Meet the Team - Tuba
Tuba Nur Gide has been something of a fixture in the Melanoma Institute Australia research team for the last four years. Her PhD has seen her through three different lab changes on the RPA/University of Sydney campus, and she’s watched as a small, dedicated team has flourished into a bustling group of researchers.
Tuba has now finished her PhD, so we sat down to ask her how she got here, what the last four years have been like for her, and where to next.
“I always wanted to do a PhD.”
Tuba was always going to do something amazing with her studies. When she was in school, her Dad was completing a PhD of his own. Now, he’s a Professor in IT. At the same time, her Mum was doing night classes to complete a Masters. Tuba vividly remembers accompanying her Mum to lectures, sitting in lecture theatre chairs slightly too big for her, doing homework and playing with her sister until it was time to leave. After class, her Mum’s classmates would buy them chocolate bars to eat in the car. They would fall asleep before making it home and have to be carried inside to bed by their parents.
After completing an undergraduate degree, Tuba went straight into an Honours year. She chose to study breast cancer, where she learned some valuable lessons she took with her to her PhD.
“I had a great co-supervisor who was always there for me. He was really hands-on and helped me to see that in science, sometimes things just go wrong. You don’t always get the answer you want and that’s okay.”
After Honours, her next logical step was to pursue a PhD. But she wasn’t sure what to do. She researched supervisors for her PhD endlessly and came across Professors Georgina Long and Richard Scolyer, now MIA’s Co-Medical Directors. She was intrigued by their work and inspired by their dedication to the goal of zero deaths from melanoma, so she looked into melanoma and was fascinated by the challenges it posed. She emailed them both, not entirely expecting a response – these were two experts in their field with years of experience, and she was coming straight from University with no prior knowledge of their life’s work. She got one reply, then another, had an interview, and came on board in 2015.
Tuba began her PhD with a hazy idea of what she wanted to do. She spent the first few months collecting paraffin blocks – small sections of tissue taken from the parts removed from the body during surgery and preserved for pathological examination and future research.
“I like that I learned how to do that, because I think it gave me a sense of how long it takes to just prepare for the lab. Knowing how long it takes and how frustrating it can sometimes be, it made me so grateful when other people did things like that for me as the team expanded.”
MIA’s lab on the RPA/USyd campus hasn’t always been in the flash new Charles Perkins Centre. When Tuba began, the lab was nestled on the roof of an older building behind RPA hospital. The rabbit warren-like rooms were cold and cramped, and wild weather could flood the room and make working near impossible. Soon after, they moved to a beautiful University of Sydney lab close-by and shared space with another research team, until they secured a shiny new lab in CPC.
“Walking into CPC for the first time was amazing – it looked just like labs do on the news. It felt like ‘ahh okay, I am a scientist!’”
As her project started to take shape, Tuba had to be resilient when it came to finding answers. One of the techniques she relied heavily on to visualise the data she needed was multiplex immunofluorescence. But for a long time, her experiments just would not work. Immunofluorescence relies on different cells showing up as different colours to visualise where the cells lie and how many of them there are. They couldn’t get the image to clearly show anything, making it useless for any research.
“I just kept thinking what am I even doing? Why is this going wrong? The first time it worked, I almost cried. It was so pretty. And it was only one picture but it was amazing to see.”
Even with setbacks, Tuba enjoyed her PhD. She was able to build up her confidence as an academic because the team around her was supportive and encouraged her to go for every opportunity. In her four years in the team, she was encouraged to give presentations and apply for awards, to be a part of papers and present at conferences.
Anyone would be forgiven for thinking that the most stressful part of a PhD is finishing and handing in the thesis, a document anywhere from 80-100,000 words in length that sums up your entire project. Tuba disagrees.
Her most stressful moment came during one of the highlights of her PhD. Tuba was accepted to give a presentation during the plenary session of the 2018 Society for Melanoma Research Congress in Manchester, England. The plenary session is an honour for anyone asked to present. They are given in front of the whole congress, and are usually reserved for the most important and ground-breaking work.
Prior to the plenary session, presenters were asked to upload their presentation slides to the conference computer. First, Tuba's presentation wouldn't copy over. Then when it finally did, everything on the slides had shifted. The IT team had no way to fix it, so Tuba was madly correcting her presentation on the fly.
"I didn't know what to do and I started to panic. I'm thinking 'all these huge names in melanoma are waiting for me.'
Ines [one of MIA's postdoctoral researchers and a clinical oncologist] tried to calm me down and said 'well, it can't get any worse!' I just had to laugh."
After the initial hiccup, Tuba's presentation went exceptionally well. Her research showed a specific type of immune cell that could be used as a predictor of response to treatment, which was also published in a prestigious journal.
"It was almost underwhelming, submitting my thesis. After I handed it in I just thought 'oh, okay, it's just over...'"
For days after submitting her PhD thesis, Tuba slept terribly, and when she did sleep she was dreaming of the submission process over and over.
Since submitting her thesis, Tuba has taken a break and is now back in the MIA lab to help finish off some of the 'lab stuff' she didn't get to complete, and to work on making the predictor of response she found during her PhD useful in the clinic. She's not quite sure where her career will take her in the long run, but being able to work to help melanoma patients without the looming deadline of a thesis is a nice break.
Recently she received confirmation that her PhD was accepted. As of her graduation later this year, she will officially be Dr. Gide.
Tuba's advice for PhD students?
"Make sure you have a good supervisor - they can make all the difference.
And do something you enjoy learning about!"