Category Archives: Inspired by…

Stina Hellman – PhD Student in Immunology

It’s a warm Thursday evening when Stina and I find a seat next to the stables. She is holding the lead rope of the horse she has just been riding, who enthusiastically puts his nose into the grass. Not the most common circumstances for an interview, but in a way it suits the occasion: Stina recently started a PhD about vaccination against parasites in horses. Her blonde hair blows in the wind while she looks at the sweaty horse with satisfaction. I am happy she could squeeze in the interview today. There are few people I know who are as busy as she, yet she always seems full of energy.

Stina started studying psychology in Trollhättan as well as biology in Gothenburg, but realised this was not what she wanted. At the age of twenty-three she moved to Uppsala and followed the animal science agronomy programme at SLU and graduated with a master in infection biology. I ask her if a PhD was her ambition from the start? “No, I never plan anything really” she hesitates a little bit before she continues, “erhm, maybe that is not normal but I don’t have this goal of being something. I always chose things that I think was fun.” “Or interesting?”, I ask, finishing her sentence. “Or interesting, but many things are interesting!”, she adds enthusiastically. She explains that one of the reasons for her to choose SLU was that it deals with everything she thinks is important. “It doesn’t matter which programme you choose, you still get some perspective on food, how to supply our growing population with food and environmental questions.” In her opinion a really good strength to have such perspective, no matter what you end up working with.

Stina and the thoroughbred gelding Exhibition

Of course I am very interested in her PhD project and want to know all about it. She tells me she works at the section of immunology. “The department is a long name. I don’t know if you want to hear it.” We both laugh, and as I insist she tells she works at ‘The Department of Biomedicine and Veterinary Public Health’. “So the project is about developing a vaccine against the large bloodworm, this intestinal parasite in horses.” I can’t help to laugh again, since at the start of our conversation she revealed how she wanted to keep horses for a hobby only, not for a job. She realizes, laughs as well and adds quickly “That was not my main focus! Because when I started to work at SLU, I started with pigs.” She explains how it is actually not that different, since the lab part is very similar. She does not do labs on living animals, but uses blood tests only. “That’s a part of the project, to do a lot without having laboratory animals. Very often we get stuck in old patterns, but we can try a little bit more. Or at least evaluate something first outside the animal before we go into the animal.”

“I know there will not be a finished vaccine after my studies, because this is a totally new project, this is the start.”

I’d like to know what the aim is for her four years project. She explains that she works on establishing methodology, how we can make this vaccine. “I know there will not be a finished vaccine after my studies, because this is a totally new project, this is the start.” However, this will not stop her from gathering as much information as possible to continue this towards developing the vaccine. Naturally I also want to know why we need the vaccine? “We have increasing problems with anthelmintic resistance today.” She tells me all about how the large bloodworm causes most damage to the horse and how the resistance in the small bloodworm could lead to increased prevalence of the large bloodworm in the future. Nowadays a common method is deworming with an oral paste, I am interested why we should change to a vaccine. “Most of the substances that are toxic to parasites are also toxic to insects and other organisms in nature. One problem is that when we give too much oral paste this will come out in the faeces, come out into nature.” She doesn’t expect the vaccine to be a ‘one fix solution’, but it could be used together with mucking and deworming.

“What I missed was creativity, which I get in the PhD.”

I am keen to know what she is planning after her PhD. Would she like to stay involved in research? I know it’s not an easy question to answer, and indeed she does not know yet. “I am not very driven towards a goal for myself. I want to develop, I want to get better, I want to be a good PhD. But I don’t really care if I end up in a company or if I end up doing a postdoc for example.” Setting goals for the future is not the way she approaches life. “I think being open will lead me somewhere I never thought I would be.” In her opinion most places are really good to work. “I worked with elderly care and care for children with disabilities. And I think these are really nice jobs! They have their goods and bads, but what I missed was creativity, which I get in the PhD.” I am happy to hear she feels like she can express herself like that in her work now. Stina thinks for a moment and adds, “I think that is because I have a good supervisor, that lets me do it.”

A selfie in the lab. Photo Stina Hellman.

The horse pulls his rope, he wants some new grass, but we aren’t finished yet. I ask Stina about her daily life as a PhD student. She tells me she sees her supervisor almost daily, and how they discuss many things going on in the lab. It seems hard to sketch a ‘normal day’. “It is very flexible. I can decide mostly what to do and when to do it, based on what I have discussed with my supervisors.” She has four supervisors, besides her own there are three ‘co-supervisors’; usually people from other departments or companies. “Right now I am doing cell culturing, I isolate cells from horse blood and expose them to vaccine components: Substances you can include to get a better and more efficient vaccine.” There are days filled with molecular works in the lab, other days she spends analysing data at the computer. Furthermore she spends time writing, discussing articles in a ‘journal club’ and participating in weekly meetings. “And in the autumn I will start some courses, all PhD students have to take courses.”

“It is nothing that is impossible for a normal person. You don’t have to be a super person.”

Finally I am wondering if she has any advice for people who are in doubt if they want to do a PhD position or not. She responds immediately, and says without any doubt: “If you’re interested in the subject, you should do it!” In her opinion, if you are worried about something you should simply talk to people: Ask other PhD students, your (potential) supervisor, etc. “Many people say ‘Oh, it must be really difficult!’, but I don’t think its more difficult than a normal job.” She emphasizes the need of being responsible and interested in the topic. “It is nothing that is impossible for a normal person. You don’t have to be a super person.” I guess she is right. However, I can’t help myself from thinking Stina may not realize herself how much of a super person she truly is.

I’d like to thank Stina for her time and contribution. This interview was the third of a  series I named ‘Inspired by’, in which I’d like to introduce you to other people and their perspectives. If you have any ideas, questions or comments please write them below.


Amanda Andersson – From Sweden with Love

Friendly, helpful, very polite and always in time. Although she just dyed her blonde hair dark brown, to me Amanda couldn’t be more Swedish. I got to know Amanda during the course pig production last spring and we met again during the horse course. Amanda is a student in the agronomy programme, which is very similar to animal sciences. Besides her being a genuine and lovely person, I’ve always been inspired by her passion for Swedish agriculture – which she recently started vlogging about. Time for a chat!

Photo from

Amanda grew up on the countryside of Dalsland, about an hour North of Gothenburg. Not on a farm, but she grew very fond of animals either way. “I was very interested in animals, mainly horses. I have been riding since I was eleven.” I wonder why she chose to study the agronomy-animal science programme. “In high school I chose for natural sciences, which I really enjoyed. I was looking for a programme that would continue this and include animals.” I ask her if it was her first choice, or did she consider veterinary science? “Yes of course!” she laughs before she continues, “I think everyone does that, as they don’t know the agronomy and animal science programme exist. But if you like animals, and want to study at university in Sweden you will always check SLU.” I wonder if she is happy now with studying agronomy-animal science instead. There’s no doubt about it as she answers joyfully. “I am really happy! I think this was the best for me.”

“SLU is small, there are not too many students in each course – it’s personal.”

Her opinion on the university is clear, she really likes SLU: “I think the whole education is good.” When I ask her if there are things she would like to see improved she remains quiet. Curious whether this is a form of Swedish politeness I ask her if she thinks SLU is perfect? “No, I don’t think it’s perfect but it’s hard to point at something, I just don’t know.” I turn the question around and wonder what she considers best about SLU. She has to think for a little while but seems assured when she speaks again. “It’s small, there are not too many students in each course – it’s personal.” And what about Uppsala? She totally loves Uppsala. “Uppsala is the 4th greatest town of Sweden. That’s like… lagom!” We both laugh. Lagom is perhaps the most Swedish word you can think of and expresses something that is ‘just right’, not too much, not too little. “It’s not too big but I have everything I need. I would love to stay but I don’t think I will, because of work.”

Photo from

Work. As last year’s students this becomes such a loaded topic. Of course we all have dreams but nobody knows what the future will bring. At least Amanda knows she’d rather work in the meat industry than in dairy. “I really, really like pigs” she informs me with a smile. I totally understand her feeling, but of course I want to know why. It’s hard to put a finger to it, but she tries to explain: “Before I moved here I didn’t know anything about pigs. Anything! But in my first summer holidays I worked with pigs so I learned a lot about them. I really liked that. I worked with them again my second holidays.”

“I think we have great animal welfare in Sweden in all parts of the production and that includes the slaughter process.”

When I ask her what sort of work she would be doing in a perfect world, her answer takes me by surprise. “I would like to work for a slaughter house, or in that industry.” I didn’t see that coming and ask her why. “It’s an important part of the animal production. I think it’s interesting and it’s a large industry.” Ideally she’d be involved with the farms that deliver to the slaughterhouse. “Someone needs to talk to them about the farm and their animals, for example how many animals they will send to the slaughter house… I would like to be that person. Who sort of connects it all.” I wonder if she is not concerned whether it might be emotionally too heavy. Is she in peace with the slaughter process? Her reply is calm and confident. “Yeah, I really am. I think we have great animal welfare in Sweden in all parts of the production and that includes the slaughter process.”

Finally I am curious about her vlogs. She explains that she had a blog and wanted to try something else, not only writing. “I think it’s fun to try. I like to do new things, develop myself.” She aims to reach a different audience with her videos, which are not as complex as the blogs she writes. One of the vlogs I had seen was about labels you find on Swedish products in the supermarket. “‘Kött fran Sverige’ labeled meat products means the animal has to be born, raised and slaughtered in Sweden. Also processing and packaging has to take place in Sweden.” Sweden has laws that are more strict when it comes to animal production. Besides guaranteeing the Swedish standards, the consumer also knows immediately where the meat is from. “It’s very popular, it’s on so many products. It makes it really easy to find Swedish meat.” Although, other producers started to imitate the label. In her vlog she explains the differences and shows a piece of bacon with a Swedish flag printed on the package. “It was Swedish meat in it, but it was processed and packed in – I think it was the Netherlands.” There are moments that I am proud to be Dutch, this is definitely not one of them.

“You can always ask a farmer if they need help.”

As a last question I wonder if she has anything left she’d like to say, maybe some advice for future students? “I think its really, really good to work on a farm. Especially If you don’t have experience from before, like if you haven’t lived on a farm.” She adds that she thinks it’s not too hard to get some experience. “You can always ask a farmer if they need help. Because they are happy to teach you everything you need.” Her enthusiasm is contagious, though I couldn’t agree more myself anyway. She concludes: “Thats a very important thing I think.”

I’d like to thank Amanda for her time and contribution. This interview was the second of a new series I named ‘Inspired by’, in which I’d like to introduce you to other people and their perspectives. If you have any ideas, questions or comments please write them below.



Kristi Ernst – MSc student from the Netherlands

A few days ago I met with my Dutch friend Kristi while being in the Netherlands. Kristi and I met during her Erasmus exchange in Uppsala and we’ve been in touch ever since. I pick her up from the train station, and though she has been travelling for hours, she is as cheerful and energetic as usual. Kristi continued studying animal sciences for het masters degree at Wageningen University and feels most passionate about animal breeding and genetics. Let’s hear what she has to say about her time at SLU and what she’d like to reach within the field of animal science.

Kristi during a study visit. Photo by study association ‘De Veetelers’.

When asking Kristi why she chose to study in Sweden she tells me she just really wanted to go abroad somewhere. “I wanted to develop myself as a person, become more independent and  I wanted to prove that I am actually capable of doing something like this.” Everyone had told her she wouldn’t be able to do it, studying abroad. The result? She started looking in which country she’d like to apply. SLU offered courses of interest to her and the website was easy to understand. In the end she followed some different courses than originally intended, but enjoyed them a lot either way. “I had made a long list of courses that were appealing to me, these weren’t number one and two, but still they were extremely interesting”.

“I’d rather focus on production animals as I think there is more left to improve for them compared to companion animals.”

While in Uppsala Kristi took the courses Applied Animal Behaviour, Ethological Methods & Experimental Design, Dog & Cat Nutrition and Dogs & Cats Genetic Health and Reproduction.  The courses were a bit easier then expected but she enjoyed the topics a lot. “In the Netherlands there are less possibilities to follow courses on dogs & cats as the focus is more towards production animals, not pets.” I ask her if she considers the possibility of working with pets in the future, but her answer is clear. “Advising pet owners is really difficult because of the huge amount of emotion involved. Besides, I’d rather focus on production animals as I think there is more left to improve for them compared to companion animals.”

“I found life very beautiful in Sweden.”

I am curious how she experienced her time in Uppsala. She tells me how she really liked the Swedish culture. “In the Netherlands everybody seems always busy, stressed and focused on result.” She explains how she feels that Swedes are more living in the moment. It’s not that people were lazy, but the society felt simply nice. “I found life very beautiful in Sweden.” She absolutely loved the social life in Uppsala and is very excited when speaking about the Nations. “Amazing parties and a wide range of night life, there is really something for everybody.” When I asked her if she did much else besides studying and partying we both burst into laughter – we’ve partied quite a lot together. But giving it a second thought she tells me she went hiking frequently with one of her friends. “We’d mainly hike in the forests around Flogsta, I miss that a lot.” She thinks for a second or two and adds: “I will go back one day. That’s for sure.”

Kristi feeding a reindeer during a trip to Northern Sweden last year.
Photo: Tim Steeghs

We’re not finished yet as I am curious to what keeps her busy now. She started the master programme of animal sciences at Wageningen University last semester and will specialize in animal breeding & genetics and adaptation physiology. She has already started working on a degree project focused on pigs. I wonder if she found it difficult to make a choice regarding specialization. “Not at all. When I had to choose studies my first choice was veterinary sciences. When I didn’t get a spot in that programme animal science was the obvious second choice. But from the start I have known I wanted to specialize in breeding and genetics – I’ve been passionate about the topic since high school.” She added adaptation physiology as she enjoys the practical side of this field of science.

“Doubting whether you should study abroad or not? Just do it!”

Finally I want to know about her dreams – in a perfect world, what would she like to do? Does it involve genetics? It’s not an easy question to answer and it takes a little while before her smile widens and she speaks again. “I love pigs and goats. The de-horning of goats is a huge issue in the Dutch goat production.” She explains how there are some existing breeds which don’t grow horns at all. Unfortunately these breeds produce barely any milk. “Maybe we could cross these goats somehow and work with hybrids. To breed a naturally hornless, but productive dairy goat.” Her ideas and enthusiasm are heart-warming. As a last question I ask her if there is anything left she’d like to add. “Yes!”, her eyes sparkle, “Go for it!”. It takes me a few second to realise what she is talking about. She clarifies; in the Netherlands we have a saying that in case of doubt, you should not do it. Kristi convinces me that the case of studying abroad is the exception to this rule. “Doubting whether you should study abroad or not? Just do it!”

I’d like to thank Kristi for her time and contribution. This interview was the first of a new series I named ‘Inspired by’, in which I’d like to introduce you to other people and their perspectives. If you have any ideas, questions or comments please write them below.



Inspired by…

“It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.”

So I’ve been playing with this thought for a while. The thought to add something new to my blog. I really enjoy writing these posts for my blog and to me as an author the three already existing categories make a lot of sense. I hope they do as well from the reader’s perspective? However, I do wish my blog to inspire other people to study animal sciences and I think there is more to tell than my personal experiences posted in ‘Studies‘ only. I think it’s time to write my ideas down, because after all it’s not about ideas – it’s about making ideas happen 🙂

Therefore I’d like to start this new category. Here I will introduce you to other people and other perspectives. I will share the stories of fellow students, of alumni, perhaps researchers and farmers. What are the stories behind the faces? How are they enrolled in the field of animal sciences and what do they aim for in the future? Through personal interviews I’d like you to have a peek into the world of animal sciences. I often find my inspiration in the passion I see from the people around me: An absolutely amazing lecturer. An ambitious student explaining about an important project. A farmer showing how he takes care for his animals. I hope to inspire others by telling the stories of these wonderful people I find myself surrounded with.

With the Christmas holidays coming up it might take a little time for this category to take off, but I am looking much forward to start. If you have any ideas or suggestions on how you’d like this idea to take shape, you’re very welcome to leave a reply.