Anička, why did you decide to move to Brno and study at RECETOX after your bachelor's degree in Toxicology and Analysis of Pollutants at the University of Hradec Králové?
Studying in Hradec was fine, but it didn’t focus on the environment as much as I would have liked. After the first year, I wanted to get a better feel for my field of study and experience what a typical day in the lab is like. Coincidentally, I have friends in Brno who knew RECETOX; plus, they knew that it dealt with the effects of toxic substances on human health and the environment. And at RECETOX, they were open to taking a student for a summer internship in the lab, so I decided to go for it. I wrote a letter and got a positive response from RECETOX that I could come for the summer.
And how were the first days of the summer internship?
I didn't know anyone and didn't know who was doing what at RECETOX. I soaked up the atmosphere during the first weeks and tried to meet people and learn more about their research work. Since I wanted to get the most out of my internship, I arrived at RECETOX early in the morning and left late at night. Suddenly, I saw things that I had known from school on paper and how they worked in the lab. I had several "wow" moments. It made sense! And gradually, during the internship, I became more actively involved in Dr. Michal Bittner's research on the antimicrobial properties of membranes. The summer in Brno was just great. And I was very grateful for the opportunities I got at RECETOX, despite coming from another university. And when I had to decide where to do my master’s, Environment and Health at RECETOX was a clear choice.
Anička, you are a fresh master's graduate. Congratulations! How do you see your studies in retrospect? Did they meet your expectations?
Studying at RECETOX was very rewarding. (laugh) Although sometimes, in some of my study subjects, I wondered if I would apply some of the knowledge in practice. However, after the exam, I always realized that what we studied helped me better understand the environment and health. One of my worries was the Statistics class. But luckily, at the end of the semester, I started to enjoy it. (laugh) The atmosphere at RECETOX is unique. Nobody ever told us that we were "just" students; we were treated like colleagues. When we didn't understand a topic, the teachers were willing to explain it repeatedly until it was clear. I was also excited that the teachers at RECETOX are "real" scientists who do "real" science. And when you see them talking on the internet, on TV, or radio, you feel proud that this person is your teacher.
And back to how I see it in retrospect - I would definitely do it again. The studies exceeded my expectations, even though the first year was completed exclusively online due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, everything was well organized and clear, which made my start at the new school more accessible.
Which Master's courses were interesting for you? And why?
I enjoyed the Environmental Pollutants course, covering the different groups of pollutants. The classes were full of practical cases from everyday life. Sometimes I couldn't stop wondering what was all around me. Moreover, the subject was full of interesting facts to solve afterward with friends over a beer or coffee in the "Did you know that..." style.
There was also a great class on Risk Analysis. We chose a substance related to our thesis and modeled various scenarios of how it gets into the environment and affect humans and whether it poses a risk to us. I focused on a drug called carbamazepine, which poorly degrades in water treatment plants. I was looking at whether carbamazepine would pose a health risk if the treated water was used to water vegetables in the fields and then consumed. It turns out that the risk is low. But other exposures also need to be considered. Risk Analysis was another practical subject that I would study again. (laugh)
Otherwise, I enjoyed all the field trips. In Environmental Analytical Chemistry, we analyzed cadmium and zinc levels in our hair or collected water, soil, and sediment samples directly in the field. And in a class on Effects of Stressors in Ecosystems, we were with Prof. Marshall for a field exercise where he taught us what to look out for in nature. For example, grey algae in the water are an indicator of possible fecal pollution, so it is better not to go into such water!
And what were the three best things about your master's degree?
People. The people at RECETOX are the biggest asset the master's could have given me. Make friends with people interested in environmental, sustainability, and health topics. I am glad that I have been able to learn from them. Most importantly, I saw their outlook on life, their approach to work, and how they try to transfer theoretical knowledge into practice in their own lives. I think this is what has pushed me further personally, and I am grateful for that.
I also appreciate the many opportunities at RECETOX in which students can actively participate. Everyone can gain exciting experiences in a lab on actual research with overlap abroad.
And the third thing I like to remember is the field exercise in Košetice. Because I did my undergraduate studies elsewhere, I only heard about Košetice here in Brno. Dr. Prokeš offered us to go from our master's studies. I'm glad it worked out because it was a week full of experience in the field. As a master's student, it was an excellent study summary. After all, being somewhere at a meteorological research station is not something everyone gets to experience.
Were there challenging things that you struggled with during your studies?
The first year was challenging because I took too many classes and was at a new school. Some subjects required a lot of self-studying. They seemed scary at first, but then it went well. The teachers helped us a lot. They were always willing to explain things again. They didn't want us to memorize everything but to understand the material.
And what about the state exams and final thesis?
(Laugh) With every state exam question, it was about understanding the topic. However, I didn't feel like I was being tested; rather, it was a debate on a chosen topic. Of course, one must know, but even though we went in-depth in the state exam, the exam was about understanding the topics and not memorization.
In my "thesis," I focused on the biofouling of recycled wastewater used in agriculture. My supervisor was Dr. Michal Bittner, and I carried out the research part of the thesis within the OKTAGON project. Again, this was not theoretical research but work whose results will be used in practice. Gradually I started to realize how topical the topic was. We hear about drought and water recycling from all media outlets almost every day, and we live in it.
So, Anička, do you see yourself in science in the future?
I'm enjoying my last holidays; it'll be just a vacation. (laugh) I am looking around and hope some exciting job offers will appear soon. I look forward to it. I want to find a job in a laboratory, but I am open to other opportunities. I want to stay in the environmental field. And hopefully, I will eventually return to academia. And I'm going back home to Liberec, which will be a change too (laugh).
One last question, what would you recommend students considering doing their master’s or even bachelor’s degrees at RECETOX?
Environment and health are (and will be) relevant and should interest many students. After all, one is always interested in what affects us immediately. RECETOX does not just do science in the "lab" but goes further and applies it, contributing to change. Knowledge is transferred here between scientists and students and among scientists, and people are willing to share their thoughts and ideas. Anyone interested in the science around environment and health who wants to go further and be part of the change should apply at RECETOX immediately.
Anička, lots of luck in the future! We are thrilled you chose RECETOX for your studies. Thank you for the interview.