Kristina Kovacikova, BSc (Hons) Biomedical Sciences (Infectious Diseases) (2015)
Kristina kicks off our Alumni profile series featuring students who studied with the Deanery of Biomedical Sciences.
Tell us about your time at the University.
I chose the University of Edinburgh because I was attracted to the possibility to specialise in Infectious Diseases in my senior Honours year, knowing that Edinburgh is home to excellent research in this area. Overall, my university experience was very good and I greatly enjoyed the last two years of study.
During my second year I was nominated to spend my third year abroad at the National University of Singapore under the International Exchange Programme. It was rather challenging but a fantastic experience on both academic and personal levels.
Apart from all the great people I met and places I travelled to I received a scholarship from A*STAR Graduate Academy to experience hands-on research during a 3-month placement in the Dengue Immunobiology laboratory at the Singapore Immunology Network (A*STAR).
Upon my return to Edinburgh for my final year, I particularly enjoyed the time spent in Firbush doing outdoors activities and getting to know other people in my class (including the course organizers and lecturers) in an informal setting.
One of the highlights of my degree was the opportunity to do my Honours project under the supervision of Professor Paul Digard at the Roslin Institute. It not only helped me to apply my theoretical knowledge to a research project, but it also greatly enhanced my research skills and confidence to pursue research on a graduate level.
What are you working on now?
In June 2015 I was awarded the Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher fellowship as part of the European Initial Training Network ANTIVIRALS. I’m currently a PhD student in the Molecular Virology Laboratory at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands. My research project focuses on developing and studying mode of action of chikungunya virus inhibitors under the supervision of Dr. Martijn van Hemert and Professor Eric J Snijder.
Edinburgh University has a fantastic reputation worldwide, which I think makes its graduates preferred and more attractive to employers. I received a First Class degree and, during the period I was interviewing for PhD positions and jobs both in the UK and abroad, employers often regarded my Edinburgh degree as a highly valued academic qualification.
What's the biggest challenge you've faced since graduating?
There is an adjustment phase which everyone will have to go through when transitioning from university to work life. As I see it, university gives you second chances, but if you’re employed, that’s no longer the case. For example, while at university you’d receive a late submission penalty for handing in your assignment a day later, in an employment setting your manager/boss might view the same situation as a warning sign for poor performance in the future. Another challenge is to meet expectations. At university you are in charge of setting and meeting your own expectations. In employment you have to perform up to your employer’s expectations. Being professional is something that is difficult to teach at an undergraduate level, which is why I think it is important to get as much work experience (such as internships) during study as possible.
If you had one sound piece of advice to pass on, what would it be?
Relating to my answer to the previous question, try to start thinking about what it means to ‘be professional’ and also, don’t be afraid of making mistakes! No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. One wise man once told me that the only difference between the good and the bad people is that the good ones never make the same mistake twice. Here you go. Hope it helps!
Tell us something surprising about yourself.
I’ve always been passionate about languages and I love studying grammar and syntax. I’ve studied 6 languages so far– English, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian and Dutch. I can speak fluently only two of them – English and Spanish – but I have decent knowledge of the remaining ones (my mother tongue is Slovak). If I got a chance to live another life, I would train as a translator/interpreter and do a degree in Modern European Languages. I still love science though!