When hereditary disease decides your profession – Aylin’s story

My name is Aylin, and I would like to share all about my university experience and life in my course, so here we go!

University of Tartu student Ailin exploring the student's city.
Image credit: private collection

I come from Azerbaijan, and currently I am a second-year student at Tartu University. I study genetics and biotechnology here. I grew up in a medical dynasty: my uncle, both aunts, as well as great aunts and great uncles, have all had medical backgrounds. That’s probably also the reason why I knew I would have a profession related to medicine as soon as I developed self-awareness.

The urge to help people was in my blood. At the same time, the family did not force me to do anything. Initially, it wasn’t my dream to study genetics; I wanted to become a neurosurgeon. But by the time I graduated from high school, I began to get more and more interested in genetics.

University of Tartu student Aylin
The importance of the family. On the left: Aylin with her supportive mother and brother. On the right: Aylin with her uncle who recommended her to apply to the University of Tartu.
Image credit: private collection.

This was influenced by the fact that I have a family history of thalassemia. Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder caused when the body doesn’t make enough of a protein called hemoglobin, an important part of red blood cells. It’s caused by either a genetic mutation or a deletion of certain key gene fragments.

My father and brother are also carriers of this disease. Thalassemia could be cured by introducing or correcting a gene into the hematopoietic compartment or a single stem cell.

The more I read about genetics, the more involved I became in it. I was fascinated by what actually causes disease and whether you can prevent people from developing particular conditions. Geneticists review the results of genetic laboratory tests and work to diagnose or attempt to treat genetic diseases.  This career field is highly technical and ever-evolving, so those in this career must keep up-to-date with the latest research and advances in scientific, medical, and genetics research.

When I expressed this feeling to my teacher, she recommended I think about applying to Tartu University. At first, I knew almost nothing about the University of Tartu. Slowly, I educated myself. There was plenty of information online about what I needed to do to apply, including advice from current students in YouTube videos and blog posts. Beyond the more superficial details, like the campus’ extraordinary beauty, I knew it would be a place where I would be challenged academically, both inside and outside the lecture hall. I took the SAT (the American standardised test) and IELTS.

In May 2020, I was accepted to Tartu University and started studying there three months later. My university has a very strong school of sciences, and I study under the best minds in the country. We learn through a mixture of theory and practice via lectures, tutorials, and labs.

We are taught by people who are currently carrying out research in the topics we’re learning about, so they really give us the most up-to-date knowledge in that area. We may even get the chance to contribute to this research during our time at university! Lectures are where we are taught most of the content we need to know. Labs help us acquire the practical skills we need. Labs are really fun but also tiring, especially if we have several in one week.

University of Tartu student in the lab.
Laboratory work. Image credit: private collection.
Aylin and doctor Jahid Shahbazov
Aylin with her idol – doctor Jahid Shahbazov. Photo credit: private collection

I am also not cooped up in my room all the time with my head in a book; I have the opportunity to learn from my peers and explore new subjects – both are things that are not only accommodated but actively encouraged in Estonia.

I am currently in the second year of my course, and I am still thankful that I chose to come here. I am free to study what I want, have made amazing friends from all over the world, and feel I am where I need to be. I certainly made the right decision.

📸 🔬 Keep up with Ayleen’s studies through her Instagram.

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