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Conferences, Microscopy

Scientists without borders

Here in Oxford, scientists have access to some of the best research facilities in the world. These resources allow researchers working here to develop skills and techniques that those in less well-resourced parts of the world cannot. In recognition of this, Erdinc Sezgin, a postdoctoral research scientist working in Christian Eggeling’s lab in the HIU, recently organised a microscopy workshop in Turkey (funded by the British Council) to help bridge this divide, and allow researchers in Turkey access to the skills, techniques and facilities that we in Oxford so often take for granted. In this blog, he describes the international friendships that the workshop inspired, and explains the importance of sharing resources and expertise across borders.

Turkey is a bridge between Europe and Asia: a country with an amazing capacity for agriculture, tourism, business and much more.

In the last decade, Turkey has experienced many societal and political changes, and most recently Europe has only heard bad news from Turkey. But Turkey is a great country with great people, and here, for once, I would like to tell you some good news instead.

The Aegean Sea lies between Greece and Asia-minor, today known as Turkey. This region is no stranger to science and medicine: at various times throughout the ages, the area was home to Hippocrates, the founder of the Hippocratic Oath; Galen, the founding father of pharmacy; and Avicenna, the writer of The Canon of Medicine.

Now, a new international research institute; Izmir Biomedicine and Genome Center (iBG-Izmir) at Dokuz Eylul University is the contemporary missionary of this historical scientific culture.

We (Christian Eggeling, Mehmet Ozturk, Gunes Ozhan and myself) recently organized a ‘cellular imaging techniques’ workshop at iBG-Izmir. Several early career researchers from the University of Oxford went to Izmir to teach imaging techniques to other early career researchers from the UK and Turkey. This workshop was funded under the Researcher Links scheme offered within the Newton-Katip Celebi Fund by British Council. Newton-Katip Celebi Fund, known in the UK as the Newton Fund; a UK Government initiative funded by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), together with the Turkish national partner The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK).

The main goal of the workshop was to build scientific links between early career researchers in these two countries, and whilst this goal was undoubtedly achieved, the 20 participants from the two countries gained so much more from the experience than professional collaborations.

Over the course of the week, intense practical sessions in front of the microscopes were carried out alongside several theoretical and scientific lectures. We had interesting special lectures on topics such as gastrophysics or scientific publishing policies, as well as keynote lectures by Simon Davis from the HIU-WIMM and Quentin Sattentau from the Dunn School of Pathology, Oxford.

One other particular focus was a talk on women in science by Oxford professor Katja Simon, as well as a podium discussion on “Towards a Successful Career Path”. Lively discussions went on during and after the sessions and during dinners with all participants, and even during our historical visit to Ephesus out of which many new ideas came up for potential collaborations. We intend to repeat such an event.

One of the teachers, Dr Dilip Shrestha, a postdoctoral fellow in Eggeling Lab, said: “Despite being one of the teachers, I myself learned new things during the workshop. I definitely see lots of potential in this workshop in elevating the level of scientific research in Turkey. I believe that the participants learned about various imaging and fluorescence technologies that are currently at the forefront of scientific research. Additionally, it also provided them opportunities to discuss about their scientific problems and to forge scientific collaborations.”

A PhD candidate, Metin Cetin from Gebze University of Technology, who sent five applications to make sure he got a place at the workshop (and who was therefore probably the happiest participant, at least five times more than others) said: “I met experts on different imaging techniques and also participants from diverse backgrounds. In my future work, I can collaborate with them to enhance my projects. Also the workshop showed me various opportunities for the postdoc research. I am very glad to have the chance to meet each one of them.”

Erdinc_2

Anne Lippert from University of Cambridge also summarized the workshop in one sentence: “The company, a lively mix of teachers and students, paired with a relaxed atmosphere stimulated cultural, personal and professional exchange and I left Turkey with new research ideas and motivation for new experiments.”

It was an amazing feeling to see that everyone left the workshop so happy, especially the international participants. Although the participants of course learnt a huge amount about cutting-edge imaging techniques and built professional connections that will help them in their career, they also made many new great friends. Ugurcan Sakizli, from Bosphorus University, said: ‘I learnt that I need to use two-photon microscopy in my zebrafish research, but more importantly I made great friends which came with a bonus; one of them has two-photon microscopy in their department’.

The spirit of the workshop was definitely one of an easy and sincere interaction. To foster this interactive environment, we tried to maximize the time we spent all together – all students, teachers and speakers went for lunch and dinner together, and we stayed at the same hotel during the whole workshop. Simon Davis, another Oxford professor who gave a lecture on imaging T-cell dynamics, says; “I have never been to such an intimate workshop, because all students, teachers and speakers are always together, this makes it unique for bonding”.

We believe this workshop touched many people’s lives and resulted in intercontinental connections and friendships. Turkey is developing and needs science more than ever and we are determined to continue the WIMM’s partnership with iBG-Izmir to support the country’s scientists. The University of Oxford, and in particular the MRC WIMM and the HIU, supported us this year and we hope to turn this support to a continuous partnership in the future.

Here again, I would like to thank all the people and institutions that made this workshop possible. As our tour guide in Ephesus taught us how to say “thank you” in Turkish; “tea, sugar and dream – teşekkür ederim”…

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