Diversity starts with respect

Dr. Fatma Kaplan
Oct 16 · 4 min read

“This was the first time and place my opinion was asked and mattered,” said one of Pheronym’s interns during an exit interview. He decided to pursue a science career due to his work experience with us. This is a result of providing equal opportunity, which was my dream ever since I started my Ph.D. You may be surprised that among the many places I worked, my Ph.D. advisor’s lab was the only place that provided equal opportunity. It really created a respectful and healthy environment for accepting differences of appearance or opinion, and opened our minds to new possibilities, leading to creativity and productivity.

Equal opportunity

I came to the United States (US) on a fellowship for graduate studies. I was very excited to get an opportunity to work on cutting edge research in a more socially progressive society, meaning the equal opportunity for everyone. My initial experience did not live up to my imagination of the socially progressive society, but I chalked it up to culture shock. So I talked to friends and selected a few laboratories for my Ph.D. education where I could conduct cutting edge research. I also looked for labs where international students were treated equally. I lucked out. My Ph.D. advisor Dr. CL Guy’s lab had a very diverse group of scientists; graduate students from China, Korea, and me from Turkey, a visiting scholar from Israel, and an American lab manager. It was a respectful environment and encouraging teamwork. For example, when Dr. Guy got an invitation to write a review paper, he asked us whether we were interested in participating as an author. Of course, we all said yes. We all brainstormed, made an outline and selected the sections we wanted to write, and decided about the authorship order. Once everyone completed their section, Dr. Guy integrated all the sections and worked on the transitions. Finally, we all reviewed and polished it together. It was a great teamwork and writing experience for me. This has a special place in my heart because it was my first scientific manuscript preparation and laid the foundation for writing research articles and grant proposals.

Diversity power

The equal opportunity provided a respectful and safe environment for learning without being judged, reduced stress, and improved productivity and creativity in the lab. Since each of the students were at different stages of their education, I had many questions with respect to experimental details. Neither Dr. Guy nor his graduate students ever minded answering any questions I asked. I was not worried about sharing my ideas and received really great feedback. The same was true with my Ph.D. committee’s laboratory members. I was never worried about whether I would get authorship for my contribution or that my first authorship would ever be taken away at the last minute for the research I lead and conducted. I published or submitted all the manuscripts related to my graduate studies within a year after graduation. I was pleasantly surprised one day when I was preparing a Plant Physiology lecture and noticed my dissertation was cited in the college textbook. This was 5 years after graduation. Today my work from graduate studies is cited more than 800 times (Google scholar citation) as well as that of my Ph. D. lab members. Our success is a result of the power of equal opportunity.

Equal opportunity is a commitment to creating a respectful work environment. Based on my graduate school experience, diversity flourished in a respectful work environment because we all knew our efforts were appreciated, our ideas were valued, and we were given credit for our contributions. That is our philosophy at Pheronym.

Author: Dr. Fatma Kaplan is the CEO/CSO of Pheronym, an entrepreneur, and an accomplished scientist with experience in both biology and chemistry. She has a Ph.D. in Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology and postdoctoral training in Natural Product Chemistry with a focus on isolating biologically active compounds. Dr. Kaplan discovered the first sex pheromone of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and published in Nature. Then she discovered that pheromones regulate other behaviors in both parasitic and beneficial nematodes. She has very high impact publications and her dissertation (beta-amylase’s role during cold and heat shock) was cited in textbooks within 5 years of publication. Dr. Kaplan worked as a scientist at NASA, the National Magnetic Field Laboratory and the US Department of Agriculture — Agricultural Research Service. Dr. Kaplan co-founded Pheronym to bring nematode pheromone technology to the market and to provide effective, non-toxic pest control for farmers and gardeners.