People of Synthace: Milena Stanković-Brunner, PhD – Scientific Solutions Consultant
Milena has enjoyed every part of #SynthaceLife since she joined our Pre-Sales team in October 2019. As one of our Scientific Solutions Consultants, she listens to our client needs and challenges and presents custom solutions to them offered by our cloud platform.
It’s an amazing company where people feel valued and motivated, and enjoy working with each other!"Milena Stanković-Brunner, PhD Scientific Solutions Consultant
What is your role?
I’m a Scientific Solutions Consultant. I am a part of the Commercial team and I take part in client conversations, learning about their process and challenges and presenting solutions that our software Antha offers to them.
Internally, our Solutions Consultants team works closely with Marketing, Product, and Sales to contribute to building the best application of our products to address client and market needs. We also lead the Synthace Live Online Demos, where we showcase Antha to the broader public and discuss different protocol applications with our audience.
Where were you before joining?
I was at the Francis Crick Institute completing my PhD in Immunology on the immune response to flu virus and the way different people respond differently. Ironically, it was centred around how some people develop very strong reactions to this respiratory virus.
Why did you want to join Synthace?
I actually hadn’t heard of Synthace before I applied, but the more research I did for my interviews, the more it clicked into place. As a biologist, it’s very hard not to see the value of Antha.
I knew I wanted to work in a client facing role, and I was looking for somewhere fast paced. When I interviewed here, the match was really obvious.
Whoever I spoke to I thought, "This would be a great person to work with; what they’re doing is really interesting; the software looks really cool!"
If I had Antha when I was doing my PhD, I would have slashed my time spent on the bench by, like, 80%!
Think about the expectations you had before you joined. Is life and work at Synthace in line with how you thought it would be?
Definitely. I made sure to ask a lot of questions before joining, because I’m someone who cares a lot about work and life balance and the general camaraderie between colleagues.
Everything that I was told at the interview stage matches exactly what I’ve seen since I joined, and I’m really happy with that.
Were there any concerns you had before joining that were either realised, or that turned out to be unwarranted?
The one concern I had wasn’t related to the team, but more how I would define my role. I’d never worked for a start-up before, and in most of my student life I was told what to do, up until my PhD where I was left alone a lot. I was wondering what it would be like, how independent I would be, and how much support would be available.
When I joined, I found there was a really good balance between being trusted to do my job, but whenever I need input, instructions, or feedback, I can get that.
What do you think of Synthace's efforts to create an inclusive and diverse team and a supportive environment that encourages opportunities for women in STEM?
I really have the highest opinion of Synthace in this regard.
It’s amazing to see how inclusive Synthace is of women, regardless of what position or level they’re applying to.
What is really powerful is to see how women and men support each other equally. I’ve never felt different or listened to less for the fact that I have two X chromosomes.
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?
A lot of this may come down to the teacher or professor that you have in that phase of life when you’re considering what to study or a future career. I’ve had the luck to be surrounded by amazing people back in school, and I’ve had really great teachers in maths, physics, and biology. They were capable of transmitting this love for science to me equally as to my male counterparts.
If teachers aren’t motivated to teach science or if they’re more inclined to praise boys when they do something well or be more motivating towards them than girls, this can be part of the issue.
At the Francis Crick Institute we were involved in a lot of outreach activities. On one occasion we had a group of children who were probably around 10 or 11 years old, and we were in a little lab that they have for children. We had an activity to show them different solutions such as salt, sugar, etc., and I’ll never forget how a little girl came up to me and said, “I really like that you’re a scientist, how did you decide to become one?” It’s a small thing that plants a picture in that girl’s mind that she can be a scientist too, which can make a massive difference.
Do you think that there are clear career progression opportunities? Do you agree that it's possible to move around within the company?
When I joined, it was clear to me that Synthace is a very horizontal organisation.
There are great progression paths within the Commercial team and the organisation, especially as we grow. In parallel, in my role I get to collaborate with the different commercial sub-teams, which gives me great exposure to the different parts of Synthace.
How much do you agree with the following statement: "I can clearly see how my work has an impact"?
I definitely agree with that. Through our online demos we’ve seen more people really understand what Antha is about and realise that it could save them time and resources.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I work as part of a team and have two elements to my role – the internal relationships and the outward facing interactions with clients – both of which are really rewarding.
Working in the Pre-Sales team is great, they are the most amazing people! Luke and Jess are such great colleagues, it’s such a pleasure to work with them.
It’s been really rewarding to learn from them and other members of the Commercial team, from their rich variety of skills and experience that otherwise I wouldn’t have known as a student coming out of academia.
On the client facing side, probably the most rewarding part of my role is the moment when someone understands how Antha can help them – when the ‘click’ happens, it’s like, “Wow, it can do that?!”
What do you enjoy most about #SynthaceLife (outside of your actual job)?
The fact that a lot of the colleagues I’ve met since I joined have become my friends. There are all kinds of social events, we meet up to do different things together, and we all enjoy each other’s company regardless of our roles.
The lunch-and-learn sessions are so important; getting the biologists and the software engineers connected so we can learn more about each other’s jobs is so valuable.
I really enjoy the company breakfasts and lunches as it’s nice to have everyone sit down together - even if it’s just for 5 minutes - to catch up and talk about their week.
Also, the parties! My first day was on the day of the Halloween party, and it was great. I think this has a lot to do with the mentality of the company – people are so inclusive that even at my first party, when I only technically knew three people (Haydn, Peter and Sybil), it was nice to be there and talk to everybody as they were so open, chatty, and funny.
What do you get up to outside of work?
I enjoy cooking and baking very much. Sourdough bread, cakes, macarons, savoury dishes, you name it. I find it enjoyable, creative, and fun!
I like to keep moving, and even better if it is in nature. I am a keen yogi: morning yoga practices on my tiny balcony provided me with the physical and mental space I needed during the hard COVID lockdown. I love how it allows me to disconnect and focus on the moment.
Also, I enjoy scuba diving whenever circumstances allow (holidays and, importantly, temperature 😉). It is an incredible opportunity to learn about the ocean, explore it with respect, and marvel at its beauty. It is also a reminder of our rightful place in nature: a very small piece of a giant puzzle but always inextricably connected and dependent on the natural world around us.
What are you most proud of when thinking about Synthace as a company and/or group of colleagues?
Our culture. I’m very proud of our product as well, but once I’ve told people about Antha, the most important thing is the company culture. It’s a pleasure coming into work and spending time with everyone, and that’s something to be proud of.
I’m so proud of how we have handled the current COVID-19 crisis together – it has been enriching. As well as there being even more communication between the different teams than there was before all of this, the support from senior management has been incredible too.
Getting told to put our families first, being reminded to take time off, to make time for our hobbies and activities outside of work, and how important it is to maintain a healthy work-life balance has all been really valuable and very much appreciated.
How would you describe the people and culture at Synthace?
Everyone, every single person is extremely intelligent, and I’ve learned something from everyone I’ve met.
At the same time, no one is arrogant in any way – everyone is very approachable and really friendly. This is super important for the general atmosphere in the company and how we interact with each other.
There’s also an openness and togetherness, with people enjoying spending time with each other at work and outside of work, which is special.
What advice would you give to someone if they were looking to apply to your team? What traits and/or skills are important?
We’re all motivated by the impact of Antha – it’s worth taking some time to research what it is and what it does before interviewing.
Would you recommend Synthace to anyone considering working here?
Just do it because it’s an amazing company, where people feel valued and motivated and enjoy working with each other!
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