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New at the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Science: Prof. Vartan Kurtcuoglu

Vartan Kurtcuoglu is a double professor at the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Science. His research is within NCCR Kidneys and deals with the oxgen transport in the human kidney. Kurtcuoglu is married and a father of two schoolaged sons.

Not a beautiful flower, but a 3D-modell of the kidney’s blood vessles: Assistant Professor Vartan Kurtcuoglu’s research within the NCCR Kidney projects covers basic research and applied science aspects. His modelling of the the blood’s transport in the kidney require a supercomputer.
“Giving up is no option.” Vartan Kurtcuoglu
Why did you choose to pursue science?
Vartan Kurtcuoglu (VK): From a very early age, I was interested in how things function. I studied mechanical engineering at ETH. I was doing an industrial internship when I realized that the industrial environment was not for me. I wanted to learn more and I was missing a real challenge. I came into contact with visualizations of research results as a student at the ETH. I saw how a simulation was used to show the flow patterns of cerebrospinal fluid. Since then I have been fascinated by the interface of engineering and biology. This is where basic research meets applied science. I am very pleased to be examining such an area in my work within NCCR Kidney.
What do you like best about your work?
VK: It is a real privilege to do research. If I want to research something, and find the money to do it, I can pursue that. And yes, I do hope to give something back to society as a result of my research.
Did you experience any dry spells or obstacles in your career? How did you overcome them?
VK: Together with my colleagues, I would like to develop a new intelligent medical device for patients suffering from hydrocephalus. The aim is to get this device to regulate cerebral spinal fluid drainage more intelligently than the ones that are currently on the market are able to. Unfortunately, our project is in the midst of a small financial crisis. However, giving up is not an option for me – if the idea is right, one always finds a way to carry on.
Who has given you the most support during your career? And what about in your personal life?
VK: My family and especially my wife have always been a strong source of support.
Did you have role models who have influenced your career? Who?
VK: If I have to name a role model, then it would be my grandmother. The difficulties and barriers that I have dealt with as a researcher are small in comparison to what this woman lived through and achieved. After the genocide against the Armenians, she grew up in a foster home. From a young age she was forced to perform hard physical labor and never had the opportunity to go to school. As a grown woman she made sure that her sons, my father and uncle, went to school. She also secretly sent her daughter. Even though she herself could neither read nor write, my grandmother saw education as the ticket to a better and freer life for her children.
How do you maintain your work-life balance?
VK: There is no such thing as a work-life balance. I am very family oriented. My family is the most important thing to me. Hence I consciously make an effort to spend as much time with them as possible. As a scientist, I can be relatively flexible with my time. I bring one of our two sons to school and write papers and proposals in my home-office whenever possible.
What advice do you give to young researchers considering an academic career?
VK: Statistically, the probability of landing an academic career is very small. It is thus important to evaluate every career step very carefully and to be open to alternatives.
University ofZürich Institute of Physiology Winterthurerstr. 190 8057 Zurich
Phone +41 44 635 50 55
E-Mail: vartan.kurtcuoglu (at) uzh.ch
For more information about Prof. Kurtcuoglu and his research see: http://interfacegroup.ch
(Original interview in German by Dr. Calista Fischer, Head of Communication Faculty of Science, UZH)

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