Reet – the one always thinking outside the box

Our products wouldn’t look nearly as cool, if it wasn’t for Reet who is our portfolio manager. As one of the key success factors for Solis BioDyne it’s only right to get to know her a little better.

When Reet was a teenager, she had many different ideas on who she would like to become. Most of them went against the ideas that adults tried to pressure on her. In Russian class she wanted to become an astronaut. When choosing which school to go after the 9th grade, Reet announced she was going to study in a local trading school and become a cook. She liked cooking and baking for her family, so it was not completely an out of the blue idea. But the main reason for wanting to become a cook was a) she did not have a clear idea what else she wanted to become, b) she was trying to fight against the will of her teachers and parents who insisted that she should go to high school, because this is what students with good grades do and this is the road to a university.

Only after she had participated in a science popularisation event in 1996 or 1997 in Kuressaare Kuursaal, where professor Andres Metspalu gave a lecture about gene technology and encouraged young people to come and study gene technology at the University of Tartu, was when she started to see science and become interested in becoming a scientist or at least go to a university.

Despite being a bit of a rebel, she has good memories from her time at school. She liked studying, liked her teachers, loved her high school for its liberal ways of teaching and its free spirit, and no uniform! Everyone could express their creativity and personality the way they wanted.

After graduating from high school Reet was still hooked with the idea of going to study gene technology - that was the hottest specialty in the 2000s - and this tiny fact became a deciding factor for her specialty. The competition for gene technology was among the highest, if not the highest at the University of Tartu in 2000 and her exam grades were simply not enough to pass the tight competition. But she had always liked chemistry and physics in school and she had great teachers who made the subject interesting, therefore her second quite natural choice was Chemistry and this is what Reet ended up studying for the next 10+ years until defending her PhD in 2012.

Even though professor Andres Metspalu opened her eyes for gene technology and potentially kept her away from becoming a cook, Reet considers her biggest influencer to be her dad who had studied mechanics in Tartu, Estonian Agricultural Academy (now Tartu Life Science University). He had piles of mechanics as well as arts and literature magazine Vikerkaar, which included poems and short stories written by several local literature legends from Tartu and elsewhere in Estonia. Those magazines and dad’s stories of those legendary people (like Matti Milius and others) wandering on streets of Tartu, as well as her literature teacher in high school who made her love Estonian literature and writers of whom many were connected to Tartu, were probably the reason why she was determined to continue her education particularly at the University of Tartu and nowhere else in Estonia. She had experienced the spirit of Tartu before she even visited the town.

From the university times she vividly remembers her first lab experiments and sunny morning atmosphere with Kuku Radio in a tiny little office/lab of Gerda Raidaru, her first supervisor. The lab had high ceilings and was probably 2x6 meters long and narrow room, contained an office table by the window, loads of shelves, chromatography instruments and a hood for conducting experiments. Her first project was to purify glucose oxidase and immobilize it onto highly smooth mica surfaces for later characterization with atomic force microscopy. The overall aim of the project was to build biosensors for measuring glucose from biological liquids. She has stayed in contact with Gerda Raidaru ever since - maybe because they are both from Saaremaa, but maybe because she is just one of the most vital people she knows.

Reet also has great memories from her 10 years in professor Ago Rinken’s “G-protein coupled receptors” workgroup - their hiking trips, spring schools, trips to international trainings and great teammates of which several have joined Solis BioDyne.

During her master's studies, she enrolled in a Danish language course at the university, visited Denmark several times, fell in love with the language and Danish culture, and took all the Danish language courses available as optional subjects at the time, for a total of 2.5 years. Her dream of living and studying in Denmark for a while did not bear fruit, which made her look for other exciting opportunities to live abroad and get to know other cultures. Her friend's hint to look at volunteering prompted Reet to think out of the box, and in 2006 she found a volunteer organization in the UK (SPW, now Restless Development) that was active in 5 African countries at the time, as well as Nepal and India. She liked their philosophy of sustainable development, working closely with local volunteers in rural communities, and empowering young people to be active in their community and have a say in community development. To participate in the program, she had to raise an amount equal to her 6-year student loan at the time (then about 85,000 kroons, in today's currency almost 15,000 euros), most of which she earned in the summer of 2007 by picking strawberries near the beautiful town of Saint Andrews in Scotland. She also had some generous supporters who helped make her volunteer dream come true, and by January 2008 she was ready to take one semester free from her doctorate and headed to East Africa to live and work for the next 7 months in a rural area of Uganda. She chose Uganda as a destination purely because it was a country she had never heard of and rhymed with an old region in southern Estonia called Ugandi.

In Uganda, she was sent to the village of Lubani with a team of four volunteers - herself, one from Britain and two from Uganda. She decided to work on a reproductive health program and worked closely with local medical centres and schools to provide reproductive health classes and mentor school students. The other half of their team worked on an organic farming program that worked with local farmers and also taught sustainable agriculture in schools. Although a short, but certainly intense period of life in Uganda enriched her in many ways and certainly made her more culturally aware. She sincerely believes that diversity enriches and that one of the great advantages of working at Solis is working in a team where people from different cultural backgrounds are represented and where we interact with people all over the world on a daily basis.

In addition to getting cultural enrichment Reet also loves being outdoors - walking, skiing, working in the garden, doing small hikes and camping with the family. She enjoys listening to podcasts and audiobooks and while doing so, managing renovations at home. Her newest revived hobby after 25 years of break is learning to play piano again.

When it comes to Solis BioDyne, it just happened to be at the right time in the right place and she is very happy about that. After graduating from the university, she started a family and remained home for a few years with three kids, not ready to go back to research. By then she had several good friends already working in Solis BioDyne and this is what opened her eyes for life after PhD - not in the university but still deeply connected with Life Science which she loved.

What Reet has always loved in Solis BioDyne is the opportunity to be connected to the whole world literally every day and constantly learning about new methods and discoveries and be able to participate in some of the scientific and diagnostic breakthroughs around the world. Before joining Solis BioDyne, she never thought of the dimensions of the world of genetic testing - now she sees how we play a role in detecting infections, improving crops, ensuring food safety, ensuring safe treatments etc.

The biggest challenge at work for Reet is to keep the pace in a quickly growing company and recognising her key strengths and admitting her weaknesses. This is also what keeps her going - constant learning and adjusting to new challenges.

Though tasks are constantly changing, currently her days are mostly composed of interacting with various departments: sales, tech support, product management, marketing, logistics, production, legal and top management. Her tasks include internal and external product trainings, cooperating with marketing to ensure our products reach the right audience with the right message, managing custom products and custom requests, helping sales and legal with client contracts, helping in setting up more sustainable processes within the commercial team particularly in and around product management and support teams.

What she likes most about her work is that she has great warm-hearted colleagues, with personalities, many good friends and plenty of interesting conversation partners for various topics. At work she has two types of best days, one is when she’s had a great uplifting conversation or work-related session with any colleague, and the second is when she has been extraordinarily productive. Her biggest challenge at work is to balance the two.

Colleagues have said that Reet is always bright and sharp. She is dedicated and passionate about her work. Superwoman who can act so efficiently and greatly on every front. Her results deserve an applause. She is talented, does things wholeheartedly and cares about the nature. She is the most helpful person around.

For her younger self Reet would say: “Just go with the flow, keep your eyes open, trust the universe and enjoy the ride.”