27. Apr. 2021

Interview with structural virologist Pavol Bardy

We often take pride in educating young, globally competitive scientists at our CEITEC PhD School. We are pleased that our international PhD program attracts more and more applicants from all over the world every year. But we are even more delighted when our PhD graduates continue in their scientific training as postdoctoral fellows abroad, where they are able to successfully integrate and bring added value to their new research teams. We like to send them out well equipped with scientific and technical knowledge, but also with the necessary soft skills, without which modern science cannot flourish! Virologist, doctor Pavol Bardy, a new member of CEITEC Alumni Network, is exactly this type of thriving graduate!

Pavol, why did you decide to apply for doctoral studies at CEITEC?

When I finished my master's degree at Masaryk University, I was looking for a workplace with the most interesting research in the field of molecular biology. I was offered a project on which I collaborated with the Institute of Experimental Biology of the Masaryk University and with CEITEC Masaryk University. I was fascinated by the interdisciplinarity of the project, which surpassed the other offers I had at the time.

And what specifically attracted you to Pavel Plevka's research group?

It is one of the few groups in the Czech Republic that does real, world-class research. At the same time, it focuses on viruses, and they fascinated me throughout my studies. I remember when I first met Dr. Plevka at a seminar during my bachelor's degree, where he presented his research on picornaviruses. What I liked the most was the fact that he studied viruses up to the atomic level. He explained biological phenomena in the greatest detail, leaving little room for the unknown.

What was your research focus during your time at CEITEC?

I worked on research concerning gene transfer between bacteria and interactions between bacteria and their viruses. Bacterial resistance to antibiotics is growing, which will be a major problem in the future. According to the World Health Organization, such resistant bacteria may be responsible for more deaths per year in 2050 than cancer. The importance of this research was a strong motivation for me.

What do you consider to be the most important thing you learned during your studies in Brno?

The method of cryo-electron microscopy, which I have learned not only thanks to the research group of Pavel Plevka, but also thanks to the well-functioning cryo-electron microscopy core facility led by Jiri Novacek. There is currently a big demand for researchers with expertise in this field all over the world.

What did you like the most about studying at CEITEC and in Pavel Plevka's group?

The overall functioning of the group. Every doctoral student there is led to become an independent scientist. It's not just about producing as much data as possible. In addition to the research itself, attention was paid to improving presentation skills as well as to the ability to write high quality scientific articles and grants.

Is there anything you were afraid of when you applied to CEITEC PhD School? Did you manage to overcome this fear? If so, how?

Before signing up, I was afraid of the high demands of PhD studies and research. But every time I had difficulty with a methodology, my colleagues helped me. Mainly thanks to them, I overcame this fear. During the studies, it proved problematic to maintain a balance between professional and personal life. In science, it can easily happen that a person is so passionate about research that he/she starts spending evenings and weekends in the laboratory. Subsequently, however, work efficiency decreases. Fortunately, I realized this fact in time, and even now I am trying to maintain a balance between my work and personal life.

Would you have any specific tips for other PhD students who are facing difficulties to find the right work–life balance?

Finding something in life besides science that will really fulfill you. In my case, my partner (now my wife) was particularly effective. She makes sure that I do not spend too much time in the laboratory. But unfortunately, this may not work if your partner is also a scientist. I know from colleagues who have scientist partners that in such cases it helps to have a child together (laughs). It also helps to have a meaningful hobby. For example, my former colleagues from Pavel Plevka's research group are, besides science, dedicated to mountaineering, growing and making wine, folklore or rapping.

You are now on a postdoctoral internship at the Laboratory of Structural Biology in York, UK. Do you feel that studying at CEITEC PhD School has sufficiently prepared you for this position?

My current boss in York looks satisfied; therefore, I think I was sufficiently prepared. He is mainly amazed by the wide range of methodology that I came across during my PhD studies. This is, as I have already mentioned, thanks to the cooperation between UEB and CEITEC.

What kind of research are you doing now?

I am currently characterizing viruses that are important for the proper functioning of ecosystems. This is important for "healthy" lakes or coral reefs. However, I would like to focus on gene transfer between bacteria again, but I have not been able to obtain grant funding for this topic yet.

I noticed on your Facebook profile that you are also actively involved in science communication. You have translated information cards about currently available coronavirus vaccines by Etienne Raimondeau from Oxford into the Slovak language. Why do you think it is important for scientists to communicate with the public?

Communication with the public is extremely important, especially now in times of a pandemic. Infographics are ideal for this purpose, because they easily attract attention and simplify the issue as much as possible, while remaining factual. Unfortunately, research does not leave as much time for science communication activities as they would deserve.

What do you like to do in your free time? How do you relax to recharge energy for doing science?

It's a bit of an occupational disease, but I like to do fermentation experiments – I make fermented vegetables, sauces, cheeses and other things. My wife often jokes that I come from one lab at work to another lab at home in our kitchen.

Pavol Bardy

Structural virologist Pavol Bardy was born in Slovakia. He studied molecular biology and genetics at the Faculty of Science of Masaryk University in Brno. He completed his doctoral studies focused on the structure of bacteriophages under the supervision of Pavel Plevka (CEITEC MU) and Roman Pantucek (UEB, Faculty of Science MU). During his doctoral studies, his research work was already being published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications. In 2019, he received the Best Talk Award at the XXVI Biennial Conference on Phage / Virus Assembly in the United States. He currently works as a researcher at the York Structural Biology Laboratory at York University in the United Kingdom, where he characterizes viruses important for the proper functioning of ecosystems. He is still interested in bacteriophages and would like to study them in the future. You can find the latest news about his research on his Twitter account.

We would like to thank Pavel Bárdy for the interview and wish him all the best in his scientific career and in his personal life!

Did you like Pavol's story? Are you considering doing PhD in life sciences? Join CEITEC PhD School!


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