Academic Lab Management & Leadership Symposium

The 2021 Academic Lab Management & Leadership Symposium

The course is organized by postdoc career development administrators from The Torrey Pines Training Consortium (TPTC), which members include Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP), Scripps Research and UC San Diego.

The course is designed to equip postdocs and junior faculty in the biomedical, physical and life sciences with the professional competencies to lead innovative and productive research programs. However, graduate students and research staff may also find this training informative and may attend. Additionally, the symposium will be held virtually this year and we invite postdocs and graduate students from any institution to to register at: Postdocs and graduate students from TPTC institutions should contact their institutional representative to register.


February 23 & 25 | March 2 & 4 

Each event day is scheduled for 10:00am-1:30pm (PT)

This virtual symposium will feature faculty from various institutions:

February 23, 2021

Developing Your Leadership Vision

Managing Communication & Conflict

February 25, 2021

Conducting Your Job Search

Negotiating Your Academic Job Offer

March 2, 2021

Recruiting & Staffing Your Lab

Diversity/Inclusion in Higher Education

Building an Effective Team

March 4, 2021

Sustaining Your Lab

  • Brandon Cox | Southern Illinois University School of Medicine

  • Paul Thomas | St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Navigating Tenure


Faculty Speaker Biographies:

Claudia Benavente, Ph.D. | UC Irvine

Assistant Professor, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Developmental & Cell Biology

Dr. Claudia Benavente studied Molecular Biotechnology Engineering at Universidad de Chile where her interest in pursuing cancer research first started. To further her studies, she came to the US to pursue a doctoral degree in Cancer Biology at The University of Arizona as a Fulbright scholar. She then moved to a postdoctoral position at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital where she became familiar with childhood solid tumors. Dr. Benavente is currently an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Developmental and Cell Biology at the University of California Irvine.  She is committed to providing a diverse, inclusive, and supportive environment for underrepresented minorities in science as diversity of skills, thought, and experiences, strengthen our ability to ask important questions and solve problems. The Benavente Lab focuses on understanding childhood cancers and contributing to their targeted therapeutics. Dr. Benavente’s research particularly aims to study the chromatin remodeling processes that establish the normal epigenetic landscape in developing tissues, how it can be perturbed to promote cancer, and provide insight for the development of new therapies for pediatric solid tumors.

Brandon Cox, Ph.D. | Southern Illinois University School of Medicine

Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director, Department of Pharmacology

Dr. Brandon Cox received a B.S. in Biology from the University of Richmond where she first got involved in research studying coral.  After 3 years of working in clinical trials in Chicago, Dr. Cox went to Georgetown University where she received a Ph.D. in Pharmacology. Dr. Cox’s postdoctoral training was completed at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital where she first started research on hearing loss and the regeneration of sensory hair cells in the cochlea. In 2013, Dr. Cox became an Assistant Professor at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield, IL. The Cox lab investigates the cell source, mechanism, and genes involved in the hair cell regeneration process that occurs in the newborn mouse ear. Dr. Cox is also interested the developmental changes that take place during the first weeks after birth which prevent regeneration from occurring in juvenile and adult mice. Other projects her lab are focused on mechanisms that regulate hair cell survival during postnatal maturation, aging, regeneration, and in stressed hair cells after noise exposure. Dr. Cox has received grant funding from National Institutes of Health and the US Department of Defense.

Kymberly Gowdy, Ph.D. | Ohio State University Medical Center

Associate Professor, Department of Internal Medicine

Dr. Gowdy is an Associate Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Ohio State University, where she examines mechanisms of how air pollution increase susceptibility and severity of infectious and inflammatory lung diseases. Specifically, her research examines how danger associated molecular patterns generated in the lung after air pollution exposure shape the innate immune response. She received her doctorate in Immunology and Toxicology from the North Carolina State University in 2008 and was a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University from 2008-2011 and the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences from 2011-2014. Dr. Gowdy is author/co-author of 50 publications including peer-reviewed articles, reviews, and book chapters. She is an active member of the Society of Toxicology and the American Thoracic.

Michael Latham, Ph.D. | Texas Tech University

Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry

Dr. Latham obtained his B.S. in Chemistry from Hampden-Sydney College (Hampden-Sydney, VA) in 1999. After a period in industry, he completed his Ph.D. in Biochemistry in 2008 from the University of Colorado, Boulder (Boulder, CO) under the direction of Prof. Arthur Pardi. After completing his Ph.D., Latham moved to the University of Toronto (Toronto, ON, Canada) to complete post-doctoral research training under the direction of Prof. Lewis Kay. Prof. Latham started his independent position in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Texas Tech University (Lubbock, TX) in January 2015. In that time, the Latham laboratory has married the techniques he employed in graduate school and post-doctoral training to study the essential and universally conserved DNA double strand break repair complex Mre11-Rad50. His research program focuses on determining functionally important structures; understanding the roles of protein motion, cooperativity, and allostery; and characterizing cancer-associated mutations within this macromolecular assembly. Since joining the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, his research group has published 13 manuscripts and has been funded by grants from The Welch Foundation, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. He has had two students successfully graduate with a Ph.D. and one with a M.S. degree, and he currently supervises five graduate students, one undergraduate student, and two research associates.

Shalini Low-Nam, Ph.D. | Purdue University

Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry

Dr. Low-Nam received her Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico and completed postdoctoral scholar positions at South Dakota State University and the University of California at Berkeley. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Physics at Purdue University. Dr. Low-Nam’s research is in the area of cellular biophysics, with an emphasis on quantitative fluorescence imaging. Her group is focused on measuring spatial and temporal mechanisms of cellular decision-making with single molecule and single cell resolution. They address questions related to the physical mechanisms that drive tumor evolution and corresponding immune responses. They strive to generate actionable insights to promote targeted cell-based cancer therapeutics that take advantage of the potent activities of small numbers of activating events. Providing an interdisciplinary skillset to her trainees and students motivates her. She is also an origami enthusiast and enjoy cooking, painting, and disc golf.

John Lukens, Ph.D. | University of Virginia

Assistant Professor, School of Medicine

Dr. John Lukens grew up in the Philadelphia area. For college, John attended the University of Richmond, where he pursued organic chemistry research in the laboratory of Dr. John Gupton. During his time in the Gupton lab, John contributed to the synthesis of a pyrrole-based bioactive marine natural product. John performed his thesis research in the laboratory of Dr. Young Hahn at the University of Virginia. In the Hahn lab, John was interested in uncovering the tolerogenic pathways that contribute to impairment of T cell responses in the liver. His studies revealed that PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitory signaling and antigen recognition in the context of the liver are major inducers of CD8+ T cell dysfunction. For his postdoctoral training at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, John studied the molecular pathways that control IL-1 production in the laboratory of Dr. Thirumala-Devi Kanneganti. His research was primarily focused on: (1) investigating how inflammasome-dependent and –independent IL-1 production contributes to autoinflammatory disease; (2) exploring how crosstalk between the microbiome and IL-1-mediated inflammatory responses influence disease; and (3) elucidating how aberrant IL-1 production and NLR signaling contributes to neuroinflammatory disease development. In Fall 2014, John returned to Charlottesville to start his lab in the Department of Neuroscience and the Center for Brain Immunology and Glia (BIG). Outside of the lab, John enjoys skiing, going on runs with his dog, playing and watching soccer, following Philadelphia sports, listening to music, and spending time with his wife and two sons.

Jennifer Martinez, Ph.D. | National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Principal Investigator, Inflammation and Autoimmunity

Dr. Jennifer Martinez is a tenure-track investigator at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in the department of Immunity, Inflammation, and Disease Laboratory.  She is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.  Dr. Martinez received her Bachelor of Science in Cellular and Molecular Biology from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA in 2001 and her Ph.D. in immunology from Duke University in Durham, NC in 2010. She began her work on the autophagy machinery and its role in inflammation and host defense as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Douglas R. Green, Ph.D., at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee. After completing her fellowship, she joined the NIEHS in 2015, where her lab is focused on examining the role of non-canonical autophagy in the onset and severity of autoimmunity and inflammatory disorders, as well as interrogating the molecular mechanisms by which it mediates its immunotolerogenic effects.

Associate Professor, Simons Center for Quantitative Biology

Dr. Saket Navlakha is an Associate Professor in the Simons Center for Quantitative Biology at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He received an A.A. from Simon’s Rock College in 2002, a B.S. from Cornell University in 2005, and a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Maryland College Park in 2010. He was then a post-doc in the Machine Learning Department at Carnegie Mellon University before becoming an Assistant Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in 2014. His lab studies algorithms in nature, i.e., how collections of molecules, cells, and organisms process information and solve computational problems. In 2018, he was named a Pew Biomedical Scholar, and in 2019, he was awarded an NSF CAREER award.

Melissa Pasquinelli, Ph.D. | NC State University

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Forest Biomaterials

Dr. Pasquinelli is Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Forest Biomaterials at North Carolina State University; she is also a University Faculty Scholar and an Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor. Her research team develops and applies a variety of computational techniques that predict how molecular structures and the dynamics of molecular systems relate to their functional roles, including how they may be affected by thermodynamics, the local chemical environment, and the physical environment. She relishes that she gets to balance her professional time between working on scientific research projects and teaching and mentoring budding engineers and scientists. She received her Ph.D. in chemistry from Carnegie Mellon University and also did postdoctoral studies at Duke University and the U.S. EPA.

Douglas Robinson | Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Professor of Cell Biology

Dr. Douglas Robinson is a Professor of Cell Biology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine with appointments in Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences, Medicine (Pulmonary Division), Oncology (GI Division), and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. In his research, Dr. Robinson investigates how cells control their shapes for normal human health. In particular, his lab initially uses a model organism Dictyostelium to discover fundamental concepts and then applies these insights to human diseases, including cancer and lung disease.  Dr. Robinson’s lab has also built an outreach initiative for high school students from low-income and educationally under-resourced backgrounds. He and his colleagues have expanded the effort by creating a pipeline program called the Johns Hopkins Initiative for Careers in Science and Medicine (CSM) which has served over 440 scholars from 5th grade to high school to undergraduate to post-baccalaureate levels. Dr. Robinson completed his B.S. degree at Purdue University, his doctoral degree with Lynn Cooley at Yale University School of Medicine, and his postdoctoral training with Jim Spudich at Stanford University School of Medicine. He was a Damon Runyon Fellow, a Burroughs Wellcome Career Award in the Biomedical Sciences recipient, a Beckman Young Investigator, and an American Cancer Society Research Scholar. Dr. Robinson is the 2015 recipient of the Johns Hopkins University Professors’ Award for Excellence in Teaching in Biomedical Sciences and the 2016 recipient of the Biophysical Society’s Emily M. Gray Award for ‘Significant Contributions to Education in Biophysics’. He also received the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s 2017 Ruth Kirschstein Diversity in Science Award for “the encouragement of under-represented minorities to enter the scientific enterprise and/or to the effective mentorship of those within it.” In 2018, Doug received the Provost’s Prize for Faculty Excellence in Diversity, and in 2020, he became a Fellow of the American Society for Cell Biology.

Amali Samarasinghe, Ph.D. | University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center

Associate Professor, Pediatric Pulmonology & Plough Foundation Endowed Chair of Excellence

Dr. Amali Samarasinghe was born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka and arrived in the United States in 1998 for college. She has always been fascinated by life science and enjoys the structure of the scientific process. As an aficionada of the alternative hypothesis, Dr. Samarasinghe has passion to uncover the inner workings of non-dogmatic possibilities. The fundamental focus of her laboratory is to pursue host-pathogen interactions in the respiratory system in hosts with underlying allergic asthma in which the immune response is already perturbed. Dr. Samarasignhe’s lab has made interesting observations and discoveries with murine model systems specifically designed to model influenza virus and/or streptococcal infections in fungal asthma. Her lab found that the inflammatory processes associated with fungal asthma protect the host from severe influenza and synergistic interactions between influenza A virus and Streptococcus pneumoniae. Ongoing studies in her laboratory are aimed at additional pathways that may guide this protective response in allergic hosts. Dr. Samarasinghe was awarded a Presidential Fellowship from North Dakota State University to pursue her doctoral degree in the field of Pulmonary Immunology. She completed her postdoctoral training in the Department of Infectious Diseases at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and her independent laboratory was established in August 2012 in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center.

Sandra Schmid, Ph.D. | Chan Zuckerberg Biohub

Chief Scientific Officer

Dr. Schmid is the inaugural Chief Scientific Officer – guiding the cell biology and infectious disease initiatives – at the nonprofit research organization, Chan Zuckerberg Biohub. She was also recently elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for her “distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.” Previously, she held the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Chair in Cellular and Molecular Biology and served as chair of the Department of Cell Biology at the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center (UTSW). Dr. Schmid was born in Vancouver, Canada and received her B.Sc. Degree (Honours) in Cell Biology at the University of British Columbia. She moved to the U.S. in 1980 for graduate studies with Jim Rothman at Stanford University. She was a Helen Hay Whitney postdoctoral fellow and Lucille P. Markey Scholar with Ira Mellman and Ari Helenius at Yale, and moved to The Scripps Research Institute as an Assistant Professor in 1988. She served as Chair of the Department of Cell Biology at TSRI from 2000-2012, before being recruited to UTSW. She is a leader in the scientific community, whose research, published in over 150 papers, is directed towards elucidating the molecular mechanisms and regulation of clathrin-mediated endocytosis (CME), characterizing the differential regulation of CME in normal and cancer cells, and analyzing the structure and function of the GTPase, dynamin. She has received numerous awards, including the American Society for Cell Biology’s Women in Cell Biology Junior and Senior Career Recognition Awards, an NIH MERIT Award and the Arthur Kornberg and Paul Berg Lifetime Achievement Award in Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Schmid received a M.S. Degree in Executive Leadership from the University of San Diego and is committed to mentoring young scientists and future leaders. She gives frequent career development and time management seminars to postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty throughout the US.

Aimee Shen, Ph.D. | Tufts University

Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular Biology & Microbiology

Dr. Aimee Shen performed her Ph.D. work in microbiology with Dr. Darren Higgins at Harvard Medical School  studying the regulation of flagellar gene expression in Listeria monocytogenes. For her postdoctoral studies in chemical biology, she worked under Dr. Matthew Bogyo at the Stanford School of Medicine, where she studied the mechanism by which a protease domain found in bacterial toxins is allosterically activated by a eukaryotic-specific small molecule using structural biology and activity-based probes. When she started her independent position at the University of Vermont in 2011, she shifted her work on interrogating the mechanisms of Clostridioides difficile glucosylating toxin activation to focus on understanding how C. difficile forms infectious spores and germinates these spores to initiate infection. In 2016, she moved to Boston for personal reasons and relocated her lab to the Tufts University School of Medicine. Using genetic, biochemical, cytological, and structural methods, her lab has identified and characterized novel regulators of both these developmental processes and contributed to a growing body of work that highlights the diversity of mechanisms by which Firmicutes build and germinate spores. More recently, research in her lab has focused on epigenetic regulatory mechanisms in C. difficile and understanding its growth properties in the presence of different physiological stressors. Her lab has generally been small (between 4-7 people), with most work being done by undergraduates and graduate students in her time at the University of Vermont, and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in her time at Tufts.

Paul Thomas, Ph.D. | St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Member, Department of Immunology

Dr. Paul Thomas obtained his undergraduate degree in Biology and Philosophy at Wake Forest University. He did his Ph.D. training at Harvard University, working on the innate immune response to Schistosoma-associated carbohydrates and their role in promoting Th2 responses. From there, Dr. Thomas moved to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for a postdoctoral fellowship with Peter Doherty on T cell responses in the influenza model. In 2009, he started his own lab at St. Jude, where he is currently a full Member of the faculty. Dr. Thomas’s lab studies innate and adaptive immunity to viral infections. His work covers various topics, including novel regulatory mechanisms that shape the T cell receptor repertoire, understanding the immunological basis of severe influenza disease, and the interactions between innate and adaptive immune responses during various viral infections.

Roberto Tinoco, Ph.D. | UC Irvine

Assistant Professor, School of Biological Sciences Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

Dr. Tinoco is an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Irvine, School of Biological Sciences, in the department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. He is a member of the UCI Institute for Immunology, the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center (CFCCC), the Cancer Research Institute (CRI), and the Center for Virus Research (CVR). He completed his B.S. in Neurobiology at UC Irvine, and his Ph.D. in Biology at UC San Diego. His research is in the area of T cell exhaustion and immune checkpoint regulation of immune responses during chronic viral infections and cancer.  

Luke Wiseman, Ph.D. | Scripps Research

Associate Professor, Department of Molecular Medicine

Dr. Wiseman is a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine at Scripps Research. He received his B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Virginia and Ph.D. from Scripps Research in the laboratory of Jeffery Kelly studying the chemical and biological basis of systemic amyloid diseases. Dr. Wiseman then pursued postdoctoral studies as an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow at New York University School of Medicine studying stress-responsive signaling pathways in the laboratory of David Ron. In 2009, Dr. Wiseman was hired onto the faculty at Scripps Research where he leads a team focused on defining the pathologic and therapeutic implications of stress-responsive signaling pathways, such as the unfolded protein response (UPR), in the context of etiologically-diverse diseases. Dr. Wiseman has authored over 70 manuscripts and received numerous awards as an independent investigator including the Ellison Medical Foundation New Scholar in Aging Award (2011), Amyloidosis Foundation Jr Research Award (2014), the Glenn Award for Research in Biological Mechanisms of Aging (2017), and the Scripps Research ‘Outstanding Mentor’ Award (2019). Dr. Wiseman and his team are funded by multiple sources including the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association, and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.  

Li Ye, Ph.D. | Scripps Research

Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience and Molecular Medicine

Dr. Li Ye is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Molecular Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute. He received his B.A. in Biological Sciences from Tsinghua University in Beijing in 2006. He obtained his Ph.D. from Harvard University in the laboratory of Bruce. Spiegelman, focusing on using chemical biology approaches to study the transcriptions control of energy metabolism. In 2013, Li moved to Stanford University where he worked in the laboratory of Karl Deisseroth, focusing on developing and applying activity-dependent, brain-wide circuit mapping tools. Currently, his lab is interested in how the neural circuit adapts to metabolic changes and how such adaptation affects the control of organismal physiology at the biochemical, cellular, and systems levels. The lab also focuses on enabling novel techniques for imaging and circuit manipulations in intact large tissues.

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