For me, Masaryk University has always been a symbol for the best possible education in Brno

Bára Hrnčířová graduated from the Matyáš Lerch Grammar School in Brno and is now studying Molecular Biology and Genetics at the Faculty of Science, Masaryk University. She successfully completed her Bachelor’s degree last year and is now studying for her Master's degree. She is a founding member and President of the Generation Mendel Student Association, which achieved great success last autumn when its synthetic biology project was selected by the jury as one of the top five projects in the Environment category of the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition and went on to win a gold medal! Bára is 23 years old and likes foreign languages, literature, photography, nature and animals.

4 Feb 2021 Barbora Kameníková

Photo: Helena Brunnerová

What did you want to be when you were young?

As a child, I wanted to be a palaeontologist; after all what child doesn't like dinosaurs? 😄 Later, I got into archaeology, and at high school I was thinking mainly about medicine.

Why did you choose molecular biology and genetics?

I've always enjoyed biology, that’s partly why I wanted to get into medicine. For a number of years, I participated in the Biological Olympiad and I went on several biologically-focused T-excursions organised by JCMM. As part of my preparation for medical admission, I also signed up for a seminar in molecular biology, and after the first few hours it all became clear. I was fascinated by molecular biology and wanted to learn more about how every living thing around us works. I was especially interested in the fact that it comes to terms with things and events that we take for granted, but we don't really understand. I enjoy looking for connections between molecular processes and everything I see around me.

What led you to choose our Faculty of Science?

I live not far from Brno and I went to the grammar school here for eight years, so staying in Brno was a clear choice for me as I always liked it here. Although other universities also offer fields similar to molecular biology, for me, Masaryk University has always been a symbol for the best possible education in Brno. In addition, I really liked the new campus in Bohunice and I was also impressed by the people I met during the open day.

Would you choose the same again?

I stayed here for my follow-up Master’s degree and I am planning to continue here for my Doctorate, so yes.

How do you like the environment where you study?

I have everything I need at the Bohunice campus. I like it very much there and I especially like the modern buildings, which underlines the fact that science for the future is being done at the campus. I like that you can spend time outside in the spaces between the individual pavilions, and an important plus is also the large and airy library, where you can study in peace and quiet. In addition, there is a shopping centre on campus where you can conveniently shop after lectures and then go straight home. I really can’t think of anything important that is missing around the campus.

Which subject has impressed you most and why?

I’ve been really impressed by a lot of the subjects. I also like the Physiology of Animals class, in which we discuss a lot of interesting things about processes in the body. Of course, I think all the practical subjects are great; I like them because we get to try a lot of the things that we talk about in lectures. And, thanks to the fact that we can enrol in subjects that are not related to our field, I fulfilled a childhood dream and had one semester of palaeontology!

What possibilities are there for involving students in practical research in the Czech Republic?

Personally, and out of earshot, all the heads of laboratories I have met with have been very much in favour of encouraging students to do practical research. So there are opportunities; I think it mainly depends on the students how much time they want to spend working in the laboratory during their Bachelor’s studies. In our field, the written part of the final exam is primarily theoretical, but almost all of my classmates helped out in the laboratory on various projects during their second and third years. In addition to research institutes, one can also get into the laboratory in other ways, e.g. as a lecturer in the Bioskop training centre or as a member of the iGEM team!

Have you taken the opportunity to study or work abroad?

Personally, no, I didn’t have the courage to do that during my Bachelor’s studies. However, some of my classmates took part in the Erasmus programme and still managed to complete their studies without extension. Originally, I was thinking about an internship during my Master’s studies; however, thanks to the current situation with coronavirus, I have had to cancel those plans. Now, I must wait for the laboratories to open again so that I can complete my diploma thesis.

How did Generation Mendel come into being?

In the autumn of 2019, I was with my classmate Standa at a student conference organised by the Biomania Association, where the European ambassador of the iGEM competition gave a lecture that got us really excited! When we talked to the ambassador, we found out just what the competition entailed. At first, our possible participation seemed like too big a bite for students without experience, but it still kind of bothered us. After several weeks of thinking, we decided that we wanted to overcome our fear and gain some experience, but we knew it was too much for the two of us so we started looking for other people. Before the end of the year, we had managed to bring together a team of fifteen students from MUNI and the Brno University of Technology (BUT) who had all the necessary skills to participate in iGEM. At the beginning of 2020, we had also secured professional leaders for the competition (Karel Říha from CEITEC, Martin Marek from RECETOX and Pavel Dvořák from the Department of Microbiology) and fulfilled another very important requirement, project financing, which was largely covered by our faculty. From here on, it was confirmed that we would participate in the competition and it only remained to choose a name of the team – and who better to name it after than the father of genetics?

What did your participation in Generation Mendel bring you?

It brought me a lot of things, like experience with leading and organising a scientific team, awareness of how laboratory management works and what it’s like to work on a scientific project, from the initial idea to implementation. I also expanded my theoretical knowledge and came to understand a lot of principles and methods that I had only read about before. I learned to work independently in the laboratory, plan experiments and solve problems (which definitely happen, even when you are well prepared). I started to think independently about the results and found out what it’s like to present my conclusions to scientists from all over the world. It was also great that I was able to work with people from other fields and get an insight into the world of computer modelling and learn best ways of communicating with the public. Overall, I figured out what I was capable of if I really decided to go for it. Actually, in the end, probably the most important thing was that I made great friends that I can rely on both professionally and personally. Together, we came up with a project and solved scientific problems but we also got to talk about completely normal things over a beer. We are all in tune and pursuing the same goal, and we are also happy to hang out together. It's great.

What are your plans for the future?

At the moment, my main aim is to complete my Master’s degree without extension, then I would like to continue studying for my Doctorate. At the same time, I would like to start a family soon, and I'm still thinking about how to handle both together. I think a lot of women in science think similarly, and it's good that the university is trying to support mothers, both by setting up a kindergarten on campus and by awarding grants to women scientists after parental leave.

Of course, Generation Mendel and iGEM are also part of my future. We are currently preparing for the next year of the competition (we are also looking for new team members!) and are also thinking about long-term activities for Generation Mendel.

But as my favourite teacher at high school said, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans". So, we'll see where the wind take’s me.


Translated by Kevin Roche.

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