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Graduate Years Prep Scientist for 'Outside World' Success

Ann Villalobos, PhD, Chemistry, 1990, shares thoughts on helping the university and discipline she loves.

Date: 3/10/2008
By: Ann Villalobos
Phone: (513) 556-8577
As a graduate of the PhD program of the Department of Chemistry, I am so proud of and pleased with my experience. This is the place that gave me the opportunity to advance in science. At the same time, I gained a lot of experience and confidence that prepared me for the 'outside world,' which is biotech drug research and development in a corporate setting.

Ann P. Villalobos

I am originally from the Philippines. My relationship with the UC Department of Chemistry started in June 1985 when I received a letter from Professor Joe Caruso, then department chairman. His letter asked why it was taking me time to accept their offer of a graduate scholarship/assistantship, and told me that if I had questions or concerns he would be glad to answer them. He indicated further that he asked a Filipino student currently enrolled in the program to write to me to convey, regarding the department, the university and the city, that it was all right for me to be at UC. Indeed, the following day I got a letter from Annie Laguren-Davidson, at that time in her fourth year majoring in analytical chemistry under Professor Harry Mark.

The letter from Joe made a big difference in my decision. I thought: 'Gee! This department really takes care of its students.' I was right. The department is so interested in its students, training them to be the best chemists and scientists. Professors are very collegial and approachable given how busy they are with collaborative research, student interaction and constant interactions with everybody in the department, and endless seminars with the best-known guest speakers.

There is a lot of fun and excitement in the department, with an environment conducive to learning from different angles. By arrangement, one can use any instrument in any laboratory, as one of the strengths of the department is its professors' collaborative way of doing research. 

In teaching assignments, we were expected to maintain common instruments that in one way or another strengthen our confidence and qualifications. I used to maintain a new Isco HPLC system, in Rieveschl Hall, which at that time was a prime instrument. During my first day at Johnson and Johnson, I was given an HPLC system and told that I'd manage how I can make use of it in many company projects. That instrument is one of the key contributors to my accomplishments in the company.

The chemistry graduate program was designed with an assurance from then-advisor Professor Hans Jaffe, who told us everything we needed to know about being chemistry graduate students and teaching assistants at UC. He also emphasized in that first meeting that the department would gradually train us to think of chemistry all the time, in whatever we do, unconsciously becoming practicing chemists. To Dr. Jaffe's credit, this training led me to greater opportunities outside of UC.

When I joined Professor H. Brian Halsall's group, a senior student in the lab showed me what to do and emphasized what not to do – or else I would permanently have in my possession that dreaded "bloody thumb" passed around when one commits a "breaking sin" in the Halsall lab. John Ivancic was close to graduation at that time and I was destined to continue his work so I shadowed John to the Cincinnati Children's Hospital - Institute for Developmental Research (IDR), where we were doing all the cell culture work and feeding of the rats for the OMD project. I learned a lot from this partnership and collaboration with Dr. Lessard’s group at IDR. I also learned from everybody in the group because we had a great team, and from Professor Halsall, for he thought differently from all of us and left us on our own. The motto in the group was, 'If you survive in HBH you will be an asset anywhere.' This is exactly what I heard when I interviewed at Johnson & Johnson.

An event in New York City in April 2007, celebrating the talents of UC students, faculty, alumni and friends, was phenomenal for the Department of Chemistry. 

A talk by Professors William Heineman and Pat Limbach on "Little Things Mean a Lot" impressed me, and made me more proud of the department. These presentations on the latest developments in biosensors and research into subcellular protein activity in fighting disease stirred a lot of interest from the audience. I was extremely proud of being a product of the department that is uncovering new technologies unimaginable before.

I hope that establishing a graduate fund in chemistry will attract more students who can have the opportunity to benefit from the department's strong faculty and their collaborative breakthrough research, state-of-the-art facilities and highly qualified support groups. It honors my parents, Isidro Villalobos and Beatriz Pama-Villalobos, who have dedicated their lifetimes guided by uncompromising principles for my intellectual growth. By doing this, I hope other alumni of the department, too, will take the opportunity to share what they have through slowly giving up something for the discipline that we love and the university that helped us through graduate school.

Ann Villalobos earned her PhD in chemistry in 1990 and is a research fellow-global tech support with Global Biologics Supply Chain, a Johnson and Johnson company. She is the benefactor behind the Ann P. Villalobos Graduate Fund in Chemistry.

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