Research into engineered platforms for cell therapies and gene-editing.
It’s incredibly exciting! It feels like a unique opportunity, to be able to get such early exposure to every aspect of the industry and its challenges. And, knowing that I am able to contribute to this elite group through my research experience with cutting-edge technologies makes me feel amazing. [ed. note: Christina is now “Senior Consultant” rather than “Associate Consultant,” as she was at the time of this profile.]
I’d combine my personal sense of things with some great advice I received from others. From my point of view, I think that a Ph.D. or engineering program teaches you a systematic way to look at problems, and that’s a powerful tool that I’d recommend anyone be prepared to wield, no matter how new or senior they are. Here we have such a variety of subject matter experts that we all bring different expertise to the table, but we also share a problem-solving skillset that’s invaluable. And the advice I received from others that I like to continue to pass on is that if you follow what you’re passionate about in the moment, your career will define itself as you go.
I grew up with three much older brothers (I’m 11 years younger than the youngest of them), so I’m used to being the baby in the group. (My brothers would also say I’m the science nerd in the family!) Each summer when I was little we would travel from Chicago to visit my father’s family in Mexico for a few weeks. We loved getting out of the city for a while to experience nature and, as you can imagine, consistent time like that to bond with grandparents was something really special. When I was five my grandparents had a baby goat and I was able to take care of it. I’ll never forget what it was like to be the caretaker and to have responsibility like that. It showed me what it looked like to completely flip the script, letting me be the one responsible for a younger living thing that needed me. Little me with my little goat will probably always be one of my absolute favorite memories.
It sort of found me, actually. I went to Northwestern for my undergrad degree in biomedical materials. I had the fortunate experience of doing benchtop work in a lab that had people working in both cell and gene therapy and, with some advice from mentors on how to proceed if I wanted to stay in the field, I made the choice to pursue a graduate degree at Cal.
I always enjoyed science and math classes and I was fortunate to have a series of teachers who were able to help me envision what a career might look like for me. It took me until my junior year of undergrad to figure out what I wanted that path to look like. After others helped me figure that out and I became the first in my family to get a Ph.D., I felt so indebted to all those who have supported me that I wanted to start giving back as soon as possible. To that end I’ve been active in outreach and advocacy, to make sure other STEM undergrads are able to identify a variety of career paths and pick the one that’s right for them. I co-founded a student advocacy conference called Bay Area GPS (Graduate Pathways to STEM) that is co-hosted by UC-Berkeley and Stanford (you can learn more about it here). GPS promotes graduate school opportunities to under-represented minorities, first-generation, and low income students. I want to do my part to ensure that everyone with a gift in STEM has the opportunity to put their skills to work. The pool of future talent out there is just vast, and it’s clear to me that diversity of representation greatly increases our collective potential.
Christina, second from left, at the 2020 Bay Area GPS (Graduate Pathways to STEM), a student advocacy symposium that she co-founded.