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Evolutionary Genomics Winter School 2018

My parents are immigrants from Turkey to the UK, and I was born and raised in London. They made sure I throughly learnt Turkish. This included attending Turkish School on every Saturday in Wood Green!

As I went through school, I wondered if a language like Turkish would ever be useful. Especially as it is such a rarely needed language in STEM subjects. The top universities in Turkey teach in English. So why need Turkish?

For example, the number of speakers of Chinese language in the world is 1575 million, that is 22.5x more than Turkish with only 70 million speakers (Fig 1). The map (click here to have ago!) shows that Chinese is not necessarily the best language to learn: as the number of translations from/to show that it is not as widely used to transfer information and ideas.

When it comes to my mother tongue, Turkish, is it going to come in handy for a career in STEM? I decided to investigate!

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Fig 1. The MIT Study that shows how multilingual people transmit information and ideas (translations from/to). As in all of the networks, the thickness of the lines represents the number of connections between nodes. Here I have highlighted Turkish.

So, after searching out what the ecology scene was in Turkey, I stumbled upon EkoEvo, a society set up in 2008 to unite Turkish researchers in the field of ecology and evolution. I was so excited! I was even more excited when I saw that there was a genomics winter school happening at the same time I was there.

It took me a good while to translate my CV and Cover Letter from English to Turkish, but I applied to attend and was accepted to the free winter school!

Masters and PhD students from around Turkey attended the 5 day course held at Hacettepe University in Ankara. During the intense week, we had the opportunity to learn a variety of different subjects, not only really testing my Turkish language skills, but testing them in conjunction with my genetics and coding skills!

A jam packed itinerary included the following courses from top researchers around Turkey:

Day 1                       

  1. Bioinformatics and analysis of genomes (OB)
  2. Genome Sequencing Techniques and libraries (SKY)
  3. Practicals: Unix Bash (OB) and R (TB)

I particularly enjoyed learning Unix-Bash – as I have only ever coded using R-Studio so it was a great introduction.

Day 2                       

  1. Evolution of Mutations in the Genome (SKY)
  2. Genetic Variation: TNP  (Transposase) and INDEL (insert/deletion) (SKY)
  3. Genetic Variation: copy number variations and microsatelites (TB)
  4. Practicals: determining alignment and variants (TB)

I must admit, this was challenging to follow in Turkish!

Day 3                      

  1. Phylogenomics (SK)
  2. Population Genomics (SK)
  3. Practical: phylogenetic analysis with genomic data and systematics applications (SK)
  4. Practical: foundation level parametric estimations of population genetics (SK)

Day 4

  1. Ancestral arrays and its applications (OB)
  2. Practical: Predicting Ancestral Arrays (OB)

  3. Ancient DNA and the ERC Success Story (MS) NEOGENE, the only scientific project of Turkey that received ERC fund this year, will explore the emergence and spreading adventure of the Neolithic lifestyle.

  4. Practical: Ancient DNA (MS)
    Very interesting

  5. Project Work! Group work in a team of four.

Day 5

On the Final  day we did a group presentation in Turkish (some were amused by my accent, and saying some science words that were the same in a British accent… ) on species hypothesis and tests to determine species boundaries with supervision by Sarp Kaya.

(To view presentation  >>> Tür hipotezi ve tür sınırlarını belirleme testleri   PDF)

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The Project Team (Left to Right): Begüm, Me, Elif and Pinar lead by Sarp Kaya

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Group Photo

On this 5-day workshop, without realizing, I created a cultural exchange for myself! I learnt Turkish language and culture in a scientific context, the state of higher education, ecology and evolution in Turkey. I made long-term friends with mutual interests in research, who also helped me develop my scientific language skills. Overall, I think that it is absolutely important to push to communicate in these less common languages. Especially for subjects that are still hugely controversial in countries like Turkey, with increasingly conservative views backing creationism rather than the scientific facts of evolution. Language diversity, just like biodiversity, is vital for STEM subjects, I will push to improve my communication skills, keeping connected with the incredibly talented researchers in ecology and evolution from Turkey.

Teşekkür ederim!

Many thanks to EkoEvo and the team who made it possible! 

Tuğçe Bilgin Sonay – University of Lausanne

Ozan G. BozdağGeorgia Institute of Technology        

Sarp KayaMehmet Akif Ersoy Universitesi                  

Mehmet Kürşat ŞahinHacettepe Üniversitesi            

Can ElvericiHacettepe Üniversitesi

Mehmet Somel – Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi             

Sibel Küçükyıldırım Hacettepe Üniversitesi