You finished a biology and chemistry class in secondary school and chose to study at the Faculty of Chemistry. Didn’t you have any dilemmas?
Generally, like every young person, while taking my school leaving exams I was not completely sure of what course of study to go for. I have always been into biology or chemistry and I was sure that I would be taking my finals in these subjects, of that there was no question. But apart from chemistry which has been my interest ever since I first learnt about it, so practically since lower secondary school, psychology had always been at the back of my mind. When I was applying to the University of Gdańsk, apart from applying to study Chemistry I also applied to Psychology with a special stress on the psychology of children and adolescents or neurobiopsychology, which is also an option at this university. The problem arose around July because I had been accepted to both courses of study and couldn’t rule anything out although it was impossible to study both. Acting on the advice of my elders i.e. my parents and grandmother as to what I should choose, and bearing in mind that it was chemistry which had always been with me and which I very much liked, I didn’t want to abandon it completely and finally that’s what I chose. But maybe one day I’ll go for psychology … I still have a few years of study ahead of me so I might choose it as a second course of study in a few years’ time or when I’m finished, or as an extramural course – we’ll see. Anyway, I haven’t abandoned psychology completely and often read psychological articles or try to find something for myself and analyse some problem. In the end chemistry has won and because it’s a specific course of study – lab work and that kind of thing, which I found very hard to give up completely.
And you’re being consistent with chemistry because now you’re going to become an MA student.
That’s right. Definitely an MA course in October. We’ll see how it goes but it’ll definitely be the University of Gdańsk and the Faculty of Chemistry.
And after your studies, do you want to stay at university?
Probably, yes. I am still considering a PhD course although, because I like children very much, I am also thinking of a pedagogy course. So, maybe apart from the PhD studies I might be working as a chemistry teacher at school. But we’ll see what the future brings.
You have become linked to the Laboratory of Intermolecular Interactions. Could you tell us more about the research conducted there?
At the Laboratory of Intermolecular Interactions I deal mainly with physicochemical research into the hydrogen bond. And apart from this, also with the interactions of side chains of the amino-acid residues of proteins and peptides. This is research conducted on a computer so it’s not strictly lab chemistry, rather computer chemistry. We enter all the research into a computer, into appropriate programmes. The results delivered by the computer must be analysed, which is quite time-consuming and solving the problem requires us to resort to various branches of science. Although this is the department of General and Inorganic Chemistry, the chemicals I research often belong with organic chemistry. So it’s not like we only consider specific branches here. In addition, the research itself takes time because the computer provides the results but they have to be properly entered, you have to learn how to work with all these programmes and you also have to wait for the results. Sometimes such calculations may take a few hours so, unfortunately, we cannot do anything during that time, we just have to wait for the computer to deliver them to us. And then we have to think about what you’ve got. The programme contains numbers and sometimes a few messages. And of course there are also mistakes, which do happen. A small punctuation error when we put a comma instead of a dot, can ruin our entire research which has taken us a few minutes, a quarter of an hour or so, or anything up to an hour, and then unfortunately we have to calculate everything from scratch. But there’s an element of fun in all this. We have a programme which, when the research has been successful, gives you different words of wisdom at the end. Sometimes it’s interesting to read them, they’re all in English of course. They can be really funny and give you something extra apart from the results – they bring a smile to your face when we read words by a famous person which we have never seen before.
How did you end up taking part in the summer school in Beijing?
This is quite a funny story because as part of a Ministry of Education sponsored programme, my Faculty organised a project of national and international internships. I applied for an international internship and did not know whether I was going to get a place or whether I would be able to go. But I thought that if a chance like that comes up, why not give it a try? Not knowing what the places would be (all we knew was that it would be different places abroad) I applied for the internship and managed to forget all about the fact that I had filed my documents somewhere. And then, after a few months, two or three, it turned out that I got accepted and had a few places to choose from. These included universities in Spain, Sweden, Germany and Beijing. I looked at this list of the various places to take stock of the distance from home and I concluded that I could travel across Europe any time but not necessarily fly to China. So one evening I went up to my parents and said: “Mum, Dad, I am going to Beijing”. They looked at me and said: “What do you mean, Beijing? It’s far away, it takes a long time on a plane, the culture’s different there, everything’s different. You don’t like flying. And then you don’t like many foods, Chinese food, that’s something you don’t like at all!”. But they also decided that this was a chance which doesn’t happen very often. So I went to the office and confirmed my participation. More people from our Faculty went apart from me, there were several friends from my year. So it was easier for us. The place in Beijing was basically a school which, apart from chemistry classes, also taught us Chinese. So we had an intensive course of Chinese, lasting a month, for around three hours every day, six days a week. I sadly didn’t manage to learn the spelling, which is too difficult. But instead I learnt the pronunciation of a few sentences, to make myself understood in town, to ask for something, for a price, for example, counting to ten, the basics which everyone of us learns when we learn a foreign language. And apart from that we had chemistry, of course, i.e. classes in a laboratory in Beijing, lectures in English conducted by the local lecturers, culture classes and trips. We couldn’t go without visiting Beijing’s most well-known places, of course, and, most of all, although it’s a little outside Beijing, the Great Wall of China. So this was perhaps the greatest attraction and one of the dreams on my list. I managed to fulfil this dream, climbed the Wall, walked part of it and saw the beautiful views. If you ever get the chance, I really recommend it!
I’m not surprised and I’ll follow your advice.
It’s great satisfaction when you reach this hill, if you can call it that. Great satisfaction with the views so it’s worth getting tired for because there are quite a few steps to negotiate.
And in your free time, you’re an actress?
That’s right. Acting is something which has been with me since I was a child. Ever since I remember I stood in front of my family and recited poems or did puppet shows hidden under a blanket. And so it went through my early years until in secondary school I got involved with the theatre more professionally, you may say, when I joined this theatre group at the Miniatura Theatre, led by an excellent instructor, Agnieszka. And when I started, I can’t just drop this theatre. Apart from the fact that all the productions we organise and create are written for us by Agnieszka, it is also great fun and a way to spend our free time. A way to let off steam, relieve stress, meet great people and spend time in a fantastic atmosphere. In addition, two years ago we created another theatre group which is our own project. It’s a group made up of secondary school pupils and students. We prepare our own productions, direct them ourselves and appear in them ourselves. It’s also an enormous challenge for us because writing a script is not as easy as some might think. What we have in our heads and what appears on stage is a completely different story. But it’s immense fun and satisfaction when it finally appears on stage, when the audience awards us with applause and then when we read the reviews afterwards. Both the positive and the critical which we take to heart and then try to correct as many mistakes next year and to improve as much as we can.
Thank you for the interview and congratulations on the award at the international theatre festival in Klaipeda.
Thank you very much.
Gdańsk, 19 February 2016
Interview by Dr Tadeusz Zaleski
Photography: Piotr Pędziszewski