Lučka started her studies at the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia) and finished at the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), obtaining MPharm qualification. After spending a year in Sydney (Australia), where she worked as a pharmacist while studying academic English, she was awarded with a BBSRC DTP scholarship and started her Ph.D. studies at the School of Pharmacy, UEA (UK). Lučka is now looking at how spider venom toxins might come in handy when treating chronic pain. During her Ph.D., she worked with the Naked Scientists (University of Cambridge), organized and led science communication workshops "From Geek to Low-Tech Speak", created a virtual reality game "Bug Off Pain" on the idea of her Ph.D., led the winning CryoThaw team on the national entrepreneurship competition and has been recently appointed as a science writer for the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS Spotlights). Lučka is currently finishing her Ph.D., and simultaneously job hunting.
They say that people who make a difference in your life come in all types. Some write on a chalkboard. Some wear a sports uniform. Some wear a pop-star outfit. For me, these people wear lab coats with a 2018 CAS Future Leaders nametag. About a year ago, I applied for CAS Future Leaders—an international program that aims to develop leadership skills and expand the professional network of Ph.D. students and postdoctoral researchers. As a grad student in my final year, I was especially excited to meet fellow scientists from similar international backgrounds.
Knowing this was a long shot, I convinced myself that I didn't stand a chance. I thought, "Am I bonkers for even trying to get in?" So imagine my shock when I got an email telling me that I had been chosen to take part in their leadership program and visit CAS headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, USA! "Is this for real?" My coping mechanism has always been not to anticipate anything. Soon, the news hit me, and the attention came on suddenly. Still, the program wasn't for another four months, so I had to make sure I was still doing lab work, and that I wasn't too distracted from my Ph.D.
Then, the months passed, and on one sultry day in August, I was off to Columbus. Still being in the land of disbelief, I hazily left the lab and blew a kiss goodbye to all of my on-going experiments. Little did I know, though, that big things were about to happen.
The next day, thirty chemists from all over the world convened around a long table at CAS. Some of us looked like an educated version of The Apprentice in those early days, some wearing suits, and all a bit nervous. As we settled in, the organizers welcomed us with, "Leaders are pioneers in the way they think. As a leader, you have to move mountains. You have to work with people who inspire you. You have to help people who share the same values and beliefs as you do."
My neighbor whispered to me: "Amen, sister."
An eavesdropper may have been surprised to find out what this group had in common: formidable early-career academic credentials. Sitting at the table were mostly chemists. Most held doctorates; some of them just filed for their first patent and others, like me, were wrapping up our Ph.Ds. We worked in all sorts of fields, ranging from solar cell technology and sustainable products of chemicals, to antimicrobial resistance, natural product chemistry, and drug-delivery systems. While I appreciated the diversity, I also thought that breaking the ice would probably require a herculean effort.
After a round of introductions, we broke into clusters to swap stories and career tips. Despite there being thirty of us in the 2018 cohort, we navigated through initial awkwardness of networking and actually made our way through a mock "Shark Tank" experience. We exchanged our SciFinder strategies, geeked out over our water changing umbrellas with tiny H20 molecules, shared thoughts on the grad school experience and learned from each other's phenomenal failures. The next thing I knew, we were playing darts, watching American football, gossiping about politics and walking through the enchanting Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. We attended each other's nerve-wracking talks at the 256th ACS National Meeting and even went to the Beyoncé and Jay-Z concert when they brought their On the Run II Tour to Ohio Stadium (no joke!). We were getting to know each other one dinner at a time. I even learned that one of us was a professional hockey player and another organizes science-themed birthday parties for kids! Soon, we were no longer an aloof group of Future Leaders, looking like The Apprentice in those early days. We were just folks trying to get through life.
I am still in touch with a majority of the Future Leaders with a 2018 nametag. Without a herculean effort, really. Rather, they are my ultimate source of inspiration. They keep pushing me a little harder. Brotherhood or sisterhood, if you will.
Now, looking back, it's hard to believe that I thought I was bonkers for applying. Networking may be 9-to-5, but the chemistry of CAS Future Leaders is for real. And, by "chemistry," I mean all sort of things: the essence of matter, the bonding bent, the sources of chemists' passion and ideology and imagination, as well as of its aspiration and apprehension.
Now that, I think, is a pretty good yield.
Would you (or someone you know) like to join an elite group of Ph.D. students and postdoctoral researchers from around the world to blaze a trail toward scientific leadership? Learn more and apply for the 2019 CAS Future Leaders program today.