When most people talk about flies, it’s usually in disgust followed by swift swatting motions. But when Dr. Pelin Volkan talks about flies, it’s with fascination followed by swift strategies to answer the next scientific question. My principal investigator first started studying molecular biology and genetics at Bogazici University in Turkey and began to get interested in neuroscience. When she went to the University of North Carolina for her PhD, she began to study the nervous system of Drosophila and continued this study during her post doc at the University of California, Los Angeles. At the time, the olfactory system of Drosophila was just being described and peaked Dr. Volkan’s interest in the development and evolution of brain and behavior. This influenced the main work she does now at her lab at Duke, asking how a hard-wired system maintains plasticity, ultimately, what are the nature and nurture factors that influence this organism’s brain?
Dr. Volkan’s approach to doing science is really quite insightful. She notes that you almost never stick with the plan and that your study and goals will change with the problems or circumstances that you encounter. And importantly, chance favors the prepared mind. She told me she really enjoys the academic environment as you are frequently bombarded with new perspectives that open up new questions. She notes that science is not static, it’s progressive, and we need innovative and creative thinkers to continue to propel science forward. Dr. Volkan describes the most rewarding part of doing science is getting a crystal clear answer to one of these questions, but as she explained to me that very rarely happens.
But she also enjoys the chase, the process of discovery and the thrill of seeking answers. This is what drives her, and many other researchers, to press on, failed experiment through failed experiment to find an answer. She enjoys relaying this notion of taking joy in the process to her students in her favorite class here at Duke, her lab course in which students take on projects connected with the lab and experience what it’s like to do science. I am so grateful for this experience to work with Dr. Volkan who has already inspired me to press on and trust the process.