What's your name, nationality, current function, and department?
My name is Sevgi Bahtiyar and I am from Istanbul, Turkey. Currently, I am in my 3rd year of PhD and working in the Behavioral Neuroscience lab in DCMN department.
What is the topic of your PhD project and what does a working day in your life look like?
My topic is related to the effects of stress hormones (norepinephrine and cortisol) on the accuracy and generalization of memory. To me, it so fascinating that we rely on our memory in every aspect in life. However, our memory is also susceptible to many external and internal processes, like the stress response. When we experience a stressful episode we have a subjective sense of vividness and detail. However, science shows that those memories are not always accurate (e.g. false memories, generalized fear and misidentification).
Even though my interest comes from everyday examples, my work is way more fundamental. I am working with mice to investigate the effect of stress hormones on specific context-item associated memory. After behavioral experiments, depending on what I am interested in, I perform molecular experiments with brain tissue to really “look inside the brain”. As you can see, I am spending my days either in the animal facility or in the molecular lab.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
I wanted to be an archeologist. I always imagined that I would work under the sun in a foreign land in hard conditions and that after a great deal of effort, I would find a tiny piece of remain that would give me a lot of information about humankind. I think, I wanted the feeling more than the job itself.
What has your career path been so far and how did you come to your current position?
I can say that I end up in my current position by taking opportunities presented to me on my path. In college, I started to study biochemical engineering but soon I realized it is not for me. Then, I started to study psychology and I was mainly interested in the clinical aspects. During my study, I realized that I needed something more finetuned. I liked biology and psychology and just wanted to find something that brings them together. That’s how I started to look for masters programmes abroad, since in my home country there was not a Neuroscience master available yet. I got accepted to Cognitive Neuroscience masters and choose for the Memory and Plasticity track.
The last year of the master’s I applied to the TopTalent grant from the Donders Institute. I wanted more freedom to work on my ideas and this was a great opportunity for me. Luckily, I got it and I was able to work as a PhD.
What excites you about working in science?
I think, I get a certain feeling from my work that I do not get elsewhere. It is a certain type of rush and satisfaction that I mentioned in the 3rd question. After many hours of work and challenge there is a point that it all falls into its place. It is like, diving into the sea and you can come up to the surface with something precious.
What aspect of your job is or has been a challenge for you?
I am still working on accepting failure and understanding that it is a part of the job, more than I have imagined before. It took me time to understand that you can dive into the sea and come up with seaweed rather than a pearl.
What does your perfect weekend look like?
In my perfect weekend, which means I am not tired from the work week, I would like to do something active. I would go to yoga class early morning and then start my day by planning something nice. It can be meeting with a friend for a coffee and city walk or going to nature for a longer walk. I like to explore nature routes in the Netherlands. When the weather is nice, having a picnic and reading a book in the park can also be a part of my perfect weekend.
What is the most important advice you want to share with Donders PhD candidates?
Just be open to the experience and learn what you need to learn during this period. As far as I see, PhD will teach each individual different lessons. For me it was to be more accepting and to be able to ask for help. I see for my other fellow PhDs it is different, such as: being more planned, working more or being able to take breaks. It will depend on what you need to learn so, my only advise is: be open, and see what is there to take out on this experience for you.