Synthace – Milena Stankovic, Scientific Development Consultant

We interviewed Milena Stankovic, Scientific Development Consultant at Synthace on her thoughts and experience on women in tech.

1. What does your job role involve, and which parts do you enjoy the most?

Getting to interact with clients and colleagues and championing the use of automation to improve and simplify lab work for scientists is what I enjoy the most in my work!

My role is a technical one, embedded in the pre-sales process within the commercial team at Synthace. Having completed a PhD in immunology and having had the lab experience in doing the experiments that our software product focuses on, I understand the obstacles and the difficulties our clients face while designing and executing experiments. My job involves identifying and building solutions for our clients, and bringing technical expertise to the table when discussing implementations of our product.

2. What made you choose a career in STEM?

I loved maths and biology ever since I was a child and was attracted by the exploration and the problem-solving aspects of science. I initially chose biology because I was passionate about learning about the natural world and wanted to help protect the environment. While this passion stays with me to this day and permeates my lifestyle choices in the context of the climate emergency we live in, I ended up choosing a different path in my studies and focusing on genetics and immunology.

3. Did you study a STEM related subject at A-Level or University?

I come from Montenegro, where I was able to choose a specialisation in science and mathematics already in high school, so I had quite a bit of exposure to STEM from early on. This continued at University, where I studied Molecular Biology and Genetics during my Bachelors and Masters in Paris. I then pursued a PhD in Immunology at the Francis Crick Institute in London.

4. Did you get any STEM related work experience before this role?

I landed a role at Synthace immediately after my PhD so I did not have a job in STEM before this one (unless you count the PhD !).

5. Do you think there is a lack of females in STEM related sectors?

Unfortunately, yes. While Synthace does a great job at giving equal opportunities to men and women in tech, this is not the norm in academia and industry. In my experience, there is little gender disbalance in biology studies, but the difference is more visible at higher level, with less women in PI and senior positions at Universities in general.

6. Do you find there is a stereotype that a career in STEM is just for men?

While this is improving, I think stereotypes still persist, especially in careers in tech/engineering for example. This is a pity, as women who enter these and other STEM fields end up enjoying it as much as their male counterparts and pursue a fulfilling career.

7. What do you think might entice more women to study STEM related courses?

Some of the gender bias can occur at a very early age, so I think childhood is a great starting point for motivating girls to consider STEM-related fields. For example, some gender stereotypes persist in children’s toys, where traditional toys for boys involve more building and problem-solving. This is a pity as it can send a signal to young girls that this kind of play is not for them – when in fact it is so much fun!

8. Are there barriers when it comes to women getting into STEM roles?

Personally, I was lucky to not experience any, but there are certainly mindset-related obstacles preventing intelligent and capable women from getting into STEM. However, there are great employers out there who appreciate hard work and motivation regardless of gender, and they make the future look bright!

9. Why do you think some people may be put off by the idea of a career in STEM? What do you think could be done to help?

I think that there are two major influence lines that could put people off the idea of a career in STEM. Firstly, their environment could be signalling to them that they are not smart enough or not fit for a career in STEM. This could be coming from gender bias, such as the afore-mentioned preconceptions, or from education bias, such as unmotivating or unsupportive teachers. Secondly, hearing about the amount of hard work involved in pursuing a career in STEM can intimidate potential candidates, leading them to believe that the trade-off between the effort and the rewards is not worthwhile. There is work yet to be done to show that careers in STEM are not only fulfilling and exciting, but that they can also bring great job prospects and financial compensation as well!

10. What advice would you give young women today if they were considering a career in STEM?

If this is your passion, put your heart and soul into it and the hard work will certainly pay off!