Milka Kostic PhD'04, Chemistry: Program Director, Chemical Biology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Can you describe your career path and how it has led to your current work?
I graduated from Brandeis in 2004 with a Ph.D. degree in chemistry. At that point, I was interested in expanding my research skills further, so I joined the laboratory of Professors Peter Wright and Jane Dyson at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California for my postdoctoral studies. After three years of conducting research in basic biomedical sciences, I decided to leave the bench and apply my scientific knowledge and interest in communicating scientific insights and ideas to a career of a scientific editor. I became the Editor of two journals (Structure and Cell Chemical Biology) and served in that capacity for a decade. My most recent career transformation happened when I realized that I wanted to go back to academia and apply a diverse set of skills in science, relationship building, business development, strategic planning, communication, marketing and market research to guide a new academic program in one of my favorite scientific disciplines, chemical biology.
What services and/or resources did you use while at Brandeis for your career search? (i.e. The Center for Career and Professional Development, program administrators, professors, peers etc.)
Brandeis was a wonderful community to be a part of! My PhD advisor, Prof. Tom Pochapsky and the Director of the NMR facility, Dr. Sue Pochapsky, played a major role in my training and I am grateful for their continued support. My Ph.D. thesis committee members Prof. Dorothee Kern and Prof. Judith Hertzfeld were also helpful, and continued to be so on many occasions after I left Brandeis. As an international student, I received a lot of help from The International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO). All of the admins in the Department of Chemistry were helpful with my career development.
What skills from your Brandeis degree have you found most valuable in your current work?
Being a part of Brandeis Life Sciences opened me up to a broad range of topics beyond chemistry, and paved the way towards chemical biology and structural biology, two areas of my current interest and focus. Additionally, as a graduate student in chemistry I was allowed to take a class in the Physics Department, and even audited a molecular biology class. I took advantage of many seminars across science departments and enjoyed learning and appreciating topics beyond chemistry. It made me a firm believer in scientific collaboration and the importance of cross-pollination of scientific ideas, and interdisciplinary research. I still bring this mindset to my current role!
What advice do you have for current students as they embark on their job search?
Be honest with yourself about what it is that you are passionate about. Knowing yourself well will direct a career path that fits you and is likely to lead to satisfaction. It also helps to network and get to know people that already have jobs you are interested in. They can be a resource for you, not only in terms of finding a job, but also in terms of getting relevant information that will help you better understand role expectations. Lastly, you may not always be so lucky to start at exactly the right type of role that checks off all your requirements, but every position is an opportunity to learn and grow and acquire expertise to take with you on your next career move.