As part of the Emerging Leaders in Biotechnology mentorship program, speakers from a variety of occupations and diverse backgrounds are sharing their experiences in STEM with students. On Saturday, May 1 we had the privilege of meeting Dr. Mika Sovak, Vice President and Franchise Head, Oncology R&D at AstraZeneca. Dr. Sovak gave participants insight into her journey in STEM, sharing the unique path in which she came to AstraZeneca and describing how she was able to incorporate her passion for theater and performing within her career.

“I’ve always been interested in how things worked, and a focus in science came quite naturally. However, in high school I also became quite interested in theater and performing,” explained Dr. Sovak. Not wanting to lose either passion, she pursued a scientific education at a liberal arts school expressing how peers weren’t able to discern if she was a theater major or a science major.

“Ultimately, I chose a career in the sciences, but my experiences in theater and performing have served me quite well in my career,” she described. “I truly believe ‘Where’s the fun in learning or discovering something new if you can’t communicate both the content and the excitement to a wide group of people with various backgrounds.’”

After graduating from college Dr. Sovak decided to take a gap year and sent out letters of interest in the mail for positions, eventually landing her first job. After that, she attended an MD/PhD program, and from there decided to go into medicine and specialize in oncology. After a few years seeing patients and running clinical trials, she began her first position at a pharmaceutical company.

“My current job has allowed me to spend time and energy building strong and collaborative teams where individuals feel valued and can bring their best self to work. Integral to this focus is my belief that diversity must be fostered and valued in order for us to make the best decision that ultimately affect patient’s lives.”

Dr. Sovak’s personal experiences and repertoire with participants left them equally in awe of her accomplishments and eager to jump start their own STEM paths. When asked if she gave students any new ideas about their careers, some mentioned a newfound interest in oncology, and appreciated her focus on following their passion.

“[Dr. Sovak] really helped by reassuring us to trust the process and work through the hard times. I think it’s motivated me to really start taking opportunities that will benefit my career,” said one student.

Another described, “I now feel like I can achieve anything even when I don’t realize it in the moment.”

When asked what one thing stuck with them from Dr. Sovak’s talk, many participants described her confidence and eloquence in describing how she overcame imposter syndrome and dealt with some of the obstacles that come with being a woman in STEM.

“It provided so much relief when she said she didn’t really know how to answer where she wants to be in five years and that it was just part of the journey in figuring it out. Now that I’m graduating from undergrad, I haven’t been completely sure of my next steps and felt like I just had it all wrong. She isn’t afraid of not being the smartest in the room so long as everyone has the same goal,” described one student.

Another applauded Dr. Sovak’s encouraging words on pursuing something you’re passionate about, “One thing that stuck with me was when she said to find something you like to do and adapt to any changes or new opportunities that come your way. You’ll never know where you’ll be in the future but opening yourself up to new experiences is a great way to live your life.”

Thank you to Dr. Sovak for taking the time to share your journey and encourage these students! For more information about the work Dr. Sovak does with AstraZeneca, visit https://www.astrazeneca.com/our-company/our-people/mika-sovak.html.