Tag Archives: san francisco

The ridiculous order of the streets in the Excelsior (SF)

26 Sep

I live in the Excelsior neighborhood in San Francisco. My street is Athens Street. If I walk westwards from my home, I come to Vienna Street and then Naples, Edinburgh and Madrid. If you have any knowledge of map of Europe, you realize that the order makes no sense!

(Also, why is there Naples, but not Rome, and why Munich, but not Berlin? And why oh why, is there no Amsterdam Street? So many questions!)

Last week, I asked the students in the CoDE lab to create a map to show the ridiculous order of the streets in the Excelsior. They had fun figuring out how to make a map in R, so I thought I share their work here. Several students were involved, but my graduate student Olivia Pham did most of the work.

The code is here: http://rpubs.com/pleunipennings/212840


The surprising order of street names in the Excelsior neighborhood in San Francisco. We connected the cities in the order of the streets. London Street is the first city-name street if you enter the neighborhood from Mission Street, just east of London Street is Paris Street, then Lisbon Street etc. The last city-name street is Dublin Street which is closest to McLaren Park.


A map of part of the Excelsior neighborhood showing the order of the city-name streets.

Three searches at SF State Biology Department

29 Sep

Update (Oct 13th): I just learned that there is also a biostatistics search going on the in the Math department!


The Biology Department at SF State is hiring in three areas this year: Physiology, Human Genetics/Genomics and Plant Evolutionary Biology! I am very excited about this, so I thought I share the info on my blog. Please forward the information to people who may qualify for one of the jobs.

As you may know, I joined this department just a few weeks ago, but until now (during the interview process, the negotiations and when starting the job) my experiences have been extremely positive (I wrote about my job earlier here). I strongly encourage you to apply for one of these jobs!

Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions!

About the department

The Biology Department at SF State is by far the most diverse department I have ever seen, and there is motivation to keep increasing the diversity of the faculty. According to our website, we have almost 50 tenured or tenure-track professors in the department and 40% of them are women.

You should know that the Department doesn’t have a PhD program, but it has several Master’s programs. The Master’s students I have in my class this semester are smart and motivated.

Most faculty in the department run active research labs with undergraduate and graduate students and sometimes postdocs. Many have active collaborations with nearby institutions such as Stanford and UCSF. Both research and teaching are highly valued in the department. People are hired with the expectation that they get tenure, and even though I haven’t seen the data, I guess that the rate of getting tenure is around 90%.

To apply

Applications are taken through the Academics Online websites following these links for Physiology, Plant Evolutionary Biology and Human Genetics/Genomics. The committees will start reading applications from October 15th.

You need to prepare the following:

  1. Cover Letter
  2. Curriculum Vitae
  3. Research Statement
  4. Teaching Statement
  5. Up to Ten Publications (single merged pdf preferred, note: max four for the physiology job)
  6. Three Reference Letters (you’ll provide names and email addresses and the Academics Online will ask your letter writers for a letter).

Physiology ad

We seek outstanding candidates whose research addresses fundamental areas of physiological research, including, but not limited to, vertebrate or invertebrate comparative physiology, integrative physiology, and environmental or ecological physiology. Responsibilities include teaching an upper-division physiology course with laboratory each year, and other courses in the undergraduate and graduate programs.

Chair of the search committee: Jonathon Stillman, other members: Megumi Fuse and Chris Moffatt

Human Genetics/Genomics ad

We seek candidates from all areas of human genetics and genomics, especially individuals whose interests complement existing departmental strengths in cellular and molecular biology, human health, population genetics and bioinformatics. We are searching for individuals who focus on human epigenetics, reconstructing human history, personalized medicine, health disparities, human genetic diversity, human population genomics, disease mapping, human physiology, or human genome evolution.
Responsibilities include teaching an upper-division genetics or human genetics course, and other courses in the undergraduate and graduate programs. This position is part of a cluster hire in the University focused on Big Data & Health. Other positions within the cluster include scholars in the Department of Economics (Health Economics) and in SF State’s Health Equity Institute (Health Informatics). As part of this cluster, the three hires will be expected to work together on areas of shared interest in order to facilitate interdisciplinary research and curricular collaborations across Departments and Colleges. The new hire may be affiliated with the Health Equity Institute.

Chair of the search committee: Scott Roy , other members: Laetitia Marquez-Magana and Pleuni Pennings.

Plant Evolutionary Biology ad

We seek outstanding candidates who are addressing fundamental problems in plant evolution, especially individuals whose interests complement existing departmental strengths in plant molecular genetics, ecology, and bioinformatics. We are searching for individuals who focus on phylogeny or speciation, aspects of ecological adaptation, population genetics, genomics or phylogeography in an evolutionary context. Responsibilities include teaching an upper-division plant taxonomy course with laboratory each year, and other courses in the undergraduate and graduate programs.

Chair of the search committee: Dennis Desjardin, other members: Kevin Simonin and Gretchen LeBuhn.

Dean of the College

SF State is also searching for a new dean of the College of Science and Engineering!

Working with a speaking coach

11 Jun

Recently I had an important talk to prepare and I was considering hiring someone who could help me to work on my talk when, at a party, I was introduced to a speaking coach! It turned out that professional speaking and communications coach Ellen A. Kaye, is located in Silicon Valley and was excited to work with a Stanford scientist. Ellen and I decided to work together.

Ellen graduated from Stanford, then worked as an actress in New York City and has been running her own business (Prefect Presentation® Inc) as a speaking coach since many years [*]. Working with her really helped!

Nerd Nite: fun-yet-intellectual talks while the audience drinks along

Nerd Nite poster

Nerd Nite poster

The talk I was preparing was for Nerd Nite SF. Nerd Nites exist in many cities. Wikipedia explains that Nerd Nite “is an event usually held at a bar or venue during which individuals present on a topic of personal interest or expertise in a fun-yet-intellectual format while the audience drinks along.”

I’ve been to Nerd Nite in Cambridge (Mass) and in San Francisco and both were a lot of fun, so when I was asked to speak at Nerd Nite, I was thrilled! Nerd Nite San Francisco always has good speakers and it is often sold out (with more than 250 people in the audience!).

I needed to prepare an 18 minute talk that was going to be “fun-yet-intellectual,” which is hard! Simplify too much and people won’t learn anything (or worse, they’ll misunderstand and learn things that are not true). Make it too scientific and people will get bored and go back to their conversations. “Fun” in itself is hard. I’ve never been comfortable preparing jokes for talks … although I sometimes end up making jokes once I am on stage.

Working with speaking coach Ellen A. Kaye was extremely helpful

Getting Ellen’s coaching was extremely helpful for many reasons. First, Ellen knows a lot about speaking and storytelling and working with an audience. Second, Ellen knew how to help me write and present scientific-yet-fun speech so that I had the right level of complexity and entertainment value for this specific audience and venue.

If you ever need to prepare an important talk, I very much recommend you work with a speaking coach. And if you’re in the area, Ellen would be a great choice! I really got a lot out of it. I felt much more confident and was much better prepared after working with Ellen.

Here are just a few of her suggestions that helped me a lot:

Ellen’s tips and ideas about the content of my talk

1. Simplify, prioritize, organize!

Just like everyone else, I always want to tell too many things in too little time. There is so much cool stuff to say about HIV treatments! As the speaker, it is so hard to decide what to keep and what to cut. Ellen helped me reorganize, cut, and edit my speech so it was in the best order to be most impactful, informative, captivating, and entertaining. This was extremely helpful.

2. Summarize your speech at the beginning and at the end.

Ellen explained that to captivate and hold an audience’s attention, it is best to provide them with a brief summary of what you are going to say, right at the beginning of your speech. Like the abstract of a paper. This way the audience feels engaged in the speech and it is easier for them to follow.

Ellen also helped me to find ways to combine bad news with good news, so that the talk wouldn’t become too dark. Early in my original talk, I wanted to say something about how devastating the HIV/AIDS epidemic was in San Francisco (an incredible 19,000 people died of HIV/AIDS in a city of 800,000). However, I did not plan to mention -until the end of the speech- that the good news is that with significant scientific improvements, people can now live a long and healthy life even if they are HIV positive. Ellen had me combine both messages right up front. After that, I went into the research and details.

Ellen’s tips and ideas about presentation 

1. Speak slowly and with emphasis, especially when introducing new words or concepts.

This is true for both native speakers and foreigners like me. I still have my Dutch accent and sometimes I mumble. It was very important to make sure everyone in the audience understood me clearly.

Ellen was great at helping me realize what information, phrases, jargon and new concepts I should say slowly, and even repeat for emphasis, so my speech would be understood and appreciated by my audience. I know that Ellen’s efforts here really paid off because the audience paid attention throughout my talk and there were lots of questions.

2. Make your verbal and non-verbal communication congruent.  

This is hard to explain in a written blog post, but I am pretty sure you understand what I mean. Ellen explained that my verbal communication needs to match my non-verbal communication (body language and eyes) to make the most powerful and memorable impact.

Ellen was a professionally trained, working actress in New York City, so she knows what she’s talking about! She made me practice specific sentences and helped me find the right way to say things. This felt a little awkward at first, but it really helped to be clear and understandable and tell an exciting story.

Ellen’s Free Offer to Coach You 

As a special favor to my readers, Ellen is offering a great deal of 30 minutes free consultation to the first 20 people who contact her at Ellen@EllenKaye.com or 650-963-9874.

I recommend you take advantage of this great offer and I strongly recommend getting Ellen’s professional coaching. I got a lot out of it.


[*] Ellen A. Kaye founded Perfect Presentation® Inc, a multi-faceted speaking and coaching firm in 1994, which relocated to Silicon Valley in 2011. Ellen has coached clients for speeches and pitches to a US President, universities, keynote addresses; appearances on: CNN, The View with Barbara Walters, Fox Channel, Ted Koppel’s Nightline, national radio talk shows, IPO & VC pitches, sales presentations, PHD orals, interviews, meetings, civic speeches, and much more. Clients include Fortune 500 companies, Entrepreneurs and startups. After graduating from Stanford University, Ellen was a professionally trained actress in New York City working on stage and TV.



10 reasons why I am thrilled about my new job at SF State University

13 Apr

A few days ago I signed a contract with SF State University to become an assistant professor in their Biology Department. I am soooo happy about this!


In case you are not an academic biologist, you may not realize that jobs as assistant professor, especially in nice places such as San Francisco, are very hard to get. I sent out many applications (not just in SF, but all over the US and in Europe) before I got this job. But now I feel like I hit the jackpot! Here are some of the reasons why I am so excited.

  1. I will not have to apply for jobs next year. During the last three winters I have spent a lot of time and energy applying for jobs and flying to interviews (if I was lucky to get invited). Next year I won’t even be reading the ads!
  2. I don’t have to move to the other side of the country (or globe) or leave beautiful California, or choose between my job and my husband’s job!
  3. As an assistant professor, I will be running my own independent group (tradition says that this group will be referred to as the “Pennings Lab”). Even though I have had amazing advisors during my scientific career, I look forward to being my own boss.
  4. As part of the job, I will be teaching again, and my teaching will count for my evaluations and for getting tenure[1]. I really like teaching, but in the last couple of years I didn’t teach at all, knowing that only more publications on my CV would really help me to get the job I wanted to get.
  5. I will be teaching students from a wide variety of backgrounds, which will be exciting. I expect to learn a lot about the US from these students.
  6. I will be in the same department as Kimberley Tanner, who does research on biology education and who convinced almost everyone in the department to take a one-week HHMI funded course on scientific teaching. She also wrote this useful paper on equity in the classroom (http://www.sfsusepal.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/CBE-13-06-0115-Revised.pdf).
  7. I will have great colleagues to collaborate with. For example, there is someone in the SFSU Biology Department who is interested in evolution of HIV (Joseph Romeo), there is also someone who is interested in molecular evolution and who runs a “dry lab[2]” just like I will (Scott Roy), and there are several people in the department who are interested in adaptation in natural populations. Plenty of opportunities for new collaborations!
  8. I’ll still be close to Stanford and look forward to continuing my collaborations with Dmitri Petrov and Bob Shafer and their groups. I will also continue to be part of the Bay Area Population Genomics community.
  9. At SFSU I will get help with writing grant proposals (for example, they pay other scientists to pre-review my grants if I have them ready on time), but I don’t necessarily need to get an R01 or similarly big grant to get tenure.  Given the current funding situation, this may save me from a lot of pre-tenure stress.
  10. I will be part of a department where 38% of the professors are female. I don’t know of any biology department with that many women.


[1] I will come up for tenure after 6 years. If I get tenure, I will become associate professor and later I can be promoted to full professor.

[2] A “dry lab” is a group of biologists working only with computers. The opposite, a “wet lab” is mostly used to refer to molecular or cell biology labs. One of the first questions I always got in interviews was: “Will you be running a wet lab, or just a dry lab?” I recently learned that mathematicians call our “dry labs” “computer labs” in stead.

An Evening With Elephants

7 Dec

I am trying out something new this month: I am hosting a fundraising event!

The event will take place on December 21st in San Francisco in the Randall Museum. We’ll show a BBC movie about elephants in Sri Lanka (trailer) and my friend Shermin de Silva will give a talk about her work with these same elephants.

Shermin de Silva

Shermin de Silva

Shermin de Silva

Shermin is an inspiring woman. She runs a field station in Sri Lanka, works in the United States (she is a postdoc in Fort Collins) and manages to raise enough money to keep her research going. This, as you can imagine, is not easy!

Her research is interesting, because she is one of few people who follows individual elephants in a wild Asian elephant population over time. Because she and her field crew know the individual elephants, they can see when elephant friendships form and break. It turns out that Asian elephants have a very different social structure than African elephants (see De Silva et al 2011).

Because I think that Shermin is doing great work that deserves our support, I joined the non-profit which she set up (Trunks and Leaves) as a board member. To contribute a little more to the non-profit I decided to organize a fundraising event.

Now, I have never done fundraising before, so I am learning lots! Plus, I am used to organizing events for scientists, but this event is for everybody, so that means that there is more for me to learn.

Do you want to help?

If you would like to come to the event, that would be great! Tickets are for sale here: http://elephants.brownpapertickets.com/. The money we make by selling tickets goes directly to the non-profit Trunks and Leaves (a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit based in the United States).

If you can’t make it to the event, maybe you want to send us a few dollars anyways? All donations, large or small, are very welcome and a few dollars go a long way in Sri Lanka. Donations can be made easily and safely through paypal here.

I’d also be very happy if you could share this information with your friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter.

If you would like to offer help in another way, send me a message at pleuni “at” stanford. edu.