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In episode 19 of PhD Career Stories Güneş Özhan talks about her career that led her to the current position as research group leader at the Izmir International Biomedicine and Genome Institute in Turkey.
Hi! My name is Güneş Özhan; I am 36 years old. I graduated from Middle East Technical University Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics in 2003. Shortly after, I was admitted to the Molecular Biology MSc/PhD program of the International Max Planck Research School in Göttingen and earned my MSc degree from the program in 2005. In 2009, I received my PhD in Molecular and Developmental Biology with my thesis on the molecular evolution of embryonic development in arthropods, at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen. I worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Biotechnology Center of Dresden University of Technology between 2009 and 2013. There I gained experience in signal transduction and the zebrafish animal model. I was then offered an Assistant Professorship position at the Izmir International Biomedicine and Genome Institute in Dokuz Eylul University. Then, I moved to Izmir, which is very close to my hometown, in January 2014 to achieve my vision of establishing an independent lab in a top-notch biomedical research center in this lovely city. Upon my return, I have been successively awarded the Reintegration Fellowship of TUBITAK, EMBO Installation Grant, L’Oréal Turkey For Women In Science award, Academy of Science BAGEP award and Turkish Academy of Sciences GEBIP award within two years. Furthermore, my grant applications have been funded by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBİTAK).
I am a molecular and developmental biologist and made important contributions to our understanding of Wnt/β-catenin signaling regulation at the plasma membrane. At iBG-izmir, I am exploring the tight regulation of Wnt signaling that will reinforce discovery of novel drugs and its roles in adult zebrafish brain regeneration.
What brought me to study life sciences? I think it just happened that way. I do not see science as a job, but rather as a lifestyle. It keeps me constantly stimulated and excited. Besides, it is mentally and physically challenging. For a scientist, the most exciting part of the job is to get the truth directly from the nature. You can be the first one to reveal something hidden deep in nature, isn’t it cool? Life sciences are even more fascinating; full of mystery and literally infinite number of unanswered questions.
But did it always go so smoothly? Not really. I remember a period that I really wanted to quit science and do something completely else. And if you ask me why that happened. Well, there is probably no single answer but likely to be a consequence of those days with overwhelming workload. You know experiments to be completed, manuscripts to be written, expiring contracts, additional stress from private life and so on. Fortunately, this did not last long and I made up my mind to stay in science and enjoy it rather than coping with it. Now I can confidently say that this was the right decision.
During my PhD and Postdoc periods, I found the chance to do substantial academic training and published many papers. I started to think that it was the right time to go back to Turkey. Turkey has changed a lot in terms of research and development investments; we now have more chance to get our research projects funded, and better opportunities in choosing what we want to investigate. Even some of my German friends have the idea to apply for a research position in Turkey. iBG-izmir is the rising star of Turkey and, when reached its full capacity, will accommodate approximately 400 scientists. iBG-izmir has the purpose of discovering and advancing knowledge for the benefit and well-being of society, public health and economic prosperity. It will be the first regional hub, located in Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city, and a critical locomotive for the growing Turkish economy, particularly within the health sector. This comprehensive regional hub will be multidisciplinary in approach and shall bring molecular biology, genetics, medicine, pharmaceutical sciences, bioengineering, computer engineering, and many other fields together.
With this scope, iBG-izmir matches perfectly with my professional aims and I believe it will soon be a highly competitive and top-notch biomedical research center in Turkey.