“Keep your eyes open and explore every opportunity to gather any scientific information that comes your way!”
Dr. Ebru Ercan-Herbst is one of the ‘longest-serving’ employees at BioMed X Institute and joined us already in 2015. She started as a postdoc in team TNA (Tau-mediated Neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s Disease), which was the third research programs we started off at BioMed X. After successfully finishing the project, she grasped the chance and applied for the group leader position in team EPD (Early Intervention in Psychiatric Diseases) in 2019.
BioMed X: “What did you study and why?”
Ebru Ercan-Herbst: “I studied molecular biology and genetics at Istanbul Technical University. During my Bachelor’s study, I have always had an interest in cell biology especially on protein trafficking and interactions. For this reason, during my master’s and PhD, I chose to do basic research and work on protein trafficking pathways in yeast and mammalian cells, respectively. For my master’s, I moved to Dresden, and there I studied molecular bioengineering and performed my master’s thesis at the Max Planck Institute for Cell Biology and Genetics. Later for my PhD studies in Heidelberg, at the Centre of Molecular Biology (ZMBH), I worked on endoplasmic reticulum and plasma membrane interactions, and unconventional trafficking of membrane proteins. Towards the end of my PhD, my interest was raised mostly on doing translational research with a particular focus on neuroscience. Therefore, for my postdoctoral studies, I moved to Boston Children’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School and worked on myelination deficiency in autism spectrum disorders.”
BioMed X: “What was your biggest achievement so far? What was the biggest challenge? Any Lessons you had to learn?”
Ebru Ercan-Herbst: “Apart from being scientifically productive, I believe my biggest achievement was being mobile as a scientist: from Turkey to Germany, from Germany to the USA, and then coming back to Germany, changing not only countries and continents but also scientific fields and diseases I worked on. This simply enabled me to see not only different scientific cultures but also to think unconventionally to find new perspectives to my scientific questions.
In the end, all of these experiences I collected enabled me to have my biggest scientific achievement so far, which is winning the boot camp and becoming a group leader at BioMed X. Knowing that my research idea for early intervention in psychiatric diseases was selected and rewarded, makes me very happy and promotes my eager for doing science and unraveling the unknowns.”
BioMed X: “What are in your opinion the key steps for a young Ph.D.?”
Ebru Ercan-Herbst: “Any research question is interesting in science. Any research eventually shows you a fact – small or big. One should only be looking with the right objectives to see it. And as a young scientist doing your PhD, you should not limit yourself only to your topic, which most of us do. Any knowledge you can get from your or other research fields and any technique you can learn will at some point help you build your own ideas and eventually find solutions to your own research questions. You should not let your perfect focusing abilities to harm you in gathering and processing information.
Besides research, most of the time, one realizes during the PhD studies or even later during postdoc that you don’t want to do bench work. Therefore, taking different extracurricular courses as early as possible such as on science communication, intellectual property and technology transfer, entrepreneurship, etc. would help you later to decide about your future career quicklier than when you do not have any idea about what these are.”
BioMed X: “Why did you apply for a position at BioMed X?”
Ebru Ercan-Herbst: “At the end of my postdoc at Boston Children’s Hospital, I was not sure if I want to continue doing research in academia or switch to industry and explore another scientific culture. I was very lucky to get to learn about Biomed X at the time, because it provides this interface between academia and industry. During the time you spend in BioMed X, you can see both worlds and have the chance to decide whether later you want to go to academia or industry.”
BioMed X: “What are your personal benefits working at BioMed X?”
Ebru Ercan-Herbst: “I like the environment at BioMed X a lot. We are all very young and dynamic and very importantly socially active. Moreover, to grow and improve myself as a leader, whenever I need, I can find support from my industry and academic mentors, BioMed X support team, head of research, CEO and other group leaders. As a young group leader, you are never left alone, which usually happens in most academic institutions. Working at BioMed X as a young group leader provides me with the opportunity to grow more, not only scientifically but also as a leader.”
BioMed X: “Do you think that research at novel innovation hubs like BioMed X can be compared to ‘old school’ research at the academia and the pharma Industry?
Ebru Ercan-Herbst: “At BioMed X, things such as setting up the lab, starting with the experiments, establishing collaborations, etc. run faster compared to academic institutions or industry. It took only two months to get to the first results of our experiments. This may take way longer for some academic labs or also in the industry. Our daily life is very well comparable to the daily life in academia, however at the end of the day we function like in the industry with concrete timelines and milestones. Moreover, BioMed X is very dynamic, new research groups with diverse research areas are formed more frequently than in academic institutions, which in turn broadens our scientific point of view.”
BioMed X: “What tips and hints would you give a younger yourself?”
Ebru Ercan-Herbst: “If I could talk to my younger myself, I would tell me that I should look more into opportunities like doing internships at various companies and explore the scientific and translational life outside academia. For researchers at the beginning of their career it makes absolutely sense to learn more about how industry works or how scientific ideas are brought to reality for the benefit of patients.”