Thinking Big: Interview with Borlaug Fellow Fatma Gül Maraş Vanlioğlu

WRITTEN BY Jennifer Terlouw,

On February 28th, Fatma Gül Maraş Vanlioğlu sat down for a short interview with CALS International Programs during her three month Borlaug Fellowship at NC State.

Fatma Gül earned her bachelor’s degree in Genetic and Bioengineering from Faith University, moving on to achieve her master’s degree in Plant Sciences from the University of Manchester.  She is employed by the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, specifically in the Biotechnology Research Institute, where her work is focused on the collection of data for plant genome study.

Fatma Gül applied for a Borlaug Fellowship that would allow her to visit the US and study bioinformatics at NC State using data Fatma Gül gathered from wheat in Turkey. Fatma Gül used that data in two labs during her visit, working with Hamid Ashrafi and Gina Brown-Guedira to explore bioinformatic wheat genome sequencing. To put simply, Fatma Gül says:

“I spend a lot of time in front of a computer.”

Fatma Gül at the Plant Animal Genome Conference in San Diego, California

Fatma Gül’s visit was not entirely limited to her work at NC State, however, and she spent some time exploring the local area in the interest of learning more about Raleigh and North Carolina as a state. Fatma Gül has visited the US before her experience with the Borlaug Fellowship, though this visit was her first to North Carolina. Previously, Fatma Gül was accepted for a Cochran Fellowship at Michigan State and she was able to stop in California on her way to NC State to see some of the Plant and Animal Genome Conference, included as part of her Borlaug Fellowship.

Fatma Gül expressed that both this visit and her previous visits to the US have been very important to her professional and personal development in the way that they exposed her to diversity:

“In this country, you don’t feel like a stranger because so many people are from somewhere else.”

She felt that the US’ heterogenous population allows for a truly unique experience in cultural exchange and education. Though English is the main language used, many US citizens are speakers of multiple languages, and for that reason Fatma Gül didn’t feel out of place as she worked to understand and be understood by those she met and worked with.

In particular, Fatma Gül felt that her time on campus was warm and welcoming. She commended the CALS International Programs office on their help in getting her settled into living on Centennial Campus, citing Dr. Adrienne Tucker as an incredible resource and guide to everyday living as a visiting researcher. Fatma Gül also felt very positively impacted by her work with Dr. Brown-Guedira and Dr. Ashrafi, who made her feel very much at home and welcome in NC State’s facilities. Furthermore, she expressed that they challenged her to examine her research ideas in many ways to encourage greater development and perspective before the pursuit of each idea.

Fatma Gül hopes that this experience will allow her to spread her knowledge back at home in Ankara and continue to broaden her perspective of her own country.

“There is learning in teaching others. When people ask me questions at home about what I learned abroad, it helps me round out my own understandings.”

Fatma Gül feels that science is a collaborative effort and advancement is impossible without cooperation. She hopes that as interest in collaboration between US and Turkish scientists grows, bigger projects will be possible.