5 Questions With Maya Yovcheva, Scientist III at Thermo Fisher Scientific

“5 Questions With…” is a weekly BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This week we welcome Maya Yovcheva, Scientist III at Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Maya Yovcheva is an R&D scientist with more than ten years of experience in cell biology, protein expression, and product development. She has been a product development scientist at Thermo Fisher Scientific for six years, developing novel tools and platforms for protein expression and viral vector production. Her work has led to the launch of a new platform for baculovirus-based protein expression in insect cells. Maya holds a bachelor’s degree in Molecular Biology and a Master’s degree in Medical Biotechnology.

Outside of Thermo, Maya is also a hobby baker and cake decorator and uses every opportunity to practice those skills by baking for family and friends. She also loves painting, doing crafts, and spending time with her family.

1) Please introduce yourself to our audience by looking back at your education, training, and career.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to be part of BioBuzz’s “5 Questions With” series. I was born and raised in Bulgaria, a small country in eastern Europe.  For the folks who are unfamiliar, it is located on the Balkan Peninsula, neighboring Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Turkey, and Greece. Growing up, I have always been interested in hands-on activities and it was only natural that I went to a high school that had an increased focus on STEM. More specifically, we had extra hours of biology and chemistry, which helped me develop a stronger interest in those subjects.

Ultimately, that led me to continue my education with a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology. I was initially applying for a medical degree, but I was not accepted the first year since there was a huge competition. That opened my eyes to other career paths, and it is how I ended up with a degree in molecular biology. Pursuing a science-related undergrad degree at that time was not very popular in my country. In fact, it is still not, which makes career development opportunities in the life sciences field in Bulgaria very limited.

I was lucky to have the support of my parents and to go abroad and pursue a master’s degree in biotechnology in one of the top life science universities in Europe, Wageningen University in the Netherlands. My interest in applicational research led me to a master thesis investigating the production of vaccines against Chikungunya virus. It was also my first closer interaction with protein expression and virus research.

Then, I had the opportunity to come to the United States and finish my master’s degree with an internship at small biotech called Protein Sciences Corporation (now part of Sanofi). I was fortunate enough to be offered a full-time position there. I did not continue my education with a doctorate and started my career in the process development space after a master’s degree. After three years there, I took an opportunity to move to Maryland and join Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Cell Biology team in Frederick, where I have been for the last six years.

2) Tell us more about your day-to-day work at Thermo Fisher. What excites you the most about the work you do?

In my current role, I lead the R&D efforts to develop new products for protein expression and viral vector production. Most of my responsibilities consist of planning, designing, and executing experiments in the lab. As part of the new product introduction projects, I also represent the R&D team at bigger cross-functional groups that carry the development from concept to launch.

Additionally, I participate in evaluating new technologies that often have the potential to become new products. We currently have a few ongoing collaborations with external partners that might lead to exciting new products that would revolutionize many life sciences fields.

Out team creates some of the best performing cell culture reagents under the Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Gibco brand. The part that excites me the most about my job is working on the latest technologies and innovations. It is rewarding to see how other scientists use the products that I have worked on, and that often allows them to achieve higher results and solve some of the most critical problems of our time.

Before joining Thermo Fisher Scientific, I had no idea how much effort, time, and money it takes to develop lab reagents and instruments. It also takes diverse teams, including people from different functions like R&D, product and project management, manufacturing, quality, regulatory, and marketing, to develop quality products that meet customers’ needs. I like working in such a diverse environment and learning from different people.

3) You’re currently the Member Committee Co-Chair for the Women In Bio Capital Region chapter. How has Women In Bio and this volunteer role had an impact on you/your professional development?

Women In Bio (WIB) is an organization of professional women that promotes professional development, leadership, mentorship, and entrepreneurship in the life sciences. I am excited to be part of the Capital Region Chapter leadership team and, more specifically, part of the Chapter’s Membership Committee.

For someone like me who did not grow up here, it could be hard to know where to start when building professional relationships and getting connected with other professionals in the area. Last year made me realize that since I have moved to Maryland, I did not know many people in the area and had only a limited understanding of what was happening in the life sciences scene near me.

About the same time, I heard about Women In Bio and thought that it would be a good idea for me to learn more about it and eventually become a member. Shortly after joining the organization, I expressed interest in volunteering, and there was availability on the membership committee. The membership committee has a core role in the organization since it interacts and provides information about our membership base to the other comities. 

I am genuinely grateful for being part of the organization through the last year. Besides attending numerous webinars and mentorship groups and learning a lot, WIB has allowed me to meet many interesting people and be part of a community. It has helped me keep my sanity during these challenging times.

4) Why should professionals in the BioHealth Capital Region join Women In Bio, and what activities do you all have planned in the coming months?

Joining Women In Bio is a great way to meet new people in the biotech and life sciences and build your network before you need it. It is also an excellent way to gain leadership experience through volunteering, especially for people who do not have the opportunity to do so with their day-to-day job.

In addition, WIB provides numerous opportunities for professional and career development and education. All our members benefit from accessing content and event recordings from all our 14 Chapters since many of the events are happening virtually.

The Capital Region Chapter is still doing mainly virtual events to ensure the safety of our members through the end of the year. Meanwhile, our programs committee is working hard on setting up exciting in-person events at the beginning of next year.  We plan to wrap up the year and get ready for the holidays with a virtual relaxation event in December. Stay tuned for more details coming very soon!

Traditionally our Chapter has its signature event, “Her Story Gala,” in December. For its next edition, we have decided to move it to April 2022. We will have a fabulous rooftop in-person gala where we can highlight the achievements of extraordinary women in the Maryland BioHealth Capital Region.

5) Frederick, Maryland is growing considerably as a biotech/biopharma hub. What are your thoughts on this, and what do you think Frederick needs to do to continue attracting top talent?

It is excellent to see Frederick becoming a biotech hub, and more and more companies and people are moving and/or being founded there. I have noticed lately that there is additional lab space being built all over the city.

It will be great to see more networking events happening in Frederick next year, to connect people and help them understand how the area is growing and what opportunities are being created.

The Capital Region of Women In Bio has a specific programming committee focusing on Frederick and will be setting up some exciting events next year. It will also be great to see a BioBuzz event happening as well.

Be sure to check out BioBuzz’s previous interviews, and stay tuned for more conversations with others from across the BioHealth Capital Region, Philadelphia, and beyond!

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Sarah Ellinwood

Managing Editor at BioBuzz | Workforce Genetics
Sarah Ellinwood is BioBuzz's Managing Editor. A scientist by training and a science communicator at heart, Sarah specializes in making complex concepts understandable, engaging, and exciting. She received her Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology with a focus in infectious disease immunology from the University of Maryland and is passionate about all things related to scicomm, peer mentorship, and women in STEM.