A scientist who works on cancer studies has become the first Turkish national to receive the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) Young Investigator Award.
Elif Nur Firat-Karalar, an associate professor at Istanbul-based Koc University’s Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, focuses on the biology of centrosomes, cilia and microtubules.
Karalar spoke to Anadolu Agency as this Friday marks International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
According to the UN, the occasion has been celebrated since 2015 “to achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.”
The award-winning scientist received her undergraduate degree at Ankara-based Bilkent University with a focus on biomedical research and later completed her Ph.D. at UC Berkeley, where she focused on the characterization of actin polymerization pathways in cells.
During her post-doctoral studies at Stanford University, she “took a multidisciplinary approach to identify the centriole proteome and address the interactions among centrosome proteins,” according to her laboratory's website.
Karalar said she came back to her home country in 2014 after working in the US and founded Koc University’s Cytoskeleton Research Laboratory.
Shedding light on cancer treatment with her work, Karalar became the first Turkish scientist to be selected for the Young Investigator Programme, where EMBO has recruited scientists under the age of 40 since 2000.
'This award is the symbol of science and excellence'
Noting that they carry out basic science-oriented projects in the laboratory, Karalar said: “Our goal is to conduct research on how cells work, how they divide and how they respond to incoming signals.”
“We are trying to understand these so that we can develop diagnosis and treatment methods for diseases that occur when there is a disorder,” she said.
On receiving the EMBO award, Karalar said: “In fact, there is no serious financial resource coming with this award.”
“We can say that the greatest importance of this award is the symbol of science and excellence. When you receive this award, you become one of the 20 most prominent scientists of that year in Europe,” she said. “This shows that we are on the way to becoming the leader of the future in our field.”
Karalar said although EMBO has been awarding researchers for many years, no scientist in Turkiye had received. “I was honored to receive this award. It was great to see the results of our work, working harder and harder than many teams in Europe.”
Science should be introduced to young people at an early age
Pointing out the importance of activities such as Turkiye’s major technology and aviation fair, Teknofest, Karalar said: “It is necessary to introduce young people to science at an early age.”
“Our dreams should have no limits,” she noted, adding that she also experienced this many times. “At first, I put a lot of limits on myself by saying, 'I can't possibly do this, no Turkish has ever received this award before,’” she said. “For different reasons, we create walls that do not exist in front of us. First of all, we need not build these walls and keep our goals high.”
Noting that her husband and family supported her while she continues her career with her children, Karalar said not every woman is so lucky and institutions should take steps in this regard.
Karalar said many educated young women in Turkiye had to abandon their careers because they could not receive support from institutions where they work, and explained that with the support of EMBO, they were able to take their children with them when they went on trips due to work.
The Turkish scientist also advised young colleagues not to give up when they do not receive the desired results from an application.
“I tried for years to get this award, I was rejected two or three times,” she said. “It should be emphasized that this is normal and that they should continue on their way without giving up after experiencing failure.”
“Every successful scientist has many failures. To overcome it, it is necessary to work with energy and motivation,” she added.
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