Profile: Martin Parnov Reichhardt, professional ballroom dancer and postdoctoral researcher

interview by Tomasz Benedyk
ReichhardtMartin was born in Denmark. Here he started his scientific career, as well as a career as a professional ballroom dancer. In 2010 he finished his M.Sc. degree at the University of Southern Denmark. A FEMS research grant allowed him to move to Finland. Under the supervision of Prof. Seppo Meri he obtained his PhD from the University of Helsinki in 2015. Alongside the science, he has had a successful professional dancing career earning him 7 National titles as well as ranking in the top 20 in the world. Currently Martin holds a postdoc position at the University of Oxford.
What made you decide on a career in microbiology?
When I was in high school my physics teacher gave me a book called “The hunt for the truth”. This book basically explained the scientific development of man since we came down from the trees. When I got to the paragraph on Darwin and evolution, I was sold!
What is your goal as a microbiologist?
To understand the interaction between microbes and the human host. A particular interest of mine is the intricate balance of immunological activation versus immunological tolerance that exists at the mucosal surfaces, and how a disturbance of this balance may lead to disease.What would you say is the greatest challenge facing microbiologists today?
We need to improve our ability to make the media, the public and the funding bodies understand the value and necessity of our research, especially in a time where antibiotic-resistance is a growing problem.Do you have a message for the FEMS network?
I recommend getting involved with various forms of University ¨outreach¨. Especially for young scientists. Either through teaching or organizing inspirational talks/events at lower level schools or for the general public.

And more about you – if you received a Nobel Prize, how would you celebrate?
I would drink a very expensive champagne. And then I would visit the Nobel museum in Stockholm to try to comprehend the amazing honour I was being awarded.

And finally, what is your favourite memory from travelling to a foreign country?
Arriving in Tokyo for the first time and realizing that things are similar to the West, but also very very different. The mixture of familiarity and completely new inputs was really inspiring to me and taught me a lot.

Reichhardt3It’s all about SALSA!

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear ‘salsa’?
To me salsa represents two things. One is the Latin American dance that a lot of people enjoy. The other is a protein, the salivary scavenger and agglutinin (SALSA). SALSA is important for mucosal immunology, and it’s the topic of my PhD and post doctoral research.

You are both a professional ballroom dancer and a postdoctoral researcher, how do you usually introduce yourself?
Ha ha, I think it varies and depends on where I am. But it is actually very interesting that people receive you very differently. It has not happened often but sometimes people do not take me seriously after I have introduced myself as a dancer. Then all of the sudden, they hear about my PhD in biomedical science and they are completely surprised. On the other hand, when I call myself a scientist, people immediately assume that “Oh, your work must be so boring.”

What helped you the most to successfully combine the professional dancing career and your work as a scientist?
One of the most significant factors was the flexibility of my professors. They allowed me to work in my own independent pace. I also got their full support so that I could persevere in my work and they were understanding when I had to travel often.

Of course. I assume the time management is crucial, how did you organize your time to have everything done?
Quite often I had to practice from 8 to 9:30 in the morning. Then, I had my lab work from 10 to 5 pm and practice again from 6 to 8 pm. Afterwards, I often still had some dance-classes to teach. One key was that my time was extremely structured; I knew the exact time for every part of my schedule.

Do you think you would have gone that far in your academic career if you were not a fulfilled dancer?
That is a difficult question… I am inclined to say ‘no’. Dancing has taught me discipline, hard work, and not giving up; all that are also the most desirable personal traits amongst scientists.

Could you compare and briefly lay out the similarities between both careers?
They are mostly similar in that they require creativity. As a dancer, you are all the time dealing with your body, and trying to perform movements you don’t fully understand yet. Although the main idea has to be clear in your head, you need to be free to explore all perspectives, so you avoid your own limitations. To achieve your goals, you must keep developing yourself. In this respect, science is very much alike. We always go a little bit into the darkness, looking for something new with no guarantee that the results will satisfy us. Based on previous findings and searching the literature, we are coming up with a new questions and directions to explore.

Which of the experience you have gained, do you find the most valuable?
Going abroad! Whether as an exchange student for several months or moving permanently – I would recommend to any young scientist to go and live abroad. In my case, dancing was the first reason for why I moved to Finland, but later also for science it turned out to be one of the most powerful experiences I have had. I learned to see many things in a different light and to think outside the box. I seized the opportunity to work with many different research groups and observed that people were using the same lab techniques but everyone did them in their own particular way. Participating in international conferences is also another very important factor for my career development, and has brought a lot of inspiration to my own work.

Thank you!
Journal contribution:

Moeller, J. B., et al. (2012). “CD163-L1 Is an Endocytic Macrophage Protein Strongly Regulated by Mediators in the Inflammatory Response.” The Journal of Immunology 188(5): 2399-2409.

Parnov Reichhardt, M., et al. (2012). “The salivary scavenger and agglutinin (SALSA) binds MBL and regulates the lectin pathway of complement in solution and on surfaces.” Frontiers in Immunology 3.

Reichhardt, M. P., et al. (2014). “The Salivary Scavenger and Agglutinin in Early Life: Diverse Roles in Amniotic Fluid and in the Infant Intestine.” The Journal of Immunology 193(10): 5240-5248.

Reichhardt, M. and S. Meri (2016). “SALSA: a regulator of the early steps of complement activation on mucosal surfaces.” Frontiers in Immunology 7.

Reichhardt, M. P., et al. (2016). “The Salivary Scavenger and Agglutinin (SALSA) in Healthy and Complicated Pregnancy.” PLoS ONE 11(2): e0147867.

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