Anything but usual: My Erasmus stay in Tartu

It all started at the very first exam of my master’s studies. After the end of the exam, I asked my professor for a recommendation of a good place to go to an Erasmus+ study stay – somewhere I could learn something new in my field, in media studies. He mentioned Tartu, which had already been on my shortlist of universities. I kept it in mind.

Lucie Čejková with the Tartu smart bike

My first ride on the Tartu smart bike which I fell in love with, and I used them to move around Tartu a lot. Image from a personal archive

One and a half years later, at the beginning of 2020, I began the process of preparations for Erasmus+ studies. I went through the websites and offers of many universities, but in the end, I wanted to go to Tartu so much it was the only university I signed up for in my application. It was in the middle of February, to be precise. Some disease which apparently appeared in China started to spread abroad, but at the time, I had no doubts about the rest of the year. I thought it would go as usual when a new disease appears – a cure for it arrives quickly, and it just disappears in a few weeks.

The further I got through the application and acceptance processes, the more anxious I got about it. The disease stayed, it was named COVID-19, and it was spreading around the world. It canceled the tour of the band I play in, it canceled my plans for the summer, and I feared it would cancel my dream of finally living and studying abroad for some time.

During August, the situation with COVID-19 got slightly better, and despite hearing many unpleasant predictions for the autumn, I was grateful that I could at least travel to Tartu and start my semester there with face-to-face teaching. After several canceled flights and two days of complete chaos, I took a 35-hour journey by bus from the Czech Republic to Tartu.

When I arrived at the bus station in Tartu and opened the Google Maps app to finally find my way to the dormitories, I felt like I had just finished a marathon run that I lost, because all my plans for a calm departure to Estonia failed. Nevertheless, I made it to the end, and the successful finish was the only thing that mattered. I felt exhausted but extremely happy at the same time.

Just like many others, I had to stay in self-isolation for two weeks after my arrival. Again, I felt grateful for being able to come to Estonia, so I obeyed the rules carefully. I went only to the nearest supermarkets to buy the necessary groceries, I wore a mask, and I spent days in my room. And gosh, how I missed a good cup of specialty coffee.

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Five tips for the safe use of drugs

All drugs are poison. No drug, be it natural or herbal, is completely safe – if it has effects, it also has side effects. The rigid regulatory framework of the pharmaceutical world and the strict requirements protect public health and guarantee the high quality, safety and efficiency of drugs. Below you will find some simple principles to follow to ensure the reasonable use of drugs.

How to achieve drug safety

Tip 1. Use medication for the correct purpose, in the correct manner and in the correct dosage

Drugs are helpful only if you use them in the right way. The doctor or pharmacist can tell you what the right way is. They study at the university for many years to become experts in this field. They will help you find the best therapy and/or medication for a medical condition, taking into account the specific patient, the secondary diseases, and other medications used. One should pay particular attention to children whose bodies function differently from adults’ and for whom there are special drugs, the dosage of which depends on the child’s age and weight.

No drug is universal to function equally well for everyone and for every disease. This is why smart people do not self-medicate or share drugs (especially prescription drugs) with friends or family. Taking a prescription drug that has not been prescribed specifically to you may pose a serious risk to your health. And although you do not need a prescription to buy over-the-counter drugs, it is not wise to administer these without consulting the pharmacist either. Arbitrary use of drugs and making self-wise treatment decisions involve a great health risk.

Dr Google, despite being only a few clicks away, will not replace a doctor or a pharmacist. A web search is not reasonable because in the patchwork of information it is easy to stumble upon misinformation. And if you believe it, the consequences to your health may be irreversible. It is like a lottery with a random chance of winning. However, you cannot afford to gamble with your health.

Tip 2. Buy drugs only at the pharmacy

Pharmacies sell drugs with proven safety, quality and efficiency. This is ensured by the strict control and regulations of the pharmaceutical sector. When you buy drugs at the pharmacy, it is not just a transaction of purchase and sale, but it always involves counselling as a part of high-quality pharmacy service. As it requires open communication with the pharmacist, you should take enough time to go to the pharmacy, just as you do when seeing a doctor. A pharmacy is not a place to rush through.

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Contest for international students: My way to Tartu

UPDATE, 30 November 2020: the contest is over.

The winners of the contest “My way to Tartu”

This year, travelling to Tartu was so much different than usual. It has been challenging and tough, but also more adventurous. We would love to hear your story of reaching Tartu despite all the difficulties and obstacles on your way!

Please share your story with us in writing, photos, video, or a mix of them. Choose whatever format or medium you prefer.

To participate in the contest, please follow these easy steps:

  1. Prepare your contest entry on the topic “My way to Tartu“.
  2. Upload your entry to a social media account of your choice as a public post, so we can see it.
  3. Share the link to your post with us here: http://utstudentblog.tumblr.com/submit.
Contest visual
What was your way to Tartu like? We’d love to hear your story!

RULES

Can I participate? To participate in the contest, you must be a current international student at the University of Tartu.

Contest period. Contest entries will be accepted until 22 November 23:59 2020. The jury will announce the winners on 30 November 2020.

What should I post? The topic for contest entries is: “My way to Tartu”. Entries can be submitted in writing, photos, videos, or a mix of them. There are no restrictions to the format or medium. Entries will be judged based on their quality of expression and originality. By uploading your entry, you confirm that you own the rights to this work and happily agree that the University of Tartu may use it with proper attribution.

How do I enter? Please fill in your name and email address, and upload the link to your entry: http://utstudentblog.tumblr.com/submit.

No social media account? Upload your work to: http://utstudentblog.tumblr.com/submit.

Prizes. The prizes include a Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 camera, two Kaubamaja gift cards valued at 50 euros each, and three university hoodies.

We are looking forward to your stories!

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How to reduce the workload of healthcare workers using robots

Five new applied research projects are starting at the University of Tartu this autumn. All of the projects aim to address coronavirus-related problems.

The project led by Associate Professor of Collaborative Robotics Arun Kumar Singh is beginning to develop autonomous mobile robots that help to reduce the workload of healthcare professionals. The robots will minimise the contact between staff and patients and thereby lower the risk of infection during virus outbreaks.

For example, a robot carrying a human-sized display could lead a patient to the doctor’s room. This would give nurses a bit more time and reduce human contact in hospital hallways. Another example is a box-shaped robot that could deliver food to patients who are staying in the hospital.

Clearpatch Jackal robot
This knee-high robot can be used for transporting objects, such as test samples, food, and medicine. Image credit: IMS lab
Clearbot robots
These 10-cm-high robots will be tested for interaction with patients. The researchers will mount a tablet on them at a higher level to guide patients in reception areas or testing rooms. Also, a remote nurse can talk to the incoming patients through the tablet. Image credit: IMS lab

In the course of the project, the team will work out sensing, control, and human-robot interaction technologies, the latter of which is the most challenging task. So far, robots have mostly been used in factories where few humans are present, whereas in hospitals robots should interact and cooperate with humans. “When you put robots and humans into one space, they both feel uncomfortable. Suppose a robot moves and sees a crowd of people. It needs to predict how the crowd will move during the next 0.1–0.2 seconds and decide on how to move”, said Singh.

Singh and his team are planning to start testing robots in Estonian hospitals at the end of next year. The tests will show if the robots manage to impress healthcare professionals and hospital leaders. The researchers will develop a commercialisation plan for the technology based on performance, along with hospitals and industrial partners.

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Connecting outside of the frames of war

When I moved to Estonia to study at the University of Tartu, one of the best ways to take a break and relax was by chatting with my grandma over Skype. She would ask me all kinds of questions: Is it too cold? Do they sell lavash there? Who are you friends with? She was alarmed every time she heard about fellow international students from Azerbaijan: “Are you careful?”

I don’t judge my grandma harshly for this last question. Ever since Armenia and Azerbaijan froze a years-long war over the Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh region in 1994, the two nations became ghosts to each other. Borders closed down, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced so the two neighbours could “clean” their lands from each other, travelling became forbidden or too dangerous. Even the products made in the neighbouring country were prohibited from entering the domestic market. 

"The Barrel of Piece" in Ararat Brandy Factory
“The Barrel of Peace” in Ararat Brandy Factory is the only place where the Azerbaijani flag is displayed in Armenia. It is planned to open the barrel when peace is established between the two countries.
Image credit: Karine Ghazaryan

Armenians and Azerbaijanis disappeared from each other’s lives. Only one single connection remained: the war.

For 26 years, the two nations failed to resolve the conflict and violence occasionally broke out on the border. From time to time, we heard reports about attacks from the other side and soldiers dying. As a result, for Armenians and Azerbaijanis their neighbouring country shrank and became nothing more than a dangerous bully at the border.

***

Two weeks ago, on 27 September, a full-scale war resumed between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I am a journalist, so I have to constantly monitor the news and report on important developments. This task has not been easy, neither technically (propaganda lies need to be addressed in times of war) nor mentally.  

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3 myths about conspiracy theories

Academic discourse usually defines ʻconspiracy theory’ as narrative explanation that sees a group of people acting in secret to vicious end as the driving force behind events.

It has become a trendy buzzword that can be met in tabloids, entertainment portals and social media, as well as on web pages dedicated to monitoring disinformation and refuting fake news. Naturally, these sources treat conspiracy theories and their socio-cultural influence in hugely varying senses that may even contradict one another.

This blog entry highlights three myths related to conspiracy theories, that are essentially neither right nor wrong – as is the case with myths, but that first and foremost serve as reductive modes of thinking on a topic. Myths about conspiracy theories cast light on the contemporary conspiracy theorising culture as if with an electric torch – emphasising certain tendencies, yet leaving much that is important unlit. What is remarkable is that it is possible to believe in several myths at the same time, even though there are logical discrepancies between them.

Myth 1: Only people on the fringe engage in conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theorising is often treated as a marginal cultural phenomenon that spreads in peripheral forums and social media groups and has no place in politicians’ addresses,  officially approved versions of history or texts by professional journalists.

Newspapers’ entertainment portals often publish stories that stereotypically represent conspiracy theorists as out-of-touch characters in tin foil hats who may suffer from idées fixes. It is quite typical that a tabloid story focusing on conspiracy theories starts with the claim that “a crackpot conspiracy theory connected with event X has become viral on social media”, followed by a passage of purple prose about the most shocking details of said theory.

Elu24, one of the most popular Estonian tabloid portals, offers us a plethora of headlines referring to conspiracy theories, accompanied by video links and comments by conspiracy theorists, for instance “How flat-earthers explain solar eclipse” or “Flat-earther leaving for space in self-made rocket to perish on camera”. Naturally, the Illuminati cannot be left out either: “Conspiracy theorists: ʻThe World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is actually a meeting of the Illuminati’”, and the list goes on.

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How to design effective drugs against neurodegeneration

The widespread use of modern drugs has already made it possible to significantly increase the average life expectancy worldwide, and it is predicted that the average life expectancy will only increase in the future. Such achievements would not have been possible without the development of the modern pharmaceutical industry and the continuous improvement of drug therapy methods.

However, for a very long time, the pharmaceutical industry did not have a reliable understanding of the molecular processes in living systems and mechanisms of disease development. In addition, there was no knowledge about specific molecular “targets” that could have an impact on disease control.

The development of the first drugs was not only a trial-and-error method – which is inherent in science as a whole – but this path also did not completely take into account the principles of the structure of living matter at the molecular level.

The scientists and doctors who developed the first drugs worked with some molecules that could affect other molecules, and they had absolutely no idea and could not imagine the details and complexity of these interactions.

Namely, any disease at the molecular level is a consequence of a dysfunction of proteins and/or genes encoding them. The human genome contains about 20,000 genes that encode proteins. The effects of modern drugs are directed to more than 500 targets. At the same time, many diseases are caused by the dysfunction of not one, but at least 5 to 10 related proteins and genes encoding them.

Multiple disorders characterize neurogenerative diseases

Neurodegenerative diseases (NDs) belong to such types of disorders associated with multiple protein dysfunction. The most common NDs are Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Currently, the world has seen a rapid increase in patients with NDs. According to a report by the World Health Organization, the total number of people with dementia worldwide amounted to around 50 million in 2015, and there are around 10 million new cases every year.

There are no radical treatments for neurodegenerative diseases at present. Current treatment methods only help to improve symptoms, relieve pain, and increase mobility. Therefore, there is a great need for therapies to prevent and slow the progression of neurodegenerative disorders.

The major challenge in drug development against NDs is the fact that we poorly understand the mechanisms of the development of NDs. As mentioned above, NDs are characterized by multiple disorders. Thus, current drug development paradigms have shifted from a “single target” approach to drug development targeting multiple aspects (targets) of the disease. Also, the shift is from treating NDs in the later stages of disease progression to focusing on prevention and neuroprotective strategies at the early stages of disease development.

Neurodegenerative diseases in the brain
Neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by multiple disorders. That is why drugs should affect multiple targets related to the disease, too.
Image credit: Larisa Ivanova
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