Milica Vunjak

Milica Vunjak

Belgrade, Serbia

“This was a great opportunity for me to see if I was capable of doing independent research as I would need to for a Ph.D.”

Host University: Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU), Munich
Home University: University of Belgrade
Amgen Scholar Year: 2014
Major: Biochemistry
Expected Graduation: 2015

Journey to Science

From a shy homebody who never considered leaving her family to live abroad, to a blossoming academic now considering further studies in the United States, Milica feels she is a completely different person since leaving Serbia to attend LMU for the summer. Inspired by her passion for teaching science to high school students in her spare time, Milica has now set her heart on an academic career in proteomics and is excited about her future.

At Petnica Science Center in Belgrade, Milica enjoys fostering students’ interests in science by assisting them with their summer projects and lecturing in biochemistry. She also makes a point to discuss topical issues with them to help capture their imagination and see where science can be applied as a force for good. She encourages them to have their own opinions, to keep challenging and asking questions.

Academic and Professional Ambitions

Why did you apply to the Amgen Scholars Program?

“I saw the Amgen Scholars Program as an opportunity to see how stuff really works in a big lab and to help me decide what route to take academically. I also looked forward to the opportunity to meet other professors outside of my home university in Serbia. Making connections is really important in the world of science, and I’ve since met a lot of great people, whom I will definitely stay in touch with.”


What did you work on in the lab?

“I worked on a project looking at the structural characterization of the redox regulations and membrane binding of mycobacterial protein kinase G. Basically, this means I am looking at just one protein called protein kinase G. This protein is important because it is associated with tuberculosis. However, we don’t still understand exactly how this protein works or what its exact structure is. I looked at how it behaves and if it interacts with membranes.”


What’s the larger significance of your Amgen Scholars research? What’s your ultimate career goal?

“I like to keep an open mind about the future, but I think one day I would like to lead my own laboratory, one that is state-of-the-art, well-funded and well-equipped. Of course, I’d like to be working in a field of research that is interesting for me and to discover something new, whether that will be the development of a new drug or finding a new protein. That’s the ultimate goal.”


What’s been the most rewarding part of your experience?

“This was a great opportunity for me to see if I was capable of doing independent research as I would need to for a Ph.D. I realized that I could do it unsupervised, and that made me really happy. Outside of the lab, I’ve met so many great fellow Amgen Scholars, some of whom I know will be friends for life. I’ve also made a lot of useful contacts for my academic career.”