We recently had the chance to meet Gergely Zsigmond Racz, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, while travelling to the campus for the first Hungarian Innovation & High-Tech Investment Forum (Update – April 2023: The website seems to be out of use, and we therefore deactivated the original link).
It quickly became evident that that Gergely is doing way 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 behind building a strong community for Hungarian higher-education students in the United Kingdom with his partner, Boaz Sobrado, with their community called the UK Hungarian Student Association (Update – April 2023: The website seems to be out of use, and we therefore deactivated the original link).
Can you tell us something about this association?
There are approximately 1,400 students from Hungary studying towards higher education in the UK. The most organised small society, which is located in Cambridge, is called the Cambridge Hungarian Student Society, which I am an active member of. With my colleague Boaz we had the idea to extend the network all over the country; as of January 2013, we’ve been collecting and integrating all the Hungarian students in the country, and already reached 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 interests in front of policy makers back home if needed.
Where are your members located within the UK?
In Cambridge there are 55 Hungarian students, while the others are mainly studying in Oxford, London and Edinburgh; the latter is really popular as Scotland provides free education for its students.
What is your purpose?
The Cambridge Hungarian Student Society has been building bridges between local students, companies and the young generation in Hungary. We travel back home every year to share our experience and know how, for example we gave 6 presentations last year in Hungary. The UK Hungarian Students Association is willing to expand to the whole community in the UK. What we see is that students here would love to find internship opportunities at home, but have little or no information, and are often turned away by employers due to lack of flexibility in the selection processes. In contrast, they can get similar positions here and earn 1000 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 Hungarian students?
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, like Radnoti in Szeged and Fazekas in Budapest.
Could you tell us your story and something about your current project at Cambridge?
After graduating from Puskás Tivadar Telecommunication secondary school in Budapest, I decided to come to London for my university years. With my BSc and MSc from UCL, I applied and got accepted into an international programme in Vancouver, Canada. I finished that in 2008, right at the beginning of the economic 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 between Cambridge and UCL. I was one of 600 students; only t10 of the best got a fully sponsored scholarship, and 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 two 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 of survival will significantly grow.
Impressive! Finally, could you please tell us something about the advantages of studying in Cambridge?
This is a truly remarkable place, with expertise across a very wide range of disciplines providing an intellectually challenging and inspiring environment. One of the biggest advantages of Cambridge is the supervision system – the most active scientists in the world teach students in groups of 3-4 for each subject. These are not old guys far away from the mainstream, but active, real scientists. I am teaching photonics, for instance.
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