The following is the excerpt of my speech at the Eastern Mediterranean University 4th Molecular Biology & Genetics Career Day. Kamil Erguler - 2 November 2018
I grew up in Famagusta, in this very city. I believe I can say that I grew up in this university (the Eastern Mediterranean University). My mother thought in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and I used to visit her quite often. My father was a computer science teacher, and he taught programming in a technical school. I was always fascinated by this; by how computers can be programmed to follow simple instructions and, in turn, do amazing things.
I am going to tell you a story; a story that begins a couple of decades ago when I was a student. When I was in high-school, there was a rocky beach close to the school, behind the Palm Beach Hotel. We would go there with friends to play and relax. In one of those occasions, I was stunned by a pool of water. Every one else just jumped right over to the other side, but I was too scared. I was thinking that it was too far, that I wouldn't be able to make it, and I would just get wet, embarrass myself, and go home.
While I was thinking about a million things that could go wrong, I suddenly realised that I was getting lost in them. It was much simpler than I thought. I wanted to jump. I knew that I could. And, I just took the leap. That was the defining moment in my life. At that moment, I realised that if I wanted to do something, I needed to be prepare for it, and then, just take the leap with everything I got.
I do not consider myself as a goal-oriented person. When I have to study, I do, and I do it as well as I can. But, most of the time, I study because I am curious and I want to learn. I taught myself programming at the library of this university. We didn't have Google back then; not even the Internet. I liked mathematics because I thought it was like playing with legos in an imaginary world, which was only as complicated as you can think of it.
Around those times, I also met the sweetest girl I could only imagine in my dreams. Her story is the topic of another talk, and maybe also a couple of drinks.
My father said to me that I should choose my wife and my career with love. Back then, it was the time to choose my career. But I didn't study computer science or mathematics. Someone sold me dream; a dream of the future, which has yet to become real. He said that instead of computers, living things would be programmed in the future, and genetics was the key to this. So, I took the leap and went to the Middle East Technical University in Ankara to study molecular biology and genetics.
I spent my time there studying, learning about all these techniques used in laboratories, cell cultures, recombinant methods, etc. In time, I realised that no matter how much I study, I could only focus on a tiny aspect of the infinitely complicated world of biology. Biology was difficult to comprehend, full of unknowns, but it was fascinating only if you took dots from seemingly remote topics and connected them. Terms like systems biology, computational biology, bioinformatics were unknown to me back then.
So, I took another leap of faith. I heard about a student exchange program, and I found myself on the other side of the world, in University of California, Berkeley. There, I learned that it was possible to take a step back and look at the big picture, and it was beautiful.
Unfortunately, my undergraduate studies were coming to an end, and before I even finish comprehending what I needed to learn, I had to choose the next institute. So, I did what everyone else did and applied to a zillion places. That feeling of being scared, thinking about all the things that could go wrong, it came back. One of the places I applied was Istanbul where I would have the chance to be with this gorgeous girl I met in high-school.
I took the leap not knowing whether I would be able to reach to the other side of the pool. I just trusted that I was prepared and some divine power would intervene and put me where I needed to be. And, I ended up at Imperial College London. It was not yet time to go back; not just yet.
I studied systems biology and bioinformatics at Imperial. I learned about the chaos theory, mathematical modelling, cellular signalling,... Everything I learned captivated me, amazed, and utterly entertained. I was able to see the big picture even though a part of it. And, more than that, it was my job to help complete the picture bit by bit.
At the end, it was time to go home. No, it was not the greatest decision for a career. But, I was fully aware of it. I was able to walk, baby steps but still. I wanted to walk in Cyprus. And, I took a leap of faith. I was ready to open the other chapter in my life which I kept closed for such a long time.
The leap took me to CING where I was lucky enough to work on something relevant to my background. I studied thalassaemia and I learned about web design. But, I wanted to do more. I wanted to do something better. I knew someone who knew someone else who got me in touch with yet another person. I helped them, they helped me. This network of great friends, helped me see what was out there. So, I moved, and I started working at the University of Cyprus. I worked on the unfolded protein stress response, a cellular signalling pathway that was composed of cellular machinery and biochemical processes, but processed information and generated responses just like a computer with wires and transistors. It was beautiful. Yet again. Something was missing.
It took me so long, but I finally found my niche, an area to which I was able to contribute significantly at The Cyprus Institute. My interest was global as was the aim of the institute. I began to grow, and they provided me with all the tools and opportunities that I needed to grow. Today, I work on modelling climate-change impacts on mosquitoes and diseases spread by them. I work on the tiger mosquito, and diseases like dengue and Zika fever. We draw global risk maps and advise policy makers. I represent Cyprus in Europe in large collaborative actions. I get invited to give lectures in America and Africa. I still work on cellular pathways, and other projects that I find interesting like sand flies and developing electronic circuits for drones.
I like to do work in a cafe, and I try to swim regularly. And, the best part of it is that we got married with that beautiful girl I met in high-school. We have two beautiful kids, and a great life together. So, here I am, and this is the story of how I got here.