We’re taking time to get to know the members of the GSA’s Early Career Scientist Committees. Join us to learn more about our early career scientist advocates.
The Jackson Laboratory
Early in my career, I realized that staying in one field was not satisfying, and I enjoyed interdisciplinary research. This led me to pursue a master’s degree in systems biology to learn more about mathematical modeling and molecular biology. I was able to apply mathematical modeling to cellular signaling to gain a mechanistic understanding of how cells responded to external cues. Moving forward, in graduate school, I investigated how genetically diverse yeast cells respond to environmental signals, such as osmotic stress. In addition to gaining expertise in the wet lab, my research required learning quantitative genetics methods and handling large data sets, like next-generation sequencing results. Here is where my career as a computational biologist and my interest in genetic variation started.
Currently, as a postdoctoral associate in the Munger Lab, I study how genetic variation impacts molecular traits like chromatin accessibility, gene expression, and protein abundance, and how these differences together influence the cellular state. Specifically, I work with embryonic stem cells derived from the Diversity Outbred stock, a population of mice that contains genetic diversity similar to humans and is an ideal panel for genetic mapping.
As I progressed through my career, my research interests and focus changed, and I’ve moved from being a mathematical modeler to a yeast-cell biologist with computational skills and then to a full-time computational biologist. One thing that has remained the same has been my passion to understand how cells work using multi-disciplinary approaches.
As a PhD-trained scientist, you have many career options. What interests you the most?
If I were asked this question just a few years ago, my immediate answer would have been that I want to be a Principal Investigator. The past few years have had an impact on my perspective and, more importantly, my scientific interests. Mainly, I realized that I like hands-on research and mentoring the most whereas I’m not so keen on grant writing. Needless to say, I have a very supportive boss who gives me independence on research directions and time to pursue teaching and mentoring opportunities. As someone living with depression and anxiety, working in such a supportive environment has made a significant difference to my well-being and productivity. I have really enjoyed being a full-time computational biologist and would like to continue my career as a computational scientist. My interdisciplinary training combining wet- and dry-lab skills gives me an advantage in this career path. I can communicate with scientists from a variety of backgrounds, such as genetics, biology, and mathematical and computational sciences, and I also understand and work with complex data sets. The field is ever changing, where new molecular methods require the development of new computational methods, which I enjoy. It challenges me to keep learning. I am also passionate about teaching and mentoring. Because most of my computational skills were self-taught, I realize the need to remove barriers in learning those skills for life scientists. To reach out to novice learners, I became a certified Software Carpentry and RStudio instructor, and I have been teaching both in and outside of my local research community. Ideally, I would like to keep working in a research-focused academic setting where I can have some independence over my research and continue learning new methods to improve my skill set, with opportunities to mentor and teach. Most importantly, I would like to work in a research environment where employees and trainees are valued, supported, and have their needs respected.
In addition to your research, how do you want to advance the scientific enterprise?
I was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. My scientific journey has taken me to Germany and the US. Although these transitions have been challenging, I learned a great deal about myself, different cultures, and visas! There were times when I couldn’t attend conferences or courses that I was accepted to, or even visit my family in Turkey because of visa issues. Things were even more stressful during the pandemic when I had to stay in the US on emergency visa extensions, and I wasn’t even sure if I could get a visa while in Turkey due to embassy closures. Although these may seem like extreme examples, sadly they are not. I was among the lucky few because I had support from the institutions I trained or worked at, making a lot of these processes easier. Many friends or colleagues have struggled with the system to get training in Europe or the US. The problems don’t always end with getting a visa; the visa renewal can be used as a weapon by academic managers, leading to bullying and exploitation. As a postdoctoral trainee, I therefore have worked on raising awareness around these issues at my institution and adding support systems to protect foreign researchers.
A similar issue exists with conferences and courses. Most of the large ones are held in the US or Europe, where it is significantly difficult for scientists from countries like Turkey to get visas to attend. This hardship creates a disadvantage and impedes their career development. Adoption of hybrid models during the pandemic have made conferences more accessible for scientists outside the US and Europe. GSA has decided to continue holding conferences in a hybrid format going forward, which I hope other scientific societies will soon adopt.
I am also passionate about raising awareness around mental health in the sciences. As it has been widely reported, graduate students experience anxiety and depression at worrying rates. As someone diagnosed with anxiety in graduate school and depression as a postdoctoral trainee, I know the impact that both disorders can have on one’s personal and professional life. As trainees need more support and mentorship to overcome the challenges introduced by these disorders, academic institutions and managers likewise need more training to gain awareness and learn how to accommodate the needs of their trainees.
Overall, for the scientific community to overcome all these issues, a cultural shift is necessary, where the well-being and dignity of scientists are not overlooked for the sake of productivity and results. I hope to contribute to that change by openly sharing my experiences and advocating for more support for trainees.
As a leader within the Genetics Society of America, what do you hope to accomplish?
My goal is to contribute to the community and use this leadership position to enact changes in the academic culture while developing and improving my science communication and outreach skills. As a member of the Accessibility Subcommittee, I aim to better understand the needs, concerns, and barriers faced by scientists with disabilities. Together with the subcommittee, I hope to increase the understanding of this issue within the broader GSA community as well. For this purpose, we are writing up resources and organizing workshops to inform our community of ways in which they can make their research, labs, classrooms, and management styles more accessible. In addition, we constantly look for ways to improve the accessibility of GSA content and conferences.
Previous leadership experience
- Treasurer and Secretary, Women in Science and Engineering, The Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, ME
- Treasurer, Postdoc Association, The Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, ME
- Treasurer, Women in Science and Engineering, Duke University, NC