On Christmas 2007, I asked Santa for a microscope set.
For a young girl in kindergarten, the wish seemed absurd. But Santa -my mom-, granted me a green microscope, with samples to observe on the side. What was even more absurd? An Armenian girl in a minority elementary school in Turkey wanting to be a scientist one day.
The Armenian community in Istanbul sort of lives in a bubble. Not deliberately, but up to a certain age, you live an isolated life from the rest of the society. By a collective mind, you find yourself in a “low profile”, “risk-free” lifestyle. Deep down, everyone knows that as a woman and a member of a minority, this bold dream to be a “scientist” would end up in disappointment. But it did not for me.
Here I am, 14 years later as a PhD student working to decipher the mysteries of cancer cells. I still have that tiny, green microscope, even in a facility with microscopes as big as a room. Yet, I still get fascinated every time I look through that eyepiece. Still sounding unbelievable, I am living my dream by pursuing my PhD in cellular and molecular medicine at Koç University.
After I received my bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and genetics, I was sure to continue academic life to become a successful scientist. I had applied to several graduate programs, faced with some rejections (it’s part of the game). However, I patiently waited for the next opportunity. After 6 months, when I went for an interview at Koç University, I was not clear on the research field I wanted to study.
However, the admission committee gave us a list of faculty to interview as a starting point. At my first interview that day, I walked into that room, and I met with my current advisor, Assoc. Prof. Tugba Bagci-Onder. Her energy, enthusiasm and kindness made me decide on the spot, which lab I wanted to join and what to study. For the rest of the interviews that day, I couldn’t pay attention even if I tried. I had already made my decision.
This goes into my “top 5 best decisions of all time” list.
After joining the Brain Cancer Research and Therapy Laboratory (as we call TBO Lab) located in Koç University Research Center for Translational Medicine (KUTTAM), I worked on molecular mechanisms regulating brain cancers’ radiotherapy response and received my Masters degree in 2019. Instead of moving out of the country for PhD, as many of us do, I decided to stay in TBO Lab and continue my PhD education here. Equipped and supported with the state-of-the-art technologies and long-lasting collaborations with overseas, our lab is very fruitful and a pioneer in the field of epigenetics and brain cancer in Turkey.
Our team is maxed out of everything: maximum support, maximum fun, maximum kindness, and maximum science. Each and every lab member is selflessly willing to help each other, from lab-related matters to personal issues. You can depend on anyone without a second thought. And this kindness and energy originates from our advisor. Even in her most troublesome moments, when she was battling cancer herself, she kept inspiring and elevating us with her perseverance, motivation, and positivity. Like a “Soul Tree” in the Avatar movies.
So what did I learn from this journey?
Regardless of other people’s opinions whether your dreams are absurd, never give up on your dreams and find an environment that makes them come true.
All of this made me realize wherever you are, whatever you study, you only flourish with the best people around you. That made TBO Lab so special for me, a “family”. So thankful for that.
I am a second year PhD student in Cellular and Molecular Medicine program at Koç University Graduate School of Health Sciences, Istanbul, Turkey. My research focuses on understanding radiotherapy resistance and its epigenetic background in glioblastoma. I am passionate about dancing, writing articles and science illustrations.