Journey to Science
As an undergraduate student studying molecular biology and physiology at the University of Belgrade, Sasa Svikovic wasn’t fully certain that a career in science was for him.
Although his studies were interesting, applying his skills in a practical setting was not an option at his home university. The curriculum was largely lecture-based, the equipment was unsophisticated, and there were very few opportunities for hands-on experiences. It wasn’t until he went to Cambridge as an Amgen Scholar in 2012 that he uncovered the confidence he needed to determine that he was ready to dedicate his life to scientific research.
Academic and Professional Ambitions
Can you discuss what it was like to work with your Amgen Scholars faculty mentor?
“It was a tremendous experience working with my faculty mentor during the Amgen Scholars Program. I was working in Professor Stephen Jackson’s lab at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, which focuses on DNA damage repair under the direct mentorship of Dr. Yaron Galanty. All the lab techniques that I mastered during the Program were essentially the ones that I use now every day. The lab experience also helped me to develop my critical-thinking skills. When I returned to the University of Belgrade, instead of just automatically accepting everything that was taught to me, I kept asking more and more questions and could not be so easily persuaded by the arguments of my undergraduate lecturers anymore.”
Can you describe your current research in 30-60 seconds in terms a lay audience would understand?
“I am working on something that is very similar to what I was researching during the Amgen Scholars Program. I am still looking at DNA damage repair, but in a different context. Technically, it’s researching DNA damage tolerance and replication-associated epigenetic instability. In layman’s terms, this means I am exploring damage to DNA and how it is associated with the phenomena of DNA replication, i.e., the process when DNA cells double before cells divide and expand in number.”
What has inspired you to pursue the research questions you have been working on for the last several years? How does your Amgen Scholars Program research and other college research relate with the work you’ve been doing currently?
“There is a direct relationship between what I was researching during the Amgen Scholars Program and my current area of research. Not only that, but I have since returned to Cambridge as a full-time Ph.D. student and am now working in Dr. Julian Sale’s lab at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. The area that I am working in at the moment is quite fundamental, and what inspires me every day to go into the lab is the possibility of making a breakthrough and discovering something new. This could lead to a better understanding of human genetic disorders and diseases, so ultimately the research that I do could one day help contribute to society.”
Would you say that the program was a pivotal experience specifically during your college career and more largely for your scientific career?
“Without the Amgen Scholars Program, instead of studying for a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology at Cambridge, I would most likely be finishing my Masters in Human Genetics back at the University of Belgrade. After that, I am not sure what I would be doing – probably applying for a job at an under-funded hospital. So the experience was definitely pivotal!”