Natálie Šelleová: I'm not a lab person, but I want to change legislation as a scientist

Natálie Šelleová is a second-year bachelor's student in Environment and Health. Although she does not want to work in a lab in the future, human health and environmental issues are her top-of-mind priorities. After her studies, she desires to be a person explaining complex scientific issues to the public and politicians and contributes to legislation changes.

5 May 2022 Marie Hošťálková

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Natálie, why did you decide to study Environment and Health at RECETOX?

I was interested in documentaries about nature when I was a kid. However, soon I realized that nature and its current condition shouldn't be taken as granted. At first, I wanted to be the person who would make documentaries and show people the beauty all around us. Later, I decided to become an expert in protecting the environment and human health. Even though I am not comfortable in the lab, I enjoy science, and I want to bring scientific issues to policymakers and positively influence environmental legislation.

When did you get the idea to look at health and environmental protection from this point of view?

Everybody told me that it was a big goal and I might not even get over it. Laugh. But then I found the study program Environment and Health, and everything started coming together and made sense. I was also thinking about studying law, but it is too broad. I wanted to focus primarily on the environment and understand what affects it. I need to reason things out, understand them in detail, and look for possible solutions. And my field of study is perfect for that.

Did you also think about studying international relations?

Yes, I did, and a lot. I like languages, and I am interested in politics. On the other hand, I want to focus on environmental protection, so my study subject seems more relevant. Plus, I was already a big buff of biology in high school. It was RECETOX that taught me to like chemistry as well. Laugh. Chemistry and biology belong together.

What were your graduation subjects at high school?

I graduated in biology, Czech, geography, French, and English. Although I learned Chemistry during my high school studies, I didn't choose it as one of my final subjects. Laugh.

I know about you that you moved from Olomouc to Brno. Why Brno?

I was looking for a study program dealing with the environment, and I didn't find one at Palacký University in Olomouc. When I saw the Environment and Health studies at the Faculty of Science of Masaryk University, I was thrilled. At Palacký University, there are studies about the environment and health, but they are socially oriented. I want to be an expert who can interpret science, understand scientific findings, and communicate them.

Did the study program Environment and Health meet your expectations?

Yes, it certainly did. However, I must say that the amount of chemistry shocked me at first. On the other hand, I understand that we (students) need this knowledge. It helped me a lot that all the research group leaders introduced themselves to students in the first year and explained to us "freshmen" in what projects they are actively involved. I appreciate it very much because I "found" Dr. Kateřina Šebková, who manages the National Centre for Toxic Substances, a joint department of the Ministry and Masaryk University. Thanks to this introduction, I reached out to her, and now I am helping the Center as an intern.

I am a bit sorry that my studies do not include more English. I am a member of the Program Board, where we have already discussed this topic, and it looks like "better times are ahead." After all, English is the language of science and research and having more courses in English makes sense. All students speak English, but we want to improve in the language.

Let's get back to the activities for the National Toxic Substances Center. Did you know about the Center before the lecture in your first year?

I knew about the National Centre for Toxic Substances because I had read about it on the RECETOX website. Still, this lecture presented its activities closer. After completing an undergraduate degree, a student of Environment and Health has a great deal of background in chemistry, biology, physiology, and other areas, but we are not specialized. Since my, first year I wanted to specialize in a particular field. Dr. Šebková's lecture about the international environment, legislation, and politics, made this choice easy. I emailed her, and she introduced me to her colleague Lukáš Pokorný, and that's how my work for the National Centre began.

What do you do for the National Center? And how long have you been working for the Center?

It's been a little over a year since I started helping the National Center. Mainly, I'm assembling literature and text materials for the Center's international meetings. I have been preparing texts for social media and articles for publication. Now I am studying materials for the Czech Presidency of the European Union, as I will be part of the CZ PRESS team.

What motivates you, and how do you manage to work for the National Centre while studying?

I enjoy it. I'm interested in topics discussed at international meetings and related to environmental protection and human health. My work for the Centre makes sense, and I also feel a lot of responsibility. In addition, my work for the National Center complements my studies. I have learned to search and process data from international databases; I have gained insight into legislation, the Stockholm Convention, and many others. And now, I am looking forward to using all this knowledge as a member of the CZ PRESS team, helping to communicate the Centre's work.

Do you also want to go on an Erasmus as part of your studies?

That's my plan. I want to go to Erasmus during my master's degree. I originally wanted to go this autumn, but the Czech Presidency of the European Union is a big thing, and I can participate in international events through the activities of the National Centre. And I'm also looking forward to learning a lot during the Presidency, so I decided to postpone Erasmus, but I'm going to apply when I am a master's student.

What needs to be improved so that scientific knowledge plays a role in policy decisions?

I don't think that politicians necessarily need to understand complex scientific concepts, but rather the interface between science and policy. They should be provided an interpretation of the scientific knowledge which would provide them the knowledge and understanding needed for deciding on appropriate legislative actions. The interpretation of science should be left to specialists. Scientists should be full members of policymaking teams, and their voices taken into accountheard. Close collaboration and trust are key.

So, what could be your dream job one day?

I don't want to be a politician, but I would like to be the expert who explains environmental and health issues and thus contributes to legislation changes. And I am increasingly convinced that my current studies will allow me to do that. I want to take environmental protection more comprehensively in the future. I believe that clear communication is the basis of everything, both with politicians and the public. Since our environment is not in the best shape and everywhere you hear how bad people are for nature, we get scared of the severity of the problem, so naturally, we stop taking care of it. I want to make communication between scientists and politicians smoother and speed up the process from receiving a scientific report to implementing a sufficiently effective solution. I believe that changes in legislation and the strategic interpretation of scientific results to politicians and the general public could help.

And my last question is whether you will go on to do your master's in Environment and Health.

Yes, of course, that's obvious. Laugh.

Natálie, thank you very much for the interview. I'm glad we met. I hope things will work out as you wish!


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