FROM A SMALL VILLAGE IN TURKEY
Born in Turkey, Aynur spent the first seven years of her life in the outskirts of Ankara with her parents and four siblings. Neither of her parents could read or write, and yet they strongly encouraged education for their children. In the Turkish custom at the time, however, expected roles for girls often clashed with Aynur's goals.
"As the oldest girl in my family, I felt I had a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. I had to push boundaries and break the mold."
Aynur recalls a happy childhood full of laughter and lazy hours outdoors. While not formally educated, Aynur's mother taught her children early about the wonders of nature — explaining on long walks in the woods how to identify edible mushrooms or odd plants. This innate sense of curiosity and desire to understand "why" became a part of her DNA. "We didn't have a lot of money when I grew up, so we didn't buy games, we made up our games. We were inventing all of the time."
A WORK ETHIC IS BORN
When Aynur was seven, her family moved to Germany to pursue new opportunities. Given her parents' lack of education, Aynur saw firsthand the importance of education in creating opportunity. "My mother let me come to her job at the factory and to watch her as a cleaning lady. This was very hard, physical work for her," Aynur said, pausing for a moment. "She taught me that life could be hard, but that if I studied and worked hard, I had the power to make it better."
TAKING A LEAP
Transitioning to a new school with a different language in a foreign country was a big change for Aynur, but it set the stage for a foundation of courage and confidence. From a very early age she was comforted by the universal language of math and numbers, and quickly became known as a "math whiz." With help from her older brother, she excelled in school, and ultimately gained a position as a Research Associate (RA) at Bayer at the very young age of 19.
At Bayer, Aynur was constantly challenged by her manager and mentor, Stefan. "I would ask a ton of questions, like why we had to use certain restriction enzymes. He would continually challenge me, drawing short strands of DNA and asking how I would cut them," she explains. Aynur learned with each assignment and was quickly improving her cloning skills.
"BUT THEN HE POINTED OUT THAT THERE IS ALWAYS MORE THAN ONE WAY TO GET TO ROME.
"That made me realize you have to look at each problem with different eyes. It is one of my greatest lessons, and one that I try to apply to my work and to my team, so that
"WE ALWAYS LOOK AT A PROBLEM FROM MULTIPLE ANGLES TO TRULY UNDERSTAND WHY."
Aynur credits Stefan, who continues to serve as a mentor, with many of her early achievements. "He opened the world of science for me and really planted the seed that I could go to college. I didn't initially think it was ever an option for me — a little girl from Turkey whose parents could not read or write? But he helped me to explore the unknown ... and I graduated, got my PhD, and now work at the greatest biotech company."