What is your background?

My background is in biomedical sciences: my bachelors at the University of Zagreb, Croatia and the National University of Singapore, Singapore - was in chemistry and biophysics. My masters studies at the ETH Zurich was focused on biophysics. At the end of my Masters I showed greater interest in the relationship between computer science and biomedical data, as well as the area of machine learning.

What was your Aspire idea? Why is it important?

My Aspire idea was to create an international summer undergraduate research programme at top world universities, which would be accessible to all students globally irrespective of their country of origin and home university.

I’m happy to report that the ETH Zurich will kick off the programme at the end of this year in the Department of Computer Science. More than 100,000 CHF worth of scholarships will be awarded during the 2-year pilot phase! Having come to ETH from a less recognised university myself I know how much the brand of a well-known university can weigh on your university / job application, and how many doors opened for me just because I was an ETH student. It’s important to give research opportunities to top talent no matter where they come from. Having received the ETH Excellence Scholarship, which allowed me to study at the ETH, I wanted to create something that would give back to the university, for all it has given me.

What setbacks have you experienced and how did you overcome them?

Haha, I have faced rejection so many times! Learning about how to deal with rejection is a gradual process. It all started with a lot of chocolate and tears! With time you learn how to focus on the final goal, and treat all setbacks as just meanders on the beautiful river path that your project is. :-)

Tell us more about your new research project. What is it about?

Project four aims at developing and applying machine-learning techniques to optimally dose and treat autoimmune diseases starting with thyroid impairments. Thyroid impairments affect women 5-8 times more frequently than men. Around 10% of pregnancies end up with women developing a thyroid dysfunction. Synthetic thyroid hormone is one of the top prescribed medications in the USA.

We have just started, but the response from the thyroid patients’ community has been overwhelmingly positive. In just two weeks we have reached >500 people, gathered >16,000 data points and got the support of, among others: UK, Norwegian, Finnish and US organisations. It’s been a great experience so far! We’re very much looking forward to the research studies.

How has the AMPLIFY program helped you from where you were to where you are now?

My assigned mentor from AMPLIFY was Olga Peters, CFO of QualySense - one of the top Swiss based startups at the moment. Seeing Olga being so fearless, decisive and just an amazing leader with a great vision and entrepreneurial spirit made me much more confident than I was at the beginning of the program. She is an awesome female role model. Through AMPLIFY I learned how to ask and advocate for myself without apologizing a million times before that; how to push the ideas and believe in myself.

What challenges do you see women have in entrepreneurship?

Women get called pushy way too much. If you are nice, your message often doesn’t come through. If you become stricter, then all of the sudden you are incredibly rude and get labelled as a troublemaker. Just learn to be yourself, stay firm when you have to be and the environment becomes less challenging. 

You can support Antonija by either completing and / or forwarding her survey. The goal of the survey is to examine how people live with thyroid disease. You can learn more by visiting the Project Four page (link above).