Interview with a team member
Once a month we are sharing stories about COMBIVET's team members. The second one will talk about the young PhD student Johanna Piibor, who is owner of two amazing cats and good friend to humans and animals. Why animals? Read more to find out!
Tell us little bit about yourself
I am a daughter and granddaughter of the most amazing people I have ever met in my life, owner of two wonderful cats, reader of interesting books, and hopefully a good friend to many. In the university I am a PhD student of professors Alireza Fazeli and Andres Valdmann in the COMBIVET project.
What is your background?
My family originates from Setomaa, which also defines me. But I grew up in the capital and was schooled there. During the weekdays I studied (I do love to study) and sat most of my free time in the library (I do love to read), but during the weekends I went to the countryside.
My grandmother moved near Tallinn, so not to be far away from her daughters. And I spent most of my weekends with her learning about seto culture and taking care of the neighbors’ horses.
When I graduated high school, I moved to Tartu to study veterinary medicine. It took for 6 years to become a vet and in the year of 2020, I got my degree from Estonian University of Sciences, while specializing for large animals (e.g., cows, sheep, chicken, horses).
During my studies I learnt many interesting things, for example how to do an x-ray to a horse, how to sedate a very angry cat or how many bacteria could you have in food while it still being safe for consumption. I had many very good teachers to whom I am forever grateful.
Did you always wanted to become vet?
I knew I wanted to study something related to medicine, because I expected it would be difficult and a field that is quickly evolving, so I could study the rest of my life. In the end I chose veterinary medicine as I like animals and would rather want to work with them than with human patients.
And now you are a PhD student
I did not expect to become a PhD student after I graduated from veterinary medicine. I studied to become a clinician and had no prior experience with lab work.
However, the opportunity presented itself after I graduated and as I do like to discover new information and study, I thought that being a scientist would suit me better than working as a vet. Also, in the end I figured I could combine my veterinary skills with research. I have the knowledge of nowadays veterinary fields and know what should be improved. So, as a veterinarian and a researcher I could improve the veterinary field, which would be useful for practicing vets.
What are your plans when you finish your degree? What's next?
I still have 3 years to go, so first I plan to finish my PhD and then see what can I do next. However, nowadays if you wish to have more opportunities as a researcher, you should do a post-doctoral as well. So, I likely will go abroad to deepen my knowledge and get new skills in my post-doctoral, which I can bring back to Estonia and hopefully get a position in the university.
PhD students have to make research, please describe yours
I research bovine uterine extracellular vesicles in healthy cows and cows with subclinical endometritis.
Extracellular vesicles are small particles, which are produced by cells and transported to another cell or tissue through biological fluids. As they have different substances, for example proteins, miRNA, mRNA and lipids, and are taken up by cells, they influence physiological or pathological conditions.
The disease I am researching is subclinical endometritis. It is an inflammatory disease in the innermost layer of the uterus, that has no clinical signs and due to it is difficult to diagnose. However, it causes infertility as to the inflamed endometrium the embryo will not attach and develop to a calf.
This is a problem for cattle industry as if the cows do not reproduce, there is lower production, thus influences the farm economically. Also, infertility is one of the major causes of culling in cattle farms. If the cow does not produce, the farms do not want to keep them as it is financially not wise.
Short lifespan is a problem for animal welfare. This is the reasons I am looking into bovine uterine extracellular vesicles in healthy as well as in subclinical endometritis to profile what substances are found in these two conditions. Hopefully, we can find a potential molecule, that could be used as a biomarker to diagnose subclinical endometritis. With proper diagnosis you could also properly treat the cows, which would reduce the culling rates of the cows and be financially beneficial for the farms.
How your workday looks like?
I am generally at the farm, where I take uterine fluid samples for my research, in the early morning. I either have clinical examinations to do, ovulation synchronization programs to continue or samples to take. If I take uterine fluid samples, then I also have to process them in the morning.
Otherwise, I have always something to read or write. Writing articles is a long process, which needs a lot of time. I am not very good at writing articles and presenting my work, yet. However, people keep telling me that I would get better in time, so I do hope they are right.
Has something surprised you? And what is it?
I am not as experienced in lab work as some of my colleagues, so many things surprise me. For example, how different fluorescent dyes permeate cells differently, which makes embryos look through the microscope like small disco balls.
What would you say to someone who thinks about becoming a scientist?
Go for it! Even when it is sometimes hard and frustrating (read: experiments do not get you results), it can be fun as well, when everything works as you wanted and you have something amazing to show to others with glee.