Mary O’Connell, a well-respected molecular biologist, started working at the technological institute, CEITEC MU, more than a year ago. Thanks to the ERA Chairs EU grant as well as support provided by Masaryk University, she can study RNA modifications and how they relate to autoimmune diseases.
Last year, she put together a research group that examines how the human body recognises itself at the RNA or ribonucleic acid level. As O’Connell describes her research focus, “Viruses have the same nucleic acids as humans, so the question arises as to how the human body distinguishes and reacts to them – because any mistake it makes could lead to the occurrence of an autoimmune disease, among other possible consequences.”
However, this is not her only task at CEITEC; she is also involved in other activities. “I am trying to help promote the institute abroad as well as at home. It is a wonderful place with great potential, but we need to make sure it is used to the fullest. This is one of the reasons why we organise the Life Sciences Seminar Series and invite experts from all over the world as speakers,” says the biologist, adding that most of the participants are pleasantly surprised by the new facilities and their equipment.
Moreover, O’Connell would also like to work on internal communication within the institution. “Another series of internal seminars starts in February, with the aim of regularly bringing together researchers from CEITEC and Masaryk University who work at the campus. I hope this will support cooperation on various projects,” says O’Connell.
However, the issue that is currently at the forefront of her agenda is not related to research. She wants to see a day-care centre opened at the campus. “It is a serious problem, which is often viewed as something that only concerns women. However, institutions all over the world open day-care centres and include them in employee benefit plans,” says O’Connell, noting that this is also important for retaining current employees or helping them return to work earlier.
A survey at the campus showed that at the moment, its employees have about 350 children of kindergarten age. However, the proposed capacity of the day-care centre is 20 to 24 children. “A day-care centre also makes economic sense when you consider that you’re investing in the education of women who then become stay-at-home mums for several years,” says O’Connell. She herself also used day care services in years past for her two sons. “They both went to a day-care centre since they were three months old and I don’t think it had any negative impact on them. Moreover, this is not about pressuring anyone to entrust their children to someone else’s care. It is about offering an option,” she stresses.
Even though she is busy with her research and other work at CEITEC, she can still find time to devote to non-profit activities. “I’m participating in the development of a website that will work like a dating website. African universities will use it to find people willing to teach courses needed at the university on a short-term basis,” she says about the goals of her non-profit organisation GE&NE Africa. While such a number of different activities may be unimaginable for some, Mary O’Connell believes that you can change the world one small step at a time.