Coordinator of PlantLink at SLU Alnarp, Sweden and R&D project coordinator at Mendel University in Brno, Czechia. Academic background in tropical agriculture, agroforestry and ethnobotany, with a particular interest in discovering creative solutions to bridge the gap between science and development. Always willing to learn and explore the unknown!
My background is in Tropical Agrobiology and Bioresource Management at the Faculty Of TropicalAgriSciences, Czech University of Life Science, Prague. Currently, I am a member of the R&D project group at Mendel University in Brno. My interest is embedded in tropical agriculture, plant research, and the development of third-world countries. For my MSc and PhD theses, I worked on the domestication of Garcinia kola Heckel, a medicinal tree indigenous to West and Central Africa. Having experiences in scientific as well as development-aid projects in Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Zambia, I am searching for an answer to how to combine these two approaches so that they complement each other rather than discriminate.
My position at SLU is bound to PlantLink, a research network in plant science in the south of Sweden. My responsibilities include internal and external communication, science popularisation, and outreach activities. (Source: https://www.slu.se/en/ew-cv/anna-manourova/)
How did you get involved in your current work?
It was a coincidence, a bit of luck, enthusiasm, good contacts and much work!
I went to Sweden for the first time as a mentor of a case study on moringa in ELLS summer school. I met my current boss, Erik Alexandersson, SLU, there for the first time. Seeing how academia could work differently compared to what I was used to convinced me to return to SLU for the Erasmus internship. Knowing I had to take a study break in my PhD, I was desperately searching for employment, and that was when Erik sent me an SLU job advertisement – PlantLink searching for a coordinator. I got the position, and now I have a new contract for two years as a “general” coordinator, being involved not only in PlantLink but also in several different projects focusing on research and development in tropical countries.
The story with MENDELU starts with a coincidental meeting in Prague’s café and the joint work of both universities on projects funded by the Czech Development Agency. During my PhD studies, I realised that I am not a hard-core scientist and that I prefer working with people and being involved directly in the field rather than spending time in the lab. Development-based projects felt fulfilling and brought a lot of different perspectives into my life. It was a natural thing to do to continue our collaboration!
What did you gain during your time at FTA? Who influenced you the most and why?
I gained much experience of all kinds! FTA is full of great people in multiple departments. I got lucky to have the chance to work on several different projects with various staff. In my undergraduate years, we had an amazing group of young tropical/subtropical enthusiasts. Three of them are among my best friends until now.
A huge impact, for sure, had my supervisor Bohdan Lojka who decided to trust in my survival skills and allowed me to go to Cameroon at my bachelor's level. I much appreciated the freedom as well as the guidance he provided me throughout the whole FTA journey. Olga Leuner always inspired me with her innovative ideas and drive (“let’s do things differently”!). Thanks to Zbyněk Polesný, I discovered a love for neglected/underutilised crops and ethnobotany. Petra Chaloupková introduced me to EU projects and project management. With Jan Šobotník, we spent some crazy intense times collecting termites in Ebogo. Vladimír Verner taught me how to stay strong in argumentation and that Excel will never be something I excel in. And Patrick Van Damme was always ready to give advice and a helping hand on my career path full of surprises.
What was your favourite subject/who was your favourite teacher at FTA?
That’s a tricky question! I really enjoyed Special Crops and Economic Botany with Ladislav Kokoška. These subjects sparked my interest in medicinal plants and neglected/underutilised species. The Agroforestry/AF systems course was special thanks to the group work and projects we were creating. And, of course, agroforestry is something I fully support and believe in!
Any recommendations for current and future FTA students?
Think about what you want and keep that goal in your mind while staying open to whatever life brings. Use the FTA possibilities to travel abroad for your data collection and for Erasmus's stays. These are the truly valued experiences transferred to anything in life, both in and outside of academia. My personal advice would also be, even if you are passionate about what you do, learn to say “no” and set your personal boundaries. It is hard at the beginning, but worth saving the extra stress and energy in the long run!
What are your plans for the future?
Let’s look into the crystal ball! I am settling my life in Sweden now. In the future, I see myself in the field of research and development, doing what I love – travelling to developing countries, bridging the gap between science and development, meeting people, solving problems and working with plants. Who knows, though! I would never have imagined two years ago that I would be living in a new country, where I have basically never been before…