NGC Graduates

An Interview with Kamran Yusifli

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Kamran Yusifli did his PhD in the Behl lab on “Neuronal Adaptation upon Nutrient Depletion in Models of Hypoperfusion”. He earned his Doctor rerum naturalium title in July 2019 and decided to continue with a post-doc. In this interview, he reveals his perception of academic life and shares tips for young researchers.

What did you do after your PhD and what was your motivation?
I did my PhD in Neuroscience at the Institute of Pathobiochemistry.  After my graduation, I started to work as a junior postdoctoral scientist in cancer biology in the Schmidberger lab at the Clinic and Polyclinic for Radiation Oncology and Radiation Therapy of the University Medical Center Mainz. In the last year of my PhD, I started to look for postdoc positions that fit my purpose and academic interests. Neuroscience is one of today’s most interesting and popular research areas. However, in my opinion, most research (including my own) in this field is fundamental or basic in nature. Therefore, it takes a long time to translate these findings to the clinic.

Besides performing day-to-day laboratory experiments, I was always interested in translating basic research into clinical implementations, in order to prevent and/or cure ailments. That was one of my main motivations to stay in science and improve my experience with clinical research in the form of outcomes based experiments and analyses.

Which advice would you like to give to students who are about to finish their PhDs?
The best way to tackle thesis writing is by starting early  and by breaking it into manageable bits and start to work on it early.  Meet your supervisors regularly and discuss your data and (most of the time) follow their guidance. If you get the chance to publish papers or gain new technical experiences, take every opportunity. Get used to allocating your time and set targets for your career and personal life. In order to be successful in your PhD, you should always keep an open mind and be up to date. You need to be able to ask questions and challenge different concepts as well as face undesirable outcomes. It is better not to start another qualification or job until you have finished your PhD. Based on my personal experience, I would say that after finishing your thesis, you can fully focus on your new job/project and direct your energy to improving the quality of your work. Particularly, if you are going to prove yourself in another area, which is partly or completely different from your PhD research.

Directly after my PhD defense, I found a job at the clinic. I consider myself very lucky. Unfortunately, sometimes it can take several months to find a job which fits your profile and aptitude. Therefore, one should start looking for a job at least 6 months before graduation. Obviously, it is not one of the most joyful things to do in the last year of your studies, nevertheless one needs to cope with it.

What do your family/friends think of your career choice?
Thankfully, my family and friends have always respected my choice. They were aware of the fact that I always had a deep interest in biology and science. They always believed in my abilities, celebrated my success and supported me wherever they could. However, I think you shouldn’t make your career choice according to the opinion of family or friends. No matter what, there might be times when they will not be there for you. In the end, you are the only person who can take responsibility for your life, career choice , and goals. If it is your choice, you will enjoy the process, if not, you only have yourself to blame. So, at this point, my friendly suggestion would be: be a little selfish and choose your academic as well as personal goals based on your own desires, interests and instincts.

What do you like the most about your job?
The most important and interesting part about my job is that I get a chance to grow and improve my skills and research experience as a scientist.  Compared to PhD life, I am more independent, I don`t need to refer and to discuss every detail with supervisors. That kind of independence demands more responsibility and accountability. Doing a postdoc gave me the opportunity to initiate and spearhead new projects. Each project presents unique challenges that help me hone my skills. Working in the field of cancer research allowed me to learn and apply new and sometimes very field-specific methods. It also gave me the opportunity to make contacts in the medical research community. I am still learning new things and feel that I have the opportunity to contribute to this field.

What is your long-term goal?
For now, I would like to stay in academia (most probably in cancer/neuroscience research)  and widen my experience, knowledge and network. Of course, it would be helpful to occasionally visit other research laboratories and gather international experience. In the future, I could envision myself heading my own lab and setting up my own research team. I have to admit that, just a couple of months ago, these were my “long-term” goals. However, during the journey of life, our ideas, core personal values and thinking styles are subject to change. I could just as easily imagine myself doing something outside of science or academia in the long run. Time will tell.


Written by Isabelle Arnoux; Edited by Radhika Menon. Featured Image: NGC/Design.

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