Catching up with . . . Mia Petljak, 2018 Vertex Fellow
“I’m originally from Croatia and after high school I moved to England to do a bachelor’s degree in Human Genetics at University College London. I went on to complete a Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge at the Sanger Institute, where I worked on cancer genomics and mutational signatures in human cancer. Following that, I applied for the Vertex Fellows Program – and here I am!
The short duration of the program appealed to me because it would allow me to test out whether the biotech industry was right for me. Post-doc fellowships within biotech or academia are often a lot longer – usually around three years – so before committing to one or the other, I wanted to be sure which path to pursue.
I found the fellowship to be amazing! I was definitely able to get a thorough understanding of how research works in a biotech setting and compare it to my previous experiences in academia. Another great thing about the fellowship is the career mentorship program, which offers access to senior leaders. I was also able to participate in executive meetings related to different projects, and we had a one-week ‘boot camp’, where various program leaders from research and other areas such as legal and business development, attended and gave talks. All of these opportunities provided a truly unique experience about the decision-making process that goes on at a higher level across the company, from basic research and all the way up to a clinical development and delivery to patients. There was also a general feeling that everyone within the company knew about the Fellows program, which made it easy to approach whomever I wanted and set up a meeting to hear about what they do and even get advice about my future career.
Throughout the Fellows program, I really appreciated the great focus Vertex has on extracting knowledge from human biology when deriving and testing hypotheses, with the overarching aim of delivering to patients. I worked on what we think is a novel approach to treat neurodegenerative disorders. I was part of the cellular pharmacology team and my work was split between the lab and informatics analyses. It really put me into a novel area where I could both explore new concepts and techniques, yet still use all of my previous skills and develop them further. I really enjoyed it!
As far as what’s next, I am going back to academia for a little bit longer, and I expect to begin a post-doc at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. For now, I think it’s the right step to take in my research career.”