What is your name, nationality, current function, and department?
My name is Ilhan Erkin Acar, Erkin is the name I use. I am from Turkey, and currently I am in my 3rd year of my PhD as a bioinformatician in Anneke den Hollander’s group in the department of ophthalmology in Radboudumc, which is part of DCMN.
What is the topic of your PhD project and what does your work look like in practice?
My topic is the omics data analyses in age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is a complex disease with genetic and environmental factors contributing to its risk. I am working on genetics and many different measurement of metabolites (metabolomics) data to investigate their associations with AMD, as well as their possible connections. Since the pathophysiology of the disease is not yet very clear, this research may show us some new biomarkers and / or targets for possible clinical trials in the future. Having said all of these, in practice I just sit in front of the computer whole day, checking databases, literature, statistical methods and bioinformatics pipelines.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
I wanted to be an astronaut! Then I wanted to be a computer engineer just to make my own video games.
What has your career path been so far and how did you come to your current position?
I was always interested in computers but, unfortunately, I did not hear about bioinformatics before I started my bachelor’s in bioengineering. Biology was always a curiosity for me so I went to that direction, just to realize I am better at computers. Having done an internship in biomedical informatics at the Czech Technical University, I wrote my bachelor’s thesis in a bioinformatics related topic which got me into a master’s degree in biotechnology with the focus of bioinformatics. From then on, I just started doing what I like, which resulted in papers and GPA. I found the position I am in now online, and was quite interested in experiencing huge human datasets so I applied to it. I had the chance to do an internship during my PhD as well, so right now, I am in Basel, Switzerland, for a 9-month internship at Roche!
What excites you about working in science?
The unknown is probably the most exciting thing for all the scientists, including me. You never run out of questions in science, and not every question has a straightforward way to answer. As a person who like puzzles, thinking of new ways to answer the questions, and putting together the results with previous knowledge feels very satisfying.
What aspect of your job is or has been a challenge for you?
I think epidemiology related statistics has been the challenge in the beginning, as I was trained to be more of a coding related bioinformatician. Right now, however, I think the biggest challenge is and has been the data handling in a way that it will be FAIR, since the data I am working with is generally from many different study centres.
What is your favourite book and why?
My favourite books are The Art of War by Sun Tzu and The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. The principles defined in these books were interesting the first time I read within the scope of martial arts practice. After couple more reads, I started seeing that the principles are actually quite applicable to any situation. If you are not into these kind of books, try my other favourite: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!
What is the most important advice you want to share with Donders PhD candidates?
I think that would be ‘relax and enjoy the ride’. Doing a PhD can be time consuming and stressful. That is exactly why I recommend investing some time to enjoy yourself. Those papers will not be written any faster if you are sacrificing your health!
What are you looking forward to in life?
Right now, definitely getting my PhD. Afterwards, I am looking forward to settling down somewhere, having a permanent job and sharing my experiences and skillsets to further the science somehow.