“The university has been part of my life for more than 30 years,” says Professor Milena Králíčková and “it comes first.” Králíčková is rectress-elect of Charles University. The vice-rector for education, physician and scientist in the field of gynaecology and infertility, will be the first woman in the history of Charles University to hold the top post. Králíčková is also the first non-Prague resident to head the school in years; she is proud of her hometown Plzeň.
Milena Králíčková’s first connection to Charles University goes back to her mum – a graduate of the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics as well as her brother, a few years later, who graduated from the same faculty. “As sometimes happens, I followed the example of my parents, specifically my dad, who was a graduate of the Faculty of Medicine n Plzeň," Králíčková recalls on her website.
“In February 1990, in an atmosphere of newfound freedom and with a vision of endless possibilities, I applied to study at the university. I considered over the course of several months, whether to follow the path of my beloved mathematics and apply for the teacher training programme at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, following the path of my mother, or whether to follow in my father's footsteps and apply for the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Plzeň.”
In the end, the Strakonice high school student sent in her application for medical school just one day before the deadline. "I have never regretted it in my life and since then, since that moment of decision, my life has been intrinsically linked to our university and medicine," says the future rectress of Charles University. She will be the first woman to serve in the post in the university’s history (which goes all the way back to 1348).
From Pilsen to Harvard and back
Králíčková graduated in General Medicine from the Faculty of Medicine in Pilzeň in 1996 and immediately followed up with her doctoral studies under the supervision of Professor Jaroslav Slípka at the Institute of Histology and Embryology. During her Ph. D. studies, she received a prestigious Fulbright scholarship and spent the academic year 1998/1999 at Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, where she worked in the laboratory of reproductive endocrinology of Professor William Crowley.
“For the rest of my life, I will never forget the 1998/1999 academic year. I flew into Boston one day in September and drove straight from the airport with my suitcase to the lab, which made all my new colleagues a little uncomfortable. I was greeted by Professor Crowley. And from the first moment when he simply introduced himself as "Bill" and showed me around the lab, I knew I could learn so much from him,” Milena Králíčková recalls. She says she was greatly influenced by this experience in her future career.
She completed her doctoral studies in Anatomy, Histology and Embryology in 2002 with a dissertation called The Study of selected defects of the nervous, endocrine and immune systems and their consequences. In the same year, she obtained a first degree certificate in gynaecology and obstetrics and started working at the Gynaecology and Obstetrics Clinic of the University Hospital in Pilzeň. For several years she combined clinical practice, teaching and research. In 2004, her first daughter was born. “The following months showed that I could continue to teach part-time, write articles at night and submit grants, but returning to the clinical world would mean full-time work... and being separated from my infant daughter. That made the decision easier: I embarked on embryology research and submitted my habilitation thesis in histology and embryology a few days before giving birth to my second daughter in July 2007.”
Vice-Dean, Vice-Rector, Rectress
She has been working at the Department of Histology and Embryology of the Faculty of Medicine of the Charles University since 1996; since 1 January 2011 as the head of the department and since June 2012 as the supervisor of the doctoral programme in Anatomy, Histology and Embryology. From 2010 to 2014 she was the Vice-Dean for Development of Medical Faculty in Plzeň. “When I was approached by the new dean, Professor Boris Kreuzberg, during my second parental leave with the offer of the position of Vice-Dean for Faculty Development, I was surprised, touched and also uncertain - I knew that the Faculty was facing crucial years and key challenges for its future, as we were applying for large investment money in the Operational Programme Research and Development for Innovation,” she describes the first new professional challenge, which she accepted with the support of her husband.
In addition, in 2006, she obtained a specialised medical qualification in gynaecology and obstetrics and in December of the same year she completed a foreign internship at the Regea Institute at Tampere University in Finland in the group of Professor Outi Hovatta. In her scientific work, Králíčková is mainly interested in the study of early embryogenesis, differentiation and regeneration in relation to other cellular processes. In 2016, she was appointed Professor of Histology and Embryology at Charles University.
During her time as vice-dean, the faculty built the UniMec centre, where selected theoretical institutes relocated, and the Biomedical Research Centre. Since 2014, she has been the head of one of the two research programmes at the Biomedical Centre, namely the Vital Organ Regeneration and Repair programme.
Since 2014, she has also been Vice-Rector for Education at Charles University. “When I look back, what I appreciate most is that we in the study department have become a functioning team of professionals who, unlike in previous years, have become more open to the needs of the faculties. We meet regularly with their representatives and have repeatedly embarked on a series of visits directly to faculty study departments. When the coronavirus began to make physical meetings impossible, we solved this by starting to meet virtually,” she says.
As vice-rector, for example, she initiated the creation of the Arnošt of Pardubice Prize, which is awarded annually to academic staff for their outstanding teaching activities and to groups of teaching or support staff for their contribution to improving the quality of educational activities. Together with the Centre for Lifelong Learning of Charles University (CCZV), they have organised several editions of the Junior Charles University for secondary school students, the aim of which is to introduce them to study at Charles University and to attract them to future studies and higher education.
In addition, Králíčková places great emphasis on foreign internships and international cooperation. For example, since 2012 she has been an honorary ambassador of the Czech branch of the Fulbright Commission and since the beginning she has been involved in the establishment and functioning of the European University Alliance 4EU+, which seeks joint activities in research, education, exchange of undergraduate students and PhD students.
With an international and European perspective
“This grouping, consisting of four founding members - Charles University, Sorbonne University, Heidelberg University, the University of Warsaw and later the universities of Copenhagen and Milan - is, I firmly believe, of great importance for the future of CU,” she says. And she stresses the involvement of universities as a whole as well as individuals.
“The leadership of all six universities encourages collaboration between academics, non-academics and students, in virtually all levels of our activities. Together we already have two major projects, one oriented towards cooperation in educational activities and the other towards collaboration in science policies and concepts. I firmly believe that 4EU+ is and will be an opportunity not only to work with the best teams from Europe's top universities, but also to have more influence and shape where Europe is going in education and research.”
- Milena Králíčková was elected as the first woman candidate for rector in the history of Charles University. She will be appointed to the post by the President of the Czech Republic.
- She will become the 509th Rector of Charles University. The complete list of rectors of Charles University can be found here.
- Her term of office is four years and will begin in February 2022. She joins other women who hold the top post at other Czech universities: the rectress of the University of Economics (VŠE), Professor Hana Machková, the rectress of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (AMÚ), Dr Ingeborg Radok Žádná, as well as the outgoing rectress of Mendel University in Brno, Danuše Nerudová.
- The first Czech rectress was the Czech philosopher and comeniologist Jiřina Popelová, elected in 1949 at Palacký University in Olomouc.