22. Aug. 2023
If she followed in her family's footsteps, she would probably be a lawyer. But Ľudmila Kvašňovská is very clear about what she wants to achieve in her career. She is very ambitiously pursuing her dream of studying medicine and pursuing clinical research. This decision has been helped by the fact that she has come across many inspiring people in her life who are pushing her in the right direction, but above all by her own motivation to participate in scientific summer schools, competitions and fairs. Last year she participated in the CEITEC Student Talent Summer School, and this year she has already competed in a global competition in the USA. And she plans to do much more in the field of study and popularization.
Luďka, relatively recently you participated in the ISEF 2023 science fair in Texas, USA, where you won 4th place in your category in a global competition. The question arises, what all preceded this? How did you come to be interested in medicine and research?
I guess it would depend on where I started. Since my parents are advocates, I wanted to pursue that line of work as a child as well. My grandmother always saw me in a white coat. I started seeing myself in it around high school. I have a great chemistry professor, Eva Körmendyová, who inspires me and let's say kind of pushes me to not be afraid to participate in different projects, competitions and activities. Just last year, in the same period, I did a four-month internship at the ICRC Academy, and also took part in the three-day CEITEC Student Talent Programme, where I did research on lipid nanoparticles. It was with this topic that I later entered the Slovak AMAVET Science and Technology Festival, where after winning the regional round I advanced to the national round and was nominated for ISEF on the basis of this.
If we go back a year to the summer school organised under the CEITEC Student Talent programme. How was your experience?
I liked the summer school very much. It was great that we got to go directly into the labs, actually try out the lab methods, and most importantly, work on the equipment that we wouldn't have had access to. Plus, thanks to it, I met my great mentor Michaela Vojniková, who introduced me to the topic of research into making smart nanodevices for personalised cancer treatment, which made me realise that clinical research is really what I want to do. And as I said above, I stayed in touch with Míša after the summer school as she helped me with further preparation for the regional, national and global finals. She helped me fine tune my abstracts, poster and prepared me for the actual presentation. She even went with me to the USA.
I guess that brings us back to the competitions. Was there a big difference in the way projects were evaluated in Slovakia and Texas?
In Slovakia, the evaluation was great in that it didn't have a time limit. I spent maybe 45 minutes with the judges explaining the full details, I had to give them the full context because they hadn't studied our projects beforehand. In the US it was basically the complete opposite. There, the judges had already been given the materials in advance, so their questions were really very specific and detailed. They were also very strict about the time space that the contestants had. When the gong sounded, it started, when it sounded a second time, it was over and there was nothing you could do about it.
How long did you spend preparing for the global finals?
About six months in total. The AMAVET association helped me a lot with the preparation. In the beginning it involved preparing documents and applying for grants. At a later stage, we also wrote together, for example, questions that the jury might ask me and of course practiced our presentation skills. I also used to go to Brno to visit Míša and we would fine-tune the methodology, the characteristics of the measurements and improve the results of the experiments directly in the laboratories.
You said that the jury had the materials for the projects in advance. What did you have to submit?
I had to prepare a poster graphic in advance, a so-called quad chart or a project summary, which I would say was on the level of a short scientific publication. For me personally, I think the worst part was to make, but mainly edit, a video about myself and my project (laughs). It was all submitted to a so-called virtual booth where all the judges and participants had access. A month in advance, I started preparing the actual poster I was presenting.
Well, it was quite common at that time that my parents found me tapping something on the computer at one o'clock in the morning, but it's true that this happens to me as standard :)
There were competitors from all over the world at ISEF. Did you have time to get to know each other?
Sure, the fair had a very busy programme and it didn't only include the presentation of the project itself. We were able to get to know each other through various networking events and science mixers. When I looked around at my booth, I had colleagues from Italy on one side and the USA and Saudi Arabia on the other. The guests and sponsors that were presenting were certainly interesting as well (e.g. US military, Microsoft, US Aerospace, and so on and so forth). Generally just attending such an event is very prestigious and is a much valued experience on a resume.
You are about to go to college. What will you decide on?
For me, the quality of the university itself is definitely very important. I would prefer to study abroad, but I'll see if I can get a scholarship. Ideally I would like to go to the UK, but Brexit has made it difficult. At the moment I have been accepted to the Faculty of Medicine at Masaryk University, but I will definitely still be taking the entrance exams in Prague. It is also crucial for me to study in a city with a research centre so that I can do research alongside my studies. I think I will definitely look at the ratio of professors to students within the field as well, because I believe that in this respect the "less" scale is the better and better option (less students more teachers).
What do you do outside your studies? Do you know how to relax?
I'd say I do a lot of things... For example, I'm involved in the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award (DofE for short). I've already achieved gold level and I'm studying German as part of that, gymnastics, which I teach to children as part of my volunteering. At the same time, I have also found through taking part in various competitions, projects and fairs that there is not a very good awareness amongst students of what it is possible to get involved in and take part in while at secondary school. So I am developing a platform where all this information would be together. Well, I guess the biggest relaxation for me is just the gymnastics, painting or maybe yoga.
One last question... Do you know what you're going to wear when you accept the Nobel Prize?
The green CEITEC t-shirt, of course :) :) :)