Pharmacist Oksana Brante: Studying Is Like an Anti-Ageing Treatment
‘Hey, have you received your master’s degree yet?’ Oksana Brante’s (pictured) friends asked her, the same friends who shook their heads in horror when she pushed her journalist’s career aside nine years ago and started from scratch, enrolling in the professional Pharmacy programme at Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU).
At the time, she herself was frightened by the thought of suddenly turning her professional life upside down. Now that her new profession has paved the way to a leading position in the pharmaceutical company Olainfarm, however, Oksana encourages any sceptical student not to fear and jump, even if there is a good chance to be the oldest student in the group. Studying is, according to her, an anti-ageing treatment with a long-lasting effect.
Life experience is a plus
‘In a way, I'm living my dream life now, because production, shiny equipment and heaps of products have always fascinated me. Creating something always seemed like a magical process to me,’ says Oksana on the phone from her workplace when the hum of the working day has ceased.
Oksana first arrived at Olainfarm for her placement; now she herself is the placement supervisor for prospective industrial pharmacists. ‘Rewarding, but hard work,’ she smiles at the first steps of the young specialists at the production unit. She became the Deputy Head of the Olainfarm laboratory of finished dosage forms and the Head of the pilot area shortly after graduating from the Industrial Pharmacy programme. Oksana is in charge of production both in the laboratory and in the pilot area, where scaling the developed technologies is carried out and where small series of finished products are made. She believes that just having a professional degree is not enough for such a position – it requires both life experience and maturity. ‘”I don’t know and therefore can’t do it” is not an answer that is acceptable to me. If I don't know something, I think that I can do it – I read up on it and ask experienced experts until I come to a solution,’ Oksana underlines the importance of perseverance.
Practicing the brain
But the beginning was not easy. Oksana had a stable career in media when she was in her thirties – she was one of few Latvian journalists specialising in beauty treatments. Her sudden impulse to study pharmacy hit a speed bump already in the first semester when she realised how many plants she would have to memorise in Latvian, Russian and Latin in a short amount of time.
‘At first, I just tried to learn push through, but the result wasn’t great. Then I approached it scientifically – I tried to use different types of memory techniques. I formed associations and I asked my fellow students about what methods they used to remember. In the first semester I felt like my memory was giving up and that it would be impossible to study, but later I felt that my brain was starting to work better and better. It is impossible to compare the pace at which I acquired new knowledge in the first year of studies and the last year of the master's programme,’ Oksana laughs. She adds that studying at an older age is completely different. An older student is able to look at the whole process much more deeply and broadly, and learn with greater interest and efficiency because they understand why certain knowledge is needed and how to use it. The pharmacist laughs that she also shared her memorisation system with her daughters, the youngest of whom started first grade at the same time when Oksana started her pharmacy studies.
One education for a lifetime is not fashionable anymore
Oksana admits that the anti-aging effect of studying is caused not only by the fact that acquiring new knowledge improves cognitive processes, but also by the fact that being among young people is energising. All of this together has given a wonderful aftertaste to her studies, says the pharmacist, adding that she is looking into doctoral studies. ‘Becoming a student again is not easy, whether it's at a bachelor's, master's or doctoral level. But it often turns out that the only obstacle is the thought that you can't do something. As soon as you stop fearing and actually try it out, it turns out that everything is possible,’ Oksana says encouragingly. She emphasises that nowadays one education is not enough and that having a number of degrees is in fashion. ‘If a physicist, chemist and a biologist sit down at one table, the solution to the problem will be much more powerful and possibly more innovative than if three chemists sit around the table, because their viewpoints and experiences are different.’ Even more unlikely professional combinations are the norm nowadays, and the value of gaining an interdisciplinary point of view will only increase in the future, the pharmacist guesses. She encourages anyone considering studying again not to be afraid, and to jump regardless of age and previous career path.