Getting Inspired at the International Summer University

It is a widespread stereotype that summer is a sunny time of rest and joy. Still, there are people who have a constant passion for new knowledge and discoveries. The summer school programmes at the University of Tartu are, no doubt, nice opportunities to dig deeper into a variety of topics that interest you” (Stanislav Mohylnyi, Ukraine).

International Summer University 2016. Photo sent by Sticea Mihaela

UT International Summer University 2016 participants. Photo sent by Sticea Mihaela.

Although a new academic year 2016/2017 has just begun, it is not too late to take a look at what happened at the University of Tartu during the summer.

This summer there were more than 330 students from all over the world taking part of different summer school programmes. This blog post is composed by the impressions of 14 students who were granted a development cooperation scholarship by the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to participate in four different International Summer University programmes:

  • Secure e-Governance (in cooperation with Tallinn University of Technology)
  • Social Dimension: Estonian Business Environment and EU-Russian Relations
  • Social Dimension: EU-Russian Relations and Baltic Regional Security
  • Juri Lotman and the Semiotics of Culture

During those two-week-long programmes, students had the chance to work together with university professors; visit governmental institutions as well as IT and technology enterprises; enjoy the cultural programme; study in the cities of Tartu, Tallinn and Pärnu; gain lots of new international friends; and get to know new cultures.

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Be a Good Friend to Yourself!

Many scientific studies have linked high self-esteem to positive factors, such as good health, happiness, well-being, and success at home and work. That is why lot of countries – with the United States foremost among them – have invested in programs to increase self-esteem for many decades. Thousands of self-help manuals have been published, and they are popular in Estonia as well. Then again, the hoped-for benefits to well-being, health, and success haven’t followed, according to Kerttu Mäger, a master’s student in psychology at the University of Tartu who analyzed self-esteem and self-compassion in her master’s thesis.

Self-esteem by Kiran Foster

Self-esteem, a post-it wall. (Photo: Flickr: Creative Commons/Kiran Foster)

Why is this so? There are many incentives that can boost self-esteem for a little while: a good grade at school, promotion, increased salary (or some other work-related victory), praise, compliments, a large number of Facebook likes, etc. These things can make most people feel better – even to such an extent that students may value the factors increasing self-esteem more than sex, their favorite food, or meeting a best friend. This is according to scientists Bushman and Moeller in their article “Sweets, sex or self-esteem?”.

At the same time, it has not been convincingly proven that interventions aimed at increasing self-esteem can do it in a lasting manner and bring about success at school or in other fields. For example, Roy Baumeister, one of the leading social psychologists, has teamed up with other scientists to research situations where researchers have tried to raise the self-esteem of students who are not doing so well at school. It turned out that those students had worse exam results on average than those whose self-esteem was “left alone”. While it is true that good grades at school and high self-esteem are linked, it could rather be claimed that good grades push our self-esteem higher, not that high self-esteem helps us to get good grades.

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International Internship in Tartu – It’s Possible!

My name is Liina and I’m a business administration student at the University of Tartu. I finished the first year of my studies this June and am currently doing my internship. I got a chance to join Contriber as a marketing intern. What I really like is that Contriber’s mission is to unlock to the potential of tech businesses by building a startup community in Tartu and providing office space, investments, mentoring events, and a lot of useful info. Since I’m from Tartu, it’s no surprise that I’m also completing my internship here, but a fun fact is that I’m working in English. I believe that this shows there are opportunities everywhere for international students also – you just need to find them. I saw the advert in the UT career mail list.

tartu-blog

Tartu town hall square. Photo: Google

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Five Reasons To Visit Tartu

The unpredictable summer weather in Estonia often makes people travel to faraway southern countries during their holidays, when in fact there are exciting tourist attractions here to enjoy on your days off should you wish to spend a memorable holiday in Estonia. Ildiko Siimon, Marketing Manager of the newly opened Hektor Design boutique hostel in Tartu, introduces the most attractive locations in the City of Good Thoughts.

  1. Black Dog Garden and Tartu Organic Gardens

Tartu green thumbs actively contribute to urban gardening by creating spaces where people can distance themselves from the city noise and enjoy fresh air, while doing some gardening if they wish. Visitors have planted herbs and other plants in urban gardens such as the Black Dog Garden and Tartu Organic Gardens. “Organic gardens like these attract more and more green-thumbed people, as well as those who crave the countryside idyll and sometimes just want to feel like they are at granny’s, in the middle of flower beds”, says Siimon.

Black Dog Garden. Photo by: https://www.facebook.com/mustakoeraaed

Black Dog Garden. Photo by: https://www.facebook.com/mustakoeraaed

https://www.facebook.com/mustakoeraaed/ (in Estonian)
https://www.facebook.com/tartumaheaed/ (in Estonian)

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Was the Moth Really Attracted to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Tears?

Cristiano Ronaldo and Silver Y. Photo: Screenshot

Cristiano Ronaldo and Silver Y. Photo: Screenshot

People watching the Euro 2016 final last night were excited by the moth that landed on the face of the Portuguese captain, Cristiano Ronaldo. Social media channels, especially Twitter, are making the most out of mocking the incident. Several accounts with the name “Ronaldo Moth” have also been created.

Was the fragile winged creature really so touched by the tears of the injured footballer and his suffering that it came to offer the star friendship and consolation? 

Unlikely, but it is quite possible that the moth was looking to feed on salty tears and sweat.

“Some species of butterflies really feed on tears”, confirms UT Research Fellow in Entomology Juhan Javoiš. He adds that tears are probably complementary and not basic food for these species.

“These species are interested in sodium, which is regular salt, but probably also the proteins that tears contain”, said the research fellow. However, he is not sure whether the so-called Ronaldo moth seen in yesterday’s final is among the species specialised in tears. “I doubt it, although it can be seen in the video that it is especially interested in the eye”.

“The moths probably gathered to the stadium because of the bright lights, and they were definitely attracted by the smell of sweat, which should be plentiful in the football stadium. Upon closer look they also found some more nutritious, protein-rich food — tears”, Javoiš explains with a clever smile. “Entomologically it is definitely a very entertaining case”, he added.

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A Letter to Tartu Students from a Moscow Prison

Piotr Pavlensky's action "Fixation"

Pyotr Pavlensky’s famous act in Moscow on November 10, 2013, when he nailed himself to the pavestones of the Red Square by his genitals as part of an art performance in protest of what he saw as apathy in contemporary Russian society which could lead to a police state.
Image credit: Maxim Zmeyev / Reuters / Scanpix

In the beginning of May the notable Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky addressed a letter to the audience of my lecture course entitled “Soviet and Post-Soviet Russian Culture”.

The letter arrived from a Moscow prison: Pavlensky was arrested in 2015 after carrying out the performance “Threat“. The artist doused the wooden front door of the Russian Federal Security Service’s (former KGB) headquarters with gasoline and set it on fire with a cigarette lighter.

Here is the translation of Pavlensky’s letter by Helena Bassil-Morozow – see the photo of the Russian original below.

Hello Roman,

[…]

I will talk about what, in my view, is the most definitive aspect of both modernity in general and Russian culture in particular. As your student audience will be international, you can ask them how the situation in Russia compares to how things are back at home.

In my view, the entire history of Russian culture is determined by the conflict between the individual and the state. This dynamic is paradoxical as well as irresolvable. Russian literature waded into this conflict way before all other art forms. Meanwhile, up to the beginning of the twentieth century, Russian painters were prepared to be mere court servants whose task was to render the greatness of God, the Tsar, and the State. Even the most idiosyncratic of them resorted to merely illustrating the influential texts of the time.

‘The Word’ truly dominated the Russian cultural sphere; an almost religious importance was attached to it by the culture. That’s why the lives of Radishchev, Ryleev, Herzen, Chernyshevsky, Tolstoy, Mayakovsky, and later also Malevich, Filonov, Mandelstam, Kharms, Vvedensky, Oleinikov, Punin, Platonov, Shalamov (and many other writers whose names I cannot immediately recall) have proven that the conflict between the individual and the state is irresolvable.

Yet – paradoxically – these enemies of monarchy and Bolshevism have formed the core of the school curriculum. That’s how the existing political order undermines itself by planting the seeds of social conflict into the minds of each new generation of individuals. This seedling of a conflict is then either split off and rejected by the fragmented psyche of the obedient citizen or, alternatively, it grows into the next rebellious movement.

To be completely honest, I have no idea why the social order maintains the model of culture based on this continuous dynamic.

Let’s keep in touch,
Best wishes,
Pyotr

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A Discovery Puts the Brakes on a Cancer-Inducing Virus

“Almost everyone becomes infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) during their lifetime, but in many cases it happens in a relatively harmless way. Often the symptoms never manifest at all”, says Mart Toots, a fresh PhD in biomedical technology at the University of Tartu. His doctoral thesis focuses on the oncogenic types of the virus.

Mart Toots

Fresh PhD in biomedical technology Mart Toots discovered novel inhibitors of the cancer-causing papillomavirus. Photo by Mart Ustav Junior

During his study, Toots half-incidentally discovered many previously undescribed chemical compounds which can hinder the viral infection.

By now, we know about 205 or more types of HPV, 13 of them considered dangerous. The virus is spread by contact transmission, including sexual transmission. Unlike infections with most HPV types that may result in benign growths – typically manifesting as warts and disappearing, thanks to the immune system, by themselves – when a malign type of the virus is present, the persistent, long-lasting infection might lead to cancer.

HPV most frequently causes cervical cancer. More than half a million women receive the diagnosis each year, most often in Africa and South America, where there are up to 60 cases per 100,000 women. In Estonia the number is 20 on average. The virus can cause genital cancers in men as well, but it doesn’t happen nearly as often.

the spread of papilloma virus

On the left: The global number of cervical cancer cases per 100,000 women. 
On the right: The percentage in the grey circle shows the proportion of women infected with viruses causing cervical cancer. The circles represent various regions. The small circles represent the three most wide-spread cancer-causing virus type per each region.
The figures are from Mart Toots’ PhD and are based on the following sources: Ferlay et al. 2010, Crow 2012, Jung et al. 2015.

HPV infects the basal dividing cells in the deepest layer of epithelial tissue through microwounds or abrasions.

HPV infection can be prevented with vaccination, but until now there’s no efficient cure that can stop the disease once the infection has caused it. There are three vaccines available, but they work only when the vaccination happens before sexual initiation. In Estonia, the vaccine is allowed for girls aged 9–12 and boys aged 9–15. Continue reading

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