Hungary: Romani molecular geneticist says biochemistry is extraordinarily interesting
József Horváth is a 27-year-old specialist in oral cancer. He grew up in a Romani settlement in Karcag, Hungary, where he completed high school before attending university in Debrecin, Hungary's second-largest city.
Currently he is employed in the Institute for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology there. He recently received the Golden Ribbon award in Hungary, which is given annually to a Romani "everyday hero" - someone 25 years old or older who is contributing to significant activity in any profession.
Mr Horváth came in first place out of 10 nominees. He originally wanted to be a lawyer, but his biology teacher in high school recognized the boy's exceptional talent and pointed him in the direction of studying genetics.
He earned his Master's Degree in the field of molecular genetics; two years from now he hopes to earn his PhD. His research focuses on the timely diagnosis of oral cancer, a type that is difficult to recognize.
His dream and professional aim is to lead his own research team in the United States. "During my second year at the Technical High School in Karcag I participated in a biology competition at the behest of my teacher - the topic was the influence of drugs on the human brain. That was when I realized how enormously interesting the subject of biochemistry is - the fact that one molecule can influence not just the brain, but our entire organism. I have always tended toward an interest in things that cannot be grasped by the five senses - I am attracted by everything that is invisible but still influences the entire functioning of the human body," he says.
"I always loved learning, fortunately it was also easy for me. I learned to read on my own before going to nursery schools - I borrowed my siblings' books and tried to read them aloud. My father was a passionate reader, we had more than 500 books at home. I never doubted that I would study. I grew up during the 1990s and saw how our society was gradually falling behind economically - near our settlement they closed a big agricultural firm and work kept on drying up. Dad worked for the railways, but ultimately he took lost his job, there was enormous poverty in the settlement. It was clear to me that studying was the only way to go," says the Romani scientist.
"If I were to succeed in fulfilling my dream and travelling to America, then I would like to stay there at least five or 10 years. I am not certain I would want to return to Hungary. As far as working conditions go, I can't complain, our workplace has one of the best-equipped laboratories in the country. However, if I wanted to start a family, I'm not sure whether that wouldn't be too risk of an 'enterprise' in Hungary today. If salaries here corresponded to salaries in the West I would view starting a family as the more responsible decision. I don't intend to give up on a family for my career, though, " he says.
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