Women In Science profiles: Ferhan G. Sagin
This is the second post in a series of 'WISe words for the next generation of researchers' – the aim is to raise the visibility of women in molecular life sciences and to help others by sharing experiences, thoughts and tips as careers progress.
What have been your major scientific achievements?
My long-standing scientific interest was on the role of inflammation and oxidant stress in diseases. Our group studied the role of various physiological or supplementary antioxidant molecules (Vitamin E, trimetazidine, MAO inhibitors, catalase, etc.) under oxidative conditions (ischemia–reperfusion, cholestasis, diabetes, atherosclerosis, anemia and aging) in various tissues. Among these, the protective effects of MAO inhibitors in aging brain tissue have attracted great interest. For some years, we also focused on nitric oxide and tried to illuminate its interplay with antioxidant enzymes and catecholamines. We had some international collaborative research both on organophosphates intoxication and LDL oxidation. Our latest research focused on a new marker to determine cardiovascular risk: Lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A2 (Ann Clin Biochem. 2017 Sep;54(5):539-547). Our group was the first to investigate this marker in hypercholesterolemic dyslipidemic children and we showed that Lp-PLA2 levels are significantly elevated in these cases and this marker might contribute significantly to the detection and monitoring of early atherogenic events in children.
All along these years, I also had a deep involvement in education and educational research. Educational technologies, Team-Based Learning (TBL), student assessment and mentoring were my main interests. In Medical Biochemistry courses (Medical Faculty) or Oral Biochemistry courses (Dentistry Faculty) in Ege University, I have applied interactive and engaging techniques which were highly esteemed by students. I have fully revised the curriculum in the latter implementing TBL for the first time in Turkey as an instructional strategy.
What do you see as the most important impact of your work?
Success in science is very important but what may be equally important is success in training young scientists. With this in mind, I approached education with the same curiosity I approached science. This led me to search and apply novel techniques to engage my students in their own training and learning. I believe the biggest impact of this approach was that most of my students started to enjoy learning by taking their own responsibility. I believe my approach also had some impact on my colleagues since they often knock on my door when they want to make a change in their style of teaching.
What have been the main challenges that you have faced so far and how have you overcome those?
Thanks to gender equality introduced by Ataturk, the founder of Turkish Republic, personally I have not been exposed to major gender discrimination in academia. However, sometimes I have observed in meetings that ideas, opinions, proposals and analyses contributed by a woman can be ignored and made invisible by colleagues of both gender. This has frustrated me several times in my career. The way I dealt with this challenge was always to be polite but firm. I believe as scientists, we need a lot of persistence and discipline with calm.
The biggest challenge for me in my career was to decide to have or not to have a child during my PhD studies. Once I made the decision to have a child, when to have a child and how to raise him were the next challenges. Generally, balancing work and family was the main focus in my career. To maintain this balance and high work productivity, I had to work in a highly efficient manner, as I had less time to accomplish the same tasks. I overcame this challenge with the help and support from my husband and my parents.
What would be your advice to young women researchers who are aiming at a career in academia?
Dream big! Never limit yourself working as a scientist for being a woman! Never ever settle for something that you really don’t want as your first choice!
Get the right education!
Think what you really want to work on; look at opportunities (academia/outside of academia)!
Don’t forget that science requires a dedicated and very hard-working individual! Work with passion!
Don’t forget that the support from mentors is very important so do your best to find ‘good female and male mentors’.
Do work on your ‘personal confidence and self-awareness’!
Always make sure you have a backup plan!
How do you make the best out of failures?
I believe that the most important thing is to accept that there will be failures and difficult moments in life, and the best comes from them if one uses them as opportunities.
The best out of failures can be achieved by a combination of accepting and critically analyzing the situation first. Meanwhile, you should have enriched your resources (high personal confidence, strong personality, and help from colleagues and collaborators) which will guide you through these hard times.
What is the most important issue that needs to be addressed to achieve gender equality in academia?
I believe people need to realize that we have a problem worldwide. The society needs to want to change this, because it is all about recognizing equality and creating equal opportunities in all areas of social and scientific life. Research findings consistently identify that diversity among researchers leads to higher quality in science and research. So, diversity should be promoted by research institutions. For this, the barriers of traditional gender roles in the society should be put aside first.
In the meantime, we have to do more to actively promote women's roles in science, such as giving leadership positions, offering opportunities for seminars and talks at conferences, and providing more community support. We have a lot of work to do, but we can get there if we all work together.
Also prizes to reward and celebrate the achievements of young women scientists are important during this period. The FEBS/EMBO Women in Science Award, Nature Research’s (in partnership with the Estée Lauder Companies) Inspiring Science Award and the Innovating Science Award are good examples to celebrate and support the achievements of leading women in science. As Maya Angelou beautifully stated, “How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!”