph.D. in Biological Oceanography from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.