A fundamental challenge when studying biological systems is the description of cell state dynamics. During transitions between cell states, a multitude of parameters may change – from the promoters that are active, to the RNAs and proteins that are expressed and modified. Cells can also adopt different shapes, alter their motility and change their reliance on cell-cell junctions or adhesion. These parameters are integral to how a cell behaves and collectively define the state a cell is in. Yet, technical challenges prevent us from measuring all of these parameters simultaneously and dynamically. How, then, can we comprehend cell state transitions using finite descriptions? The recent virtual workshop organised by The Company of Biologists entitled ‘Cell State Transitions: Approaches, Experimental Systems and Models’ attempted to address this question. Here, we summarise some of the main points that emerged during the workshop's themed discussions. We also present examples of cell state transitions and describe models and systems that are pushing forward our understanding of how cells rewire their state.