What have been your major scientific achievements?
Our group has been working on enzyme purification and enzyme kinetics for a very long time. Recently, we investigated the inhibitory profiles of commonly used antidepressants (amitriptyline, sertraline, fluoxetine and clomipramine), insecticides (deltamethrine and abamectin), and natural compound hypericin on glutathione S-transferase alpha and pi, glutathione reductase and butyrylcholinesterase enzymes. We also verified binding of these molecules to enzymes through molecular docking studies.
During my PhD education, I had the chance to conduct my thesis on insulin receptor substrate-1 (IRS-1), and its contribution to the transformed phenotype in mammary cancer cell lines. We showed translocation of IRS-1 to the nuclei followed by activation of rDNA, cyclin D1 and c-myc promoters, which are known to be involved in cellular proliferation.
Early in my career, we also studied the mitochondrial involvement in neurodegenerative diseases, which attracted great attention. We tried to understand the relationship between mitochondrial DNA mutations and activities of Complex I and Complex IV in the mitochondrial electron transfer chain, in Parkinson’s Disease.
What do you see as the most important impact of your work?
Recent findings from our research revealed that drugs used to treat psychiatric disorders have profound inhibitory effects on the enzymes that are important in antioxidant defence and the cholinergic system. These results led us to consider the use of similar molecules in the fight against cancer by targeting anti-oxidant enzymes and destroying GSH/GSSG homeostasis. Similarly, inhibition of butyrylcholinesterase by these drugs may be an option for the design of new anti-Alzheimer’s drugs with cholinesterase-inhibiting activity.
What have been the main challenges that you have faced so far and how have you overcome those?
In Turkey, as in many other countries, the main challenges life scientists are facing are poor project funding and job uncertainty for early career researchers. After all these years I have seen that in each stage of an academic career we have different responsibilities. During my PhD, my only concern was finishing my thesis and publishing my research in high-impact journals. After obtaining my PhD degree, finding a position at a university appeared as a new challenge. When I found a position at my university, this position brought with it many administrative duties. I had to find a way to balance scientific work and administrative responsibilities, and I did because I enjoyed doing both. I have learned to be more efficient in using my time, so that I can find time to follow the current scientific literature, write project and teach at the same time. I have supervised the thesis of several MSc students, and we have worked together in some projects. Funding has always been a problem – we tried to find solutions, such as finding collaborators from different countries, since we have many international post-graduate students in our department. I have witnessed their enthusiasm growing more and more as they obtained valid data in their experiments and had the chance to present or publish their work.
What would be your advice to young women researchers who are aiming at a career in academia?
Plan your future carefully.
Get the appropriate education.
Choose the right research topic and right supervisor.
Dedicate yourself to what you are doing.
Learn from your failures. Sometimes our mistakes show us the correct path.
Follow scientific literature closely.
Science is interdisciplinary. Make collaborations. Imagine big and don’t limit yourself.
Try to find some opportunities even for short time periods (in different universities, institutions or countries) other than staying where you are. This will improve your vision.
Approach science with curiosity.
Never give up for any reason.
Take good care of yourself, do not neglect your health. An academic career is a marathon, so do not burn yourself out in your early years. Get sufficient sleep and try to eat well. Remember, taking care of your body can help to flourish your mind.
How do you make the best out of failures?
Failure is a natural part of a human life and it is not the opposite of success. It is an opportunity to re-evaluate the strategy. I strongly believe in learning from failures and moving forward without looking back. Analysing the causes and making objective observations is the way to deal with failures. I also prefer to try and make a better plan to achieve my goals, rather then focus on what's wrong.
What is the most important issue that needs to be addressed to achieve gender equality in academia?
Gender equality is a very important issue. Although women are predominant in our universities, their representation in administrative and decision-making positions is limited. In my opinion, we must take early steps while raising future scientists. Starting from their high school education or before we must give them more support, and responsibilities and opportunities to express themselves. Women should be trained to believe in themselves more. Women should be encouraged to be more visible in all areas. For this purpose, special scholarship programmes for women can be implemented and prizes can be given for their scientific achievements. It is important to increase the visibility of women serving as role models for others, proving that it is possible to succeed in the academic world. Last but not least, universities, institutions, or scientific organizations should provide an environment where women are not exposed to gender discrimination. In this way, women in academia can be motivated and work efficiently knowing that their work will be appreciated and supported by the scientific community. Finally, women should also support and actively facilitate other women to climb the career ladder. We need to turn to each other for progress and achieve a change or awareness together.
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