Alumnae Chats: Science Careers

Meet Mount Holyoke College Alumnae virtually and in-person at the Career Development Center for a series of afternoon chats about careers in science.

Meeting with students:

Alison Dell ‘99, Ph.D

Assistant Professor, Biology, St. Francis College; Associate, Department of Neuroscience, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania; Artist

Alison is both a scientist and an artist – following a path that she started in Rachel Fink’s Developmental Biology seminar at Mount Holyoke College. Alison received my Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013, following pre-doctoral research in at Columbia University. Both doctoral work and pre-doctoral work examined cell-signaling events in developing neurons as their axons navigate towards their synaptic partners.

She now continues her research as Assistant Professor of Biology at St. Francis College and through a research appointment in Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania. Since joining the faculty at St. Francis College, she has expanded her research agenda to include environmental issues—examining changes in neural development upon low-level exposure to common environmental pollutants.

On the art side – Alison's work explores the forms, patterns and structures inherent in biological systems, as well as the production of meaning in scientific images. Together with her collaborator, Irina Ellison, she founded Art in the Lab - an ongoing project bringing scientists and artists together for events that mix drawing and laboratory work. Exhibitions include: the Queens Museum of Art Bulova Gallery (NYC), Socrates Sculpture Park (NYC), Cuchifritos Gallery (NYC), Rutgers University (Newark, NJ) and the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA).

Emily Asenath-Smith FP ‘08, Ph.D.

Research Materials Engineer, US Army Corps of Engineers 

The child of a creative entrepreneurial family, Dr. Emily Asenath-Smith never saw herself as a scientist. Rather, she identified as an artist: a skilled ceramic craftsperson who had her own studio by age 16. Despite all of her clay and glaze formulations and high-temperature experiments, she chose not to pursue a formal degree at the end of high school-–she had a thriving business with students, sales, and collaborations to keep up with.

Her desire to learn prevailed, driving her to enroll in community college and craft school classes, while teaching ceramic lessons and showing her work. It wasn’t until about a decade later that she identified a purpose for pursuing an undergraduate degree. Wanting a deeper scientific understanding of the materials she was working with, Emily chose to study chemistry, knowing that it would facilitate her future growth in ceramic engineering.

The Frances Perkins Program at Mount Holyoke College offered her the flexibility to undertake advanced study in the physical sciences while keeping her roles as mother, wife, homeowner, and entrepreneur in balance. By graduation, she had the maturity, drive, and focus to take on and complete a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering (2015).

In her position as Research Materials Engineer, the creative needs of scientific inquiry provide inspiration for her work, allowing her to remain agile in formulating solutions to complex interdisciplinary problems.

Angela DiCiccio ‘08, Ph.D. 

Hardware Engineer, Verily Life Sciences

With intent to become a nurse or doctor, Angela studied biochemistry at Mount Holyoke College but quickly fell in love with polymer chemistry during elective research opportunities.

Playing in the lab and making "new sticky stuff" inspired her to pursue a Ph.D. in polymer and inorganic chemistry at Cornell University under the direction of Professor Geoff Coates. There she discovered three new classes of catalysts capable of forming polyesters with higher order structure from simple, readily available monomers. Wanting more exposure to the interface of materials in medicine she joined the Langer Lab at MIT and worked with Professor Giovanni Traverso M.D./Ph.D. to develop new materials to enable extended release oral delivery of complicated medications. This was Angela's first introduction to animal models and the accelerated prototyping/testing cycle that happens with translational engineering and she loved it! Angela worked closely with advisors from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and this inspired her to look forward at opportunities to work on complex projects that specifically address global needs.

Excited to keep chasing Moonshots and lucky Iris needed a polymer chemist, she is thrilled to join Verily to continue learning, expanding her skills and hopefully providing creative materials solutions to our dearest application needs.

Janet Buhlmann ‘89, Ph.D.

Senior Principal Scientist, Pfizer, Inc.

Since graduating Mount Holyoke with a B.A. in Biochemistry, some of the questions Janet has asked in her career are how do parasites evade detection by the immune system? What kind of signals have to fire in sync for the body’s immune responses to be unleashed? Why does the loss of an intracellular signaling protein lead to the development of an autoimmune, lupus-like disease in mice? What can we learn from that mouse that might apply to the human disease?

After graduation, Janet worked in an infectious disease laboratory investigating the escape mechanisms used by nematode parasites that allow them to survive in the middle of the system designed to kill them. After 2 years, she returned to graduate school obtaining her Ph.D. in Biochemistry with a focus on Immunology from Dartmouth College. Her postdocs focused on elucidating the co-stimulatory signals needed between immune cells to elicit a response and how aberrant co-stimulation may contribute to autoimmunity.

After 12 years in academics, Janet decided to make the transition from academics to the biotech/pharma industry. She spent a short time at a small biotech in RI that assessed possible immunogenicity before joining Pfizer’s Centers for Therapeutic Innovation, CTI. She started at CTI as a senior scientist, still at the bench developing assays and screening candidate molecules for novel therapeutics.

She has been promoted to Senior Principal Scientist and along with occasionally still doing some bench work, is now leading projects. One of the projects she worked on for the past 5 years started its first in human safety trials this past spring.