Saving lives while building an amazing community


We had the chance to get to know Gergely Zsigmond Racz, PhD student at University of Cambridge when travelling to the campus for the first Hungarian Innovation & High-Tech Investment Forum with my colleague, Balazs Komar. Soon it turned out that Gergely is doing a way much more than purely focusing on his studies; while working on a project that will save the life of brain-injured patients, he is also the main engine of building a strong community for the Hungarian higher-education students in the United Kingdom with his partner, Boaz Sobrado with their community called the UK Hungarian Student Association. Can you tell us something about this association?

Gergely: There are approximately 1.400 students from Hungary studying in higher education in the UK, the most organised smaller society is located in Cambridge, called the Cambridge Hungarian Student Society where I have been an active member. With Boaz we had the idea to extend the network all over the country. We have started collecting and integrating all the Hungarian students in the country from January 2013, and already achieved 500+ members. We have a strictly closed community group on Facebook to organise our activities. Our aim is to pull this ever growing community together and help them to represent their interest with policy makers back home if needed. Where are your members located within the UK?

Gergely: In Cambridge there are 55 Hungarian students, the others are mainly studying in Oxford, London and Edinburgh, the latter one is really popular as Scotland provides free education for its students. What is your purpose?

Gergely: The Cambridge Hungarian Student Society has been building bridges in between the local students and the companies and the young generation in Hungary. We travel back home every year to share our experience and know-how, we had 6 presentations last year in Hungary. The UK Hungarian Students Association is willing to extend it to the whole community in the UK. What we see is that students here would love to find intern opportunities at home, but they get no information and often turned away by employers due to lack of flexibility in the selection processes. Moreover, they can get such positions here even for 1.000 GBP a week (in the financial sector) it’s not easy as they would not earn this money during a whole month in Hungary. Could you mention some statistics about the Hungarian students?

Gergely: There are 18 champions of mathematics or physics International Olympia in Oxford and Cambridge, 80% of Oxbridge Hungarian students speak at least 2 languages fluently apart from their mother tongue, and 70% of them have won National Secondary School Academic Competitions. As a saying goes around the university: “If your professor can’t answer your physics-related question, ask a Hungarian student”. And another interesting fact, most of the students here in Cambridge graduated from the same 3-4 high-schools in Hungary such as Radnoti in Szeged and Fazekas in Budapest. Could you tell us your story and something about your actual project at Cambridge?

Gergely: After graduating from Puskás Tivadar Telecommunication secondary school in Budapest, I decided to come to London for my university years. Having my BSc and MSc completed at UCL I applied and got accepted into an international program in Vancouver, Canada. I finished that in 2008, right at the beginning of the economical downturn, so it was not easy to get a job. Since I am coming from an entrepreneur family background, I participated and won a startup competition there with one of my ideas, which also raised the interest of a local investor, but finally I decided to come back to the UK and go on with my studies. I joined the Photonics Doctoral Centre, which is a shared programme of Cambridge and UCL. I was one of the 600 students, but only the best 10 of them got a fully sponsored scholarship, I happened to be one of them. I chose a science research topic in Cambridge, developing a brain microdialysis optical sensor for traumatic brain injury patients to determine the severity of brain damage. For your information, 3 out of 5 deaths are TBI patients, so this is a really hot topic at the moment.

I am currently working on the prototype which took me 2 years to design. The final product will be significantly cheaper than the already existing solutions so hospitals can provide this device for each patient rather than having one in every hospital. Once it gets out to hospitals, nurses will get better information about the right medicine to be given to TBI patients, so their chances to survive will significantly grow. Impressive! Finally, could you please tell us something about the advantages of studying in Cambridge?

Gergely: This is a truly remarkable place, with expertise across a very wide range of disciplines providing an intellectually challenging and inspiring environment. One of biggest advantage of Cambridge is the supervision system – the best active scientists of the world teach students in group of 3-4 for each subject. These are not old guys far away from the mainstream, but active, real scientists. I am also teaching photonics for instance. We are truly amazed by your story and all the activities you are involved into, meaning both the association and your research job. It’s been an honour to make this interview with you!