Up next in the Graduate Student Spotlight, we are highlighting Dr. Husniye Kantarci who recently defended her dissertation, “Reverse And Forward Genetics Approaches Reveal the Gene Networks that Regulate Development of Inner Ear Neurons.”
I grew up in Antioch; a city located in the most southern part of Turkey, almost at the shores of the Mediterranean see and very famous with its amazing cuisine. My dad owns a small business and my mom is a middle school Turkish literature teacher. Actually, my mom decided to go to college when I was in high school, so we used to go to school as students together every day. I have two sisters, both have degrees in math and computer sciences and neither of them particularly likes biology.
I attended Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey and majored in Molecular Biology and Genetics. During my early career, I worked as an undergraduate researcher at Yeditepe University in Dr. May Korachi’s lab and I had a 9-month internship in Dr. Robert Reis’s lab at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. I started graduate school at Texas A&M University in 2010 and joined Dr. Bruce Riley’s lab in 2011. During my doctoral studies, my research focused on studying the genes and signaling pathways that regulate development of the inner ear neurons (Stato-Acoustic Ganglion [SAG]) and I characterized the signaling pathways that control formation, migration, and differentiation of SAG neurons using various molecular, genetic and developmental tools. I have recently defended my doctoral thesis and getting ready to graduate in August, 2017. I am excited to start my postdoctoral training at Stanford University in Dr. Zuchero’s lab in September.
My most memorable experiences are shaped with my interactions with Dr. Riley and zebrafish lab members. I am very thankful for every in-depth, intellectually stimulating scientific discussion, but I will also always remember our midnight rantings of PCRs that quit working, endless microscopy hours and social life or there lack of one :). I am very grateful to have such great friends and colleagues.
Describe a research project that has had the greatest impact on your graduate career.
That would probably be the Pgk1 project which I have started at the beginning of my graduate career, 6 years ago. I am still working to finalize our findings and hoping to submit a manuscript this month. We started this project to find novel genes that regulate development of inner ear neurons (SAG). After screening through thousands of zebrafish embryos during the first 6 months of my PHD, I found 2 mutations which had unique effects on SAG. I was able to identify one of the mutated genes, the glycolytic enzyme Phosphoglycerate Kinase-1. This came as a big surprise since Pgk1 is a metabolism gene with no known roles in development. Further experiments revealed a novel role for this gene in regulation of a major signaling pathway during SAG development.
I learned so much from working on this project, both theoretically and practically. I interacted and collaborated with colleges both here at A&M and other universities to troubleshoot some of the problems I had while mapping and identifying the affected genes. I even attended to some workshops and courses in bioinformatics to better understand and troubleshoot our mapping methods, although I had no interest in bioinformatics at the beginning of my career. The hard work really started after we confirmed the affected locus was Pgk1. I am still learning something new about Pgk1 and its role in neural development with each experiment. This project evolved into a very cool novel mechanism with lots of side trajectories to follow and I am actually very excited to submit this manuscript.
What are your future plans, now that your tenure as a graduate student is coming to a close?
I am planning to start a postdoctoral fellowship in Dr. Bradley Zuchero’s lab at Stanford University to work on cellular and molecular mechanisms of myelination in the central nervous system.
I do not know. But, I still try to follow and apply Dr. Riley’s advice on the necessity of balancing my personal life with school/work. I felt that this was especially hard when you are a new graduate student because everything you do in the lab takes forever, you end up spending long late hours working, become more exhausted and isolated with time and most importantly, in my opinion, lose the enthusiasm for what you do and become less innovative and creative. That’s why I try to take vacations to go back to Turkey at least every year, spend some time with friends every weekend and just find recreation whatever that might be. I actually went to some pretty cool hikes, climbs, canoe and caving trips in Texas and was very impressed with the beauty of Texas natural parks and reserves.
What undergraduate courses have you taught, and what specifically do you do in your classes to enhance student learning?
I thought Introduction to Biology (BIOL 111) and Embryology (BIOL 344). I think student learning is most enhanced in environments where students feel comfortable to comment or ask questions. So I always try to encourage talking in the class and if nobody asks questions, I tell them the parts that were confusing to me when I was learning this subject as an undergraduate to initiate discussions. I think it is also a much more stimulating teaching experience for me when students are more engaged and interactive so that is what I try to achieve in my classes.
If you had the opportunity to develop a graduate course, what would it be?
Any class that promotes socialization between graduate students would be perfect in my opinion. Perhaps an extension of the pizza class to 2nd years and beyond, with even some additions of ice cream and other food inspired days :) Such opportunities are both great to share scientific thoughts and experiences but also helps to build strong social connections among graduate students. I always felt that I barely see or interact with any graduate students from the department except the zebrafish lab members. I also only hear about the research done by other graduate students in the department at the yearly student/post doc conference. I think there should be more opportunities available to graduate students to socialize and interact with each other, and even possibly with the postdocs and faculty in the department.
Give us 5 adjectives that describe you as a scientist.
I am humble :)
I like research because it is very exciting to me to learn and apply new things, try a new protocol, learn how to use a new machine or a different kind of microscope. But, in reality, we mostly use the same protocols and the tools that we learned when we first joined the lab. I figured later that I use the same methodology but I still learn the answer to a different question every time. That is why I still get very excited each time I am looking for the results of a PCR on a gel or waiting for an in-situ hybridization reaction even though I have done both procedures many many times. I think that excitement drives us to become a scientist in the first place.
I used to play guitar when I was in middle and high school. I had absolute 0 talent in playing musical instruments or singing, yet I was still amazed with reading musical notes and playing them on the guitar according to the rhythm. So I insisted on taking the classes and worked on the same classic songs for years and finally played them in a concert at a festival… My cousin is a music teacher and he still makes fun of me for my stubbornness to play the guitar. He apparently also tells his students the story of how I lacked any talent yet was still able to play guitar to inspire them. I limited my love and passion for music to listening after that festival :)