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How we elected a new chair for the Biology Department

22 Jun

pennie-chairA few months ago, our department needed to elect a new chair. I was part of the election committee and I couldn’t find much useful information online on how to elect a chair. Now that we have done it, I thought I share how we did it!

Finding candidates to run for chair and volunteers for the election committee

The associate chair for HRTP send out an email to ask who would like to run for chair and to ask who would like to sit on the election committee.

Fairly quickly, four people said they wanted to run for chair, but only few people wanted to be on the election committee. The associate chair for HRTP then sent out a second email to ask for volunteers, letting everyone know that there were not yet enough volunteers. Quickly, people volunteered and we had a committee of 5 (4 women, 1 man, 3 full, 1 associate and 1 assistant prof, one URM).

Setting deadlines

The election committee met a few times. We agreed that we wanted to try to  to make the election as much as possible about the future of the department and not a popularity contest. We also needed to do things quickly because of university deadlines.

The committee quickly decided on some deadlines:

  1. a deadline for people to let us know that they were running for chair
  2. a deadline for the candidates to send us two pages with their vision / plan for the department (to be shared with people in the department)
  3. a deadline for everyone else in the department to send in questions for the candidates (to be asked at the town hall department meeting).
  4. a day for a department meeting devoted to getting to know the plans of the candidates (town hall)
  5. a day for the ballots to be due

Someone from the election committee also talked to the dean of the college about how we could support our new chair. The dean agreed that the department could spend money on hiring a part-time lab tech for the new chair. I think it was useful that this conversation happened before the election, and also that the candidates themselves didn’t have to do this.

Instant-runoff voting

The election committee decided to use the method of instant-runoff voting for the election.

Instant-runoff voting allows everyone to vote for their favorite candidate. Everybody also indicates a second, third etc choice. Initially, only first choices are counted. If one candidate has more than 50% of the first choice votes, then this candidate wins. If no one has more than 50% of the votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. For all ballots that had this candidate as their first choice, the second choice now counts. Votes are counted again and if someone has more than 50% of the votes, than that person wins. If not, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated again. The process continues until there is a winner.

Here’s an example of how this could work. Imagine, Hillary, Bernie and Trump all ran against each other. Bernie gets 10%, Hillary 44% and Trump also 46% of the votes in the first round. In the “normal” system, Trump would win and the Hillary voters would blame the Bernie voters for letting a Republican win the election. In the instant-runoff system, however, we would notice that no one has more than 50%, so we go to the second round. Bernie is eliminated because he has the fewest votes, and since most Bernie voters likely ranked Hillary second and Trump third, these votes are transferred to Hillary, allowing her to win in the second round with 54% of the votes.

A town hall meeting with all candidates

Questions from the department were compiled and forwarded anonymously to the candidates to help them prepare for the discussion at the faculty meeting. Specifically, lecturers and faculty were asked to create questions that could be answered by all of the candidates, rather than individual questions for just one candidate.

At the department meeting devoted to the election, our four candidates gave a short presentation (5 minutes each) on how they would run the department and what their plans were for the department. After these presentations, someone from the election committee asked the candidates a selection of the questions that had been sent in by our colleagues (around 45 minutes). Finally, there was time for a spontaneous Q&A session (around 10 minutes). Many colleagues let us know that they found this meeting extremely useful and interesting.

Counting the ballots!

A week after the town hall meeting, the ballots were due. Late that afternoon, three of us spent a few hours counting. Our task was somewhat complicated because of the instant-runoff system and also because many people in our department teach part-time and their votes are weighted by how much they teach.

All tenured and tenure-track faculty will have one vote; .

All four candidates had strong support in the department and we needed all rounds of the instant run-off to determine who had won.

My personal conclusion

I think the election went well. The atmosphere was collegial and I think that the process worked well.

Being on this election committee was a really fun experience!

The others on the committee were Jennifer Breckler, Carmen Domingo, Gretchen LeBuhn and Vance Vredenburg.

Supplementary material: Instant runoff explanation on the ballot

We are electing a new chair for the biology department. The 2017 chair election committee decided to conduct an election using a method called “instant runoff” or “ranked choice voting.” In case you are not familiar with this concept, we include here a short description. This reference is also helpful.  

Each voter will receive only one ballot. The ballot will ask the voter to rank the 4 candidates. (i.e. first choice, second, third, fourth). Voters have the option to rank as many or as few candidates as they wish. Candidates can not share rankings (i.e. you should rank only one person as first choice candidate, one second choice candidate, etc.). First choices are then tabulated. If one candidate obtains the MAJORITY of first-place votes (i.e. greater than 50%) then he/she wins the election. If no one receives a majority, then a “runoff” is necessary. The candidate who received the fewest first choice rankings is eliminated from the ballot. All ballots are then re-tabulated using each voter’s highest ranked candidate who is still in the race. Specifically, voters who had chosen the now-eliminated candidate will now have their ballots added to the totals of their second choice candidate — just as if they were voting in a second election — but all other voters get to continue supporting their first-choice candidate who remains in the race. The person with the majority vote wins. If another runoff is needed, the weakest candidates are successively eliminated and their voters’ ballots are added to the totals of their next choice candidate. Once the field is reduced to ONLY two candidates, the candidate with the majority of votes wins. 


Drawing faces to help my memory

20 Jun

I just came across this old draft post on making drawings to help me remember people and stories. The pencil drawings are from the very first week I spent at SFSU when I was overwhelmed with all the new names and faces. The tablet drawing is from a recent seminar in our department.

2014-09-08 15.10.18

Meg Gorzycki, Faculty Development SFSU 

2014-09-08 15.10.49

Sue Rosser, former SFSU provost

2014-09-08 15.10.39

Luoluo Hong, Vice President of Student Affairs & Enrollment Management

Amanda Delatorre Talk Feb 2017_0

Notes from Amanda de la Torres seminar at SFSU.

How financial instability and undocumented citizenship hone my problem solving skills

9 May

Note: This blog post was written by an undergraduate student in San Francisco. 

There have been many times where the stress of financial instability has fogged up my mind and kept me from studying, working on assignments, or attending class. There are days I feel so hopeless all I can do is stay in bed and wallow in my penniless state of being.

In the future see myself in a research lab

However, that is not how you achieve a PhD degree. Ambition gets me through those dark times, as long and dark as they may be, discovery keeps me intrigued and in school. In the future see myself in a research lab, at a colloquium, or a seminar discussing findings with my colleagues, having a regular office job is simply not an option. That is the reason I am here, that is the reason my family stayed in America way past their wishes, so I could attend an American college and pursue my dreams.

How will I pay my rent, what’s free to eat?

Coming into my third year here at SF State, I completely lost any stable source of income. This is due to my undocumented status. I am Dreamer, and recently my work permit expired, leaving me with no chance at attaining a job. Studying biology while lacking funds really makes college much more complicated. Daily stress accumulates from sources like how will I pay my rent, what’s free to eat, or when is that next assignment due. 8-hour school days with no money to buy coffee or spending 5 hours on one question when you can easily get help from a Chegg subscription are constant reminders of my current situation. I have not been able to afford a textbook for years, and the luxury of new school supplies is one that stayed in high school. You cannot take out student loans as a Dream Student, nor can you borrow money from banks when you have no credit and illegal citizenship status. I leave my house and risk the chance that I might get deported. Some might say I should be a lot more stressed then I am, but I personally believe that you make your own reality, and suffering is not part of mine.

I will make discoveries one day

So how is it that I survive? Sometimes I think have to work twice as hard to figure out those extra problems that come with being financially strapped. How will I print my essay without any money to use the printers? Sometimes I secretly sneak into the biology graduate lab and print what I need to print. How will I afford the lab manual and supplies I need for lab? You ask everyone you know while searching Facebook book trade groups for hours until you find what you need. How do you pay for the bus is you don’t have the fare? Bus drivers usually let you on if you put whatever’s in your pocket in the machine. There’s a billion ways to make canned chicken taste good. If you message ticket scalpers the day of you might be able to score free tickets to the concert. I may not be able to afford a new laptop at the moment, but I will be the one discovering models for gene regulation and health disparities one day. When there’s a will there are ways. I can testify to the notions that anything is possible if you just believe the outcome to be plausible. The most creatively brilliant ideas sprout when you have no choice but to think outside of the box.

I know I will be a good research scientist

For all the reasons described above, I know I will be such a good research scientist; I have been forced to think outside the box when traditional methods will not work for my situation. The confidence that I will love and excel in my career keeps me in school rather than searching for financial stability. My problem solving skills have reached an extremely high level. Finding money to survive has been tricky, but it has taught me a lot about problem solving, appreciating what I have, and realizing what I truly need.


Making stop motion videos in a genetics class

23 Apr

2017-04-17 09.49.23

Last week, the students in my genetics class made stop motion videos. They had to do some preparation as homework (mainly thinking about a topic), but other than that, they just had 50 minutes to make a movie. I expected that most would not finish it in that time, but they get extra credit if they finish it at home.

From my colleague Kimberly Tanner from the Science Education Partnership and Assessment Laboratory (SEPAL), I have learned to collect feedback from students very often during the semester, so I asked them: Did you learn from Monday’s class?

Probably 90 students made a stop motion video in the two sections of my genetics class on Monday. 54 of them wrote feedback on Wednesday. 32 of 54 (59%) thought they learned something about genetics!

32 students felt like they learned something about genetics

2017-04-20 09.15.38

6 students thought it was “just review”

I think that review is very useful!

2017-04-20 09.13.12

8 students felt like they learned about how to make a stop motion video

2017-04-20 09.16.02

8 students felt like they didn’t learn anything

2017-04-20 09.16.41

Will I do this again?

Yes! Definitely!

But I may talk to students more about how this exercise will benefit their learning and encourage students to pick a topic they would like to review.



I drew an animation video

15 Apr

Evolutionary rescue and soft sweeps

A drawn animation movie! When I was a kid I wanted to work for Disney, so this is a dream come (a little bit) true!

The paper is here.


Marching for science with colleagues and students

14 Apr


Over 22,000 Participants Enrolled in PrEP Trials

24 Mar

Overview of eleven different PrEP Trials divided into treatment arms. Trials are organized by total number of participants.

Link to Larger Figure

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a medication that prevents HIV infection. It is intended to be used together with safer sex practices (e.g., condoms). This stacked barplot shows the number of participants in 11 different PrEP studies. The earliest study in the plot is the West Africa trial, which was initiated in 2004. Each bar corresponds to its labeled trial. The different colored sections in each bar represent the “arms” or “cohorts” of the study. Most studies have a placebo cohort and a treatment cohort. The PROUD study only has the treatment arm. The VOICE study has three different treatment arms, while the Partners PrEP study has two different treatment arms.

The light blue color represents the Truvada (emtricitabine/tenfovir disoproxil fumarate combination) cohorts. The dark blue color represents the cohort only given TDF (tenofovir disoproxil fumarate), and the off-white color represents the placebo cohort. The light green and pink colors represent the 1% Tenofovir vaginal gel cohort and placebo vaginal gel cohorts, respectively. The blue pill icon over a graph indicates the study employed a daily oral pill to be used as PrEP. The green gel icon indicates the study employed a topical vaginal gel to be used as PreP. We can see that all of the individuals enrolled in the studies give a combined total of over 22,000 participants. Even though PrEP is a relatively new preventative, the plot shows that a large number of participants have already enrolled in PrEP trials and the prophylaxis is becoming well studied.

About the Author

Dwayne Evans is a graduate student at SFSU. He works on HIV drug resistance in relation to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). He made a figure to show how many people participated in PrEP trials since 2004.


Dwayne Evans, SFSU


(Please click on the reference for a link to the study)


Marrazzo JM, Ramjee G, Chirenje ZM, et al. Tenofovir-Based Preexposure Prophylaxis for HIV Infection among African Women. N Engl J Med 2015; 372:509-518.

Partners PrEP Study

Baeten JM, Donnell D, Celum C, et al. Antiretroviral Prophylaxis for HIV Prevention in Heterosexual Men and Women. N Engl J Med 2012; 367:399-410

Donnell D, Baeten JM, Celum C, et al. HIV Protective Efficacy and Correlates of Tenofovir Blood Concentrations in a Clinical Trial of PrEP for HIV Prevention. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr 2014; 66: 340-348

Ndase P, Celum C, Baeten JM, et al. Successful discontinuation of the placebo arm and provision of an effective HIV prevention product after a positive interim efficacy result: the partners PrEP study experience. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr 2014; 66:206-12

iPrEx Study

Grant RM, Lama JR, Glidden DV, et al. Preexposure Chemoprophylaxis for HIV Prevention in Men Who Have Sex with Men. N Engl J Med 2010; 363:2587-99

Liegler T, Abdel-Mohsen M, Grant RM, et al. HIV-1 Drug Resistance in the iPrEx Preexposure Prophylaxis Trial. J Infect Dis 2014; 210:1217-27

Bangkok Tenofovir Study

Choopanya K, Martin M, Vanichseni S, et al. Antiretroviral prophylaxis for HIV infection in injecting drug users in Bangkok, Thailand (the Bangkok Tenofovir Study): a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase 3 trial. The Lancet 2013; 381:2083-90


Van Damme L, Corneli A, Taylor D, et al. Preexposure Prophylaxis for HIV Infection among African Women. N Engl J Med 2012; 367:411-422

TDF2 Study

Thigpen MC, Kebaabetswe PM, Brooks JT, et al. Antiretroviral Preexposure Prohpylaxis for Heterosexual HIV Transmission in Botswana. N Engl J Med 2012; 367:423-434

Chirwa LI, Johnson JA, Brooks JT, et al. CD4(+) cell count, viral load, and drug resistance patterns among heterosexual breakthrough HIV infections in a study of oral preexposure prophylaxis. AIDS 2014;28:223-6

West Africa Study

Peterson L, Taylor D, Cates W, et al. Tenofovir Disoproxil Fumarate for Prevention of HIV Infection in Women: A Phase 2, Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. PLoS Clin Trials 2007; 2:e27

CAPRISA 004 Trial

Mansoor LE, Abdool Karim Q, Yende-Zuma N, et al. Adherence in the CAPRISA 004 Tenofovir Gel Microbicide Trial. AIDS Behav 2014; 18:811


McCormack S, Dunn DT, Gill ON, et al. Pre-exposure prophylaxis to prevent the acquisition of HIV-1 infection (PROUD): effectiveness results from the pilot phase of a pragmatic open-label randomized trial. The Lancet 2015; 387:53-60


Molina JM, Capitant C, Delfraissy JF, et al. On Demand Preexposure Prophylaxis in Men at High Risk for HIV-1 Infection. N Engl J Med 2015;373:2237-2246

US MSM Trial

Liu A, Vittinghoff E, Buchbinder S, et al. Sexual risk behavior among HIV-uninfected men who have sex with men (MSM) participating in a tenofovir pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) randomized trial in the United States. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr 2013; 64:87-94