Carrying out studies in the scientific side of ceramic industry, Prof. Dr. H. Aygül Yeprem is a scientist who made a career in this male-dominant environment. She says “I’m grateful for being in this position with the rights given to women by the founder of our republic Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his efforts to support their development.”
FATMA BATUKAN BELGE
Today there’s only one woman for every nine men in the elite positions of science in Western World. Very few science women are in decision-making positions in European and OECD countries. Their studies are usually evaluated more severely and they earn less and gainless finance and scholarship than their male colleagues of equivalent education and Professional experience. Number of women working in the scientific side of ceramics are also low compared to their male colleagues. We had a talk with Prof. Dr. H. AygülYeprem, a lecturer in Yıldız Technical University, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Department, who carries out her academical studies in this male-dominant environment.
You’re in Sweden for a while. What are you doing there? How long will you be there?
I’m in Stockholm since 2019 as a guest professor. I came here for a one year period with TUBITAK’s 2219 foreign research scholarship. In one of their already going-on projects, the Project on nanocellulose foam materials, we’re working on composite foams based on cellulose nanofibers and producing various metal oxide and clay nano particles based upon a tannin supported process. It’s expected for composite foams obtained to exhibit good mechanical properties and practical fucntional properties (heat-resistant for instance). In the previous studies of Prof. Dr. Lennart Bergström and his team which I work together in Stockholm University Material Chemistry Department, CNF (Cellulose nanofiber) + Tannin + metal oxide film complexes are already studied on and we’re now studying on composite foam production instead of film.
Where is this foam material used?
Nanocellulose based porous materials can be used in various different areas. Most common uses are production of light but durable materials, packaging industry, membranes and filters, biomaterials, electrical devices and energy storing systems, heat insulation and fire retardant materials.
Why Sweden? What attracts you there? Is it the academical environment, nature of the country or its’ life style?
I first came to Sweden in summer 2017 and fascinated by its’ nature. I’m especially talking about Stockholm. It’s also called the “beauty on waters”. There are a lot of rivers, very beautiful, very green. I especially fell for its’ nature and life style. I was thinking about the TUBITAK scholarship for a while then but haven’t decided yet which country to go. I lived in Hamburg, Germany for a year. And I was very happy to be there. It was also very good in terms of science. I did a part of my doctorate in there. I have been in Exeter, England for two months with YOK scholarship. I thought it would be a different place this time. When I liked Sweden that much and get int contact with Prof. Lennart Bergström in Stockholm University, I wanted to come here even I wasn’t very familiar with the subject. But it’s also a good place in terms of science so I’m very happy to be here and study here... There’s peace and tranquility. Nature is beautiful, people are respecting each other, women’s rights are good. In other words you properly as a human in here. Living conditions are better because of low dense of population. But it’s very expensive, especially compared to our money.
Do you miss Turkey?
Of course I do, Turkey is my country. The place I was born and I grew and I love my country. Our nature is also very beautiful but there’s chaos Besides I don’t think that human rights, particularly women’s rights are not as good as here. When making a comparison in terms of these I think there’s still some progress we should make.
And when you compare the scientific academical environment?..
I can’t say they’re scientifically more advanced than us, we’re right up there with them but their opportunities are better. They can get financial support for their projects easier and the number of doctorate students are more because they receive a salary thus they can study at ease and release more scientific publications. In this aspect it seems like they’re studying more than us. But in fact the number of doctorate students are more because of the opportunities so regarding this, every feedback is more productive.
As a science woman working in ceramics, did you face any difficulties in this environment? Because as you know, apart from the art, the scientific wing of ceramics is an area under male dominancy. You can simply observe it even in a congress.
Yes, it’s true that I faced many difficulties in this environment. When you’re talking about art both male and female are coming to mind but in ceramics science field there’s much more male dominancy. There are also woman colleagues working about this topic but when you view it in general it’s a male-dominant area. I faced every big and small difficulties but I love ceramics so much so these difficulties haven’t offended me that much. What offended me more are manners of some people in academic environments. I came across with environments that are blocking advance and development. These are upsetting. Because this time you have to put more effort than required to get somewhere. Whereas if there are no such blocks you can do much more useful things for your country and for the environment you’re in. This chance is low under these conditions. I think this is a limiting situation in our country’s development at science.
Is it true that you had a break in your academic career to grow child?
Yes I did but it’s not in fact to grow child. My teachers have wanted me to be a researcher when I was graduating from my master’s degree. I’m a Chemical Engineering graduate both as bachelor’s and master’s degree. My goal was not being an academist then, it was working in private sector. I have worked in two different places for about two years. Then my son was born. And I wasn’t very happy with the workplace’s conditions so I left it when my child was born. I haven’t worked until he gets to a certain age. Then I began my academic life as an expert in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering field because it’s in relation with ceramics. After one year I have begun my doctorate in 1997.
You have a son, right? How old is he and how is your relation? Would there be a difference in this relationship if you haven’t had a break and keep on working?
My son Enver Can Kılıc is 29 years old. Our relation is so nice but we’re more like a friend than a mother and son. This is to do with my divorce from my husband years ago. I became both a mother and a father. It’s hard to undertake both in Turkey’s conditions. A side of you somehow is becoming more like a man. I thought long and long about what if I didn’t have a break and kept on working; I would get my academical career earlier, I would be a professor earlier. But even so I’m happy. I was able to grow my child easily, I have seen every step of his growth. This will be cliche but there was this saying in advertisements sometime ‘I’ll both make a child and a career’... I grew up my child as much as one wants and when I look back it makes me happy. As years past and I advance in my career I say to myself that happily I cared about my child.
What did your son study?
My son is also a High Chemical Engineer like me, he is doing his doctorate in Yildiz Technical Universtiy Chemical Engineering right now. God willingly he will finish it in a year. After his master’s degree he did his military service as a short term. While doing his doctorate, he has worked in a private enterprise for two years. He had educations in Netherlend and is a good XRD and XRF expert. He’s idle for a year now and can’t find a suitable job. Pandemy is also affecting this of course but unemployment is one of the major problems of our country. Recently he earned the right to do internship with Erasmus so we applied for a student visa and god willingly he will do internship for a few months in Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. This is not a compulsory internship but we think it will do a lot for his professional career.
And then you catch up and be a professor. Your family must be proud of you...
It wasn’t easy to catch up and be a professor. And it’s not like everyone in this way would be a professor but it’s way much harder to be a professor after having such a break. I’m also proud of this as well as my family... My family is a conjugal family anyway; my mother and my son being in the first place... I lost my dad when I was so little, at 9 years old. I’m sure he would also be proud of me if he is alive. It’s of course my family’s support, my determination and God’s help that brought me where I’m now. But I’m very grateful that I’m in this position now with the rights granted to women by the founder of Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his contribution on their development. My mother side is from Balkans. My late grandfather, father of my mother is from Thessaloniki. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his mother Zübeyde Hanım were their neighbours in Thessaloniki. When my grandfather was born Mustafa Kemal was in military school of high school degree and he has given my grandfather’s name in person himself as Kemal. And I’m always praising on this very much.
You said you love ceramics somuch. What makes you turn to ceramics area?
When I was a graduate student in Chemical Engineering years ago, we had to do a compulsory internship like now. I was in our summer house in Dragos at that time so I have begun my internship in the ceramics factory in Kartal Yunus because it’s close to there. I had a very good internship for a month. I have personally worked in every department of the factory from preparing clay to R&D, from plaster mould to casting and it pleased me so much, I loved ceramics. Even that I choosed a ceramics related subject for my thesis afterwards and again worked in the factory. I have made some of my experimental studies there. They even offered me job after I finished. There is the place that leaded me to ceramics first. Afterwards my switch to Metallurgical Engineering is also because of my studies on ceramics. Towards my retirement of after my retirement I want to be interested in ceramic art and attend a ceramic class. I don’t want to pass over it and want to be occupied with ceramic art too.
Do you think that there’s enough communication between universities and the sector?
I don’t think there’s much enough communication. Yet I have been in a Ceramics Institute in Freiberg, Germany for a Project for two months. I observed that there’s a great communication between universities and sector there. There’s also strong communications with the industry in Stockholm University Materials Chemistry Department where I’m now. I can not address whether the academic side or the private sector side is the cause of the poor communication in us. Sometimes it’s both. I think these communications must be developed further.
How you see the future of ceramics in the guide of technological development?
We truly are one of the few leading countries in traditional ceramics. This is also to do with the efficiency of our ceramic rawmaterials. But there’s still a lot to go in advanced technology ceramics. We must do more developing studies in this field.