Mijo Simunovic, Category Winner 2017 – Cell and Molecular Biology

Mijo Simunovic

Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, Columbia University

Beyond the Prize: The impact on personal and professional growth

As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the Science & SciLifeLab Prize, we took the opportunity to catch up with one of our past winners, Mijo Simunovic, Category Winner of 2017.

What has been the biggest outcome for you personally winning the prize?

The Science & SciLifeLab Prize took us on a unique immersive journey of modern scientific history. We travelled to Stockholm and partook in Nobel prize events. We gave talks on the same podium where the Physiology and Medicine Nobel laureates delivered theirs, only one week before. We presented our stories to students, teachers, Nobel winners, Science editors.

We received our prizes in the historic Hall of mirrors, the place where the original Nobels took place a century ago. This experience in particular was an unforgettable one. In the Balkans where I grew up, there is almost a sense of reverence toward the scientific giants of the early XXth century, like Marie Skłodowska-Curie or Albert Einstein. I felt an incredible sense of privilege to be able to get so close to the places where their accomplishments were celebrated.

What has been the biggest outcome for your career winning the prize?

In my academic trajectory, I made a leap from physics to biology with hopes to seek new and unconventional connections between disciplines. I found this transition to be challenging and, at times, causing some self doubt. The Prize gave me the recognition and the assurance that I was on the right path.

Today, I am fortunate to lead and collaborate with a talented group of engineers, developmental biologists, geneticists, and clinicians, all with a common goal of revealing secrets about our own development. I’m certain that the Prize greatly solidified my desire to pursue such an interdisciplinary research program.

What would you like to say to someone who is thinking of applying?

Take some time to reflect on your research and challenge your ideas from various perspectives. The Prize committee really values how you convey the complex concepts from your groundbreaking work to the public. Clear communication is increasingly important to maintain the public trust in the scientific research enterprise.

And if a pessimistic voice in your head is telling you, “oh this prize is just too competitive, it’s not worth applying”, I was confident I wouldn’t win, but a close friend of mine convinced me to apply anyway. She’ll never let me forget it.