Dr. Pelin Volkan. It all began in Istanbul, Turkey for her where she attended Bogazici University as an undergraduate and received her B.S. and M.S. in molecular biology and genetics. She knew early on that she wanted to have a career in academia (kind of similar to me!). She became fascinated in the development of organisms and how complexity is generated, which is why she stuck with the nervous system (one of the most highly complex systems). “It’s a system that scans our environment and can determine behavior,” she told me. The more she researched, the more addicting it became to her. She cultivated a love for hypotheses, testing ideas, and of course getting answers. She then came to the U.S. and attended UNC Chapel Hill for her Ph.D. in biology, mainly concentrating in genetics and developmental biology. Afterwards, she attended UCLA for her postdoc, where she studied the development of neural factory circuits in Drosophila.
Although her life revolves around science, she does not only focus on the science aspect. She finds art within biology, which many scientists may not. She told me that there are creative processes needed for science to happen. For example: creating experiments. I certainly had not thought of that before.
After asking Dr. Volkan what she would change in the science community she replied by saying she believes that the science community has a bit too much ego and sometimes this ego leads to faking data. She believes that science should be more collaborative and have more communication between different labs and even different disciplines. There are so many things to learn from everyone. She told me that every lab has a very narrow, specific topic that they research, so it’s easy to become isolated in a way. This is why she likes teaching, especially general courses. She ends up learning a lot. Teaching allows her to leave her comfort zone and branch out into other disciplines.
Currently, Dr. Volkan is working with Drosophila. I was curious why, of all organisms, Drosophila? She simply stated, “because they’re easier” – you can ask questions and almost immediately get some answers. Also, in one of her previous labs she worked with rats. They’re not exactly her favorite.
It has only been two weeks, but I have already learned so much from Dr. Volkan, from just her viewpoints on the world and science in general. She casually just slips in words that I have never heard before and concepts I have never thought of before.