A variety of ways how to become a bioentrepreneurship enthusiast – an Estonian perspective

Hi and welcome, my name is Paula! Let me tell you a story about how one can assemble the jigsaw puzzle to end up in the master’s programme of bioentrepreneurship 🙂 The ultimate truth is that you can mould the pieces of the puzzle yourself. I’ll tell you a bit about my life to give you some hints what might come of use, and also introduce myself since I’m a happy new member of the Digital Ambassadors’ crew.

Why roaming around the forests as a 4-year-old is a good idea

I docked in Stockholm in the end of this August to start my studies in KI’s bioentrepreneurship master’s programme. Yes, docked, because I sailed here across the Baltic Sea from a little country called Estonia which boasts a population of only 1.3 million people, its own weird Finno-Ugric language, and tech-savviness engraved in everyone’s bone marrow. Yes, there was a Dane and a Swede involved somewhere, but Estonian programmers were the ones who really created Skype, along with Transferwise, and the world’s first e-residency. Check out this quick and entertaining video to get to know more about this strange small country.

I was born in the capital of Estonia, Tallinn, but grew up in a small village in a national park because my hippy parents thought it’s better to raise their five kids in the countryside. There was a lot of freedom – we could roam the forests and the bogs around us, never lock the doors, and walk to kindergarten on our own at the age of 4 because it was only 3 minutes from our home.

My childhood playground

The school I went to had altogether under 200 pupils from grade 1-12. Tiny, right?! Well, we felt  that way as well quite often back then. But looking back at it I must say we were pretty dayyum privileged to have such an individual learning environment – expressing our opinions openly, having the possibilities to try out ideas without hindrance, and seeing the immediate impact of our decisions was the daily thang.  I believe all this, plus my big family of (over-)talkative and creative people really affected my thinking and approach to opportunities.

Although my school time was filled with drama club activities & theatre festivals, writing for the school newspaper, volleyball training, student company management, volunteering for culture events and humanitarian aid projects in Georgian war zones, really anything but hard sciences, I took an unexpected decision for my friends & family to go and study gene technology at the University of Tartu. I had always been drawn to nature but before high school I preferred to be IN it not to read ABOUT it. The complexity and elegance of biochemistry and molecular mechanisms that we learned about in high school triggered something huge in me, and I was confident I don’t want to lose this wonderful opportunity to learn more about the secrets of life.

How an academic degree can help you to become a mermaid (or have 89 other careers)

So there I was! 1st day of uni. High ideals! Watson and Crick! Nobel prize! We’re gonna do miracles! —> skip forward a couple of years —> Ahh sh**e, I don’t have proper gloves to elute this bloody protein in the cold room!!! I’m leaving town.

In the lab’s cold room, digging myself deeper into biochemistry and molecular biology

Heck, I had lots of fun while learning the basics of life sciences (ask my sister how I called her during my studies and excitedly babbled something about crystal structures and polymerase gamma). I met some really brilliant people on the way. Life sciences fulfilled me intellectually.

But, the character of lab work didn’t fulfill me emotionally. I needed to be surrounded by people and organise stuff, make visible stuff happen and stuff visible.

I had had a plan to take up longer travels long before uni, so it was pretty clear after finishing my Bachelor’s studies that I’m gonna dive fully into a nomad lifestyle for a while and see what sweets life can offer.

What has happened so far, is that I’ve travelled 31 countries, lived and worked in 4 of them for a longer time, and had a rainbow of jobs to sustain myself meanwhile – a nice way to say I’ve been doing heaps of odd jobs in fields that don’t seem to be connected at all – to bioscience, OR to each other. A waitress, a stage manager, a meditation centre assistant, a wheelchair patient’s caretaker, a mermaid salesperson, a blueberry farm and vineyard labourer, a race track master, a chef, a tour leader, a host, an event organiser…

And I knew. That’s me. It did make sense. I love people, organising, managing, making great stuff happen within a team, and tackling creative challenges that cross my path. And I love life sciences. I knew I didn’t want to cut the roots – I still hoped I can be a mediator of a kind, bring all the cool things happening in science to people. So where is the opportunity? I found the KI’s bioentrepreneurship programme typing in keywords in the internet, and the more I read about its content, the more I fell in love with the prospect. I believe it’s unique in its focus, and in its ratio of practical workload vs theoretical studies.

Here I am.

If you’re interested in pursuing bioentrepreneurship, or anything, I hope I could give you a feeling of what might be necessary. Do, and try pinpointing your opportunities not limitations. Anything can work out. You think you might not have the perfect background? Think again. I mean, a vineyard labourer in one of the world’s most prestigious medical universities? I know, give me a break 😀

Why writing to you feels like a privilege

All in all, KI has been a true pleasure so far. I have inspiring, ambitious, really smart, but also friendly and wonderful course- and schoolmates, the campus is a welcoming place with its cosy atmosphere and loads of useful (and free) extra services, and Stockholm has a surprisingly vibrant city life.

Thank you so much for reading this far. I promise I’m gonna wrap up now 🙂 My focused duty is to be a Periscope ambassador, meaning you can check out what’s going on at the campus etc. live which means we basically teleport you here!!! We’re gonna have Q&A sessions, campus tours, event broadcasts, and other smaller snippets coming though our channel so stay tuned! We’ll be announcing longer streams on Twitter and on our Facebook page in advance. Our channel is here and the app is available for both iOS and Android phones. Oh, and the videos are also visible for 24 hours after the live stream 🙂

I will be around to help you with your questions about anything related to the bioentrepreneurship programme, to KI, and life here in Stockholm. Contact me 🙂 !

Facebook: Paula Salme Sandrak

E-mail: paula.sandrak@stud.ki.se

Periscope: Karolinska Institutet

Thanks again and stay tuned!


MBE, Digital Ambassador

(Photo copyrights: lab shot – Maie Loorits; the one with emus running over the highway and “croc bait” – Villem Rootalu; the warrior team – Essam Sharaf; the last one with the KI hoodie – Daniel Swahn; the rest is mine)

3 thoughts on “A variety of ways how to become a bioentrepreneurship enthusiast – an Estonian perspective

  1. Loved your post Paula! You definitely have a lot of stories to tell… I hope to read / hear some of them soon! 🙂

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