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“We are a part of nature, just like everything else”- Autism ADHD and pursuing a PhD w/ Gökçen Şahin

by Faster Than Normal

Gökçen Şahin, M.Sc., who successfully completed her master’s degree in Genetics, has just registered for the PhD program to start her education this fall. Technological advances in the field of genetics in the last 20 years have brought with it a large pile of data waiting to be made sense of. Gökçen will do her PhD in bioinformatics in order to learn how to draw meaningful conclusions from these data and to find solutions for this purpose. Gökçen, who loves to learn new things and is curious, developed a machine learning model in her thesis that can predict the muscle heteroplasmy ratio of patients with given demographic features, family history, and clinical table caused by a mitochondrial DNA point mutation causing mitochondrial diseases. She made these by learning everything herself. She reviewed more than 450 publications fastidiously and worked with doctors to generate her data. Gokcen, who wants to improve herself in this field, wants to have a solid foundation. Therefore, she decided to take her education in this field. Gökçen actually qualified to enter another PhD program last year for the same purpose and started her education. During this period, she was diagnosed with ADHD in December and in January, she learned that she is autistic. While the diagnoses were a great shock at first, she shared her diagnoses with her supervisor in order to pass this period in a healthy way. Afterwards, she was exposed to various mobbing by this supervisor. The severity of mobbing had increased over time. And in February, she was fired by him from the PhD program in an e-mail. Not long after, her ex-boyfriend’s family, who learned that she is autistic and ADHDer, did not want them to get married, and they broke up after a 2-year relationship, which was a first for Gökçen. She had many reasons to lose hope. But the opposite happened. The diagnoses resulted in her accepting herself. She faced many challenges throughout her life and she saw that the challenges she experienced was the result of not being accepted as she was. Realizing this, she wanted to go on further and apply for a new program, but she also had fears. She explained everything to her new supervisor before application. And she was encouraged by new supervisor to apply for the program. Now she’s telling people that “Being autistic and ADHD is part of the diversity in nature and being able to live as ourselves, to be free of masks is what we have a right to do. The only thing that can hinder this view is when we begin to look at ourselves as people who do not accept us as we are. When we come back from this mistake, we start living a healthy life. Because not being able to be what we are, not being accepted is ignoring us and it hurts. Nobody has the right to this. We are a part of nature, just like everything else.” This is a great one- enjoy!

In this episode Peter and Gökçen discuss:  

00:40 – Thank you so much for listening and for subscribing!

00:50 – Apologies for the near horrid audio- Peter is still in a hotel.

00:56 – Intro and welcome Gökçen Şahin!

02:45 – Your story is incredible; and it’s frustrating professors would still be so ignorant!

03:21 – So you said that you wrote something out that you wanted to share with us, feel free! 

03:35 – On being accepted for PhD programs

04:03 – On the first meeting with her supervisor/professor

04:51 – On the 2nd meeting with her supervisor

05:50 – What happened next?

08:16 – A little while later…

08:45 – Studying about ADHD

10:00 – On being diagnosed by a child psychologist and then given meds

10:19 – Her professor’s reaction

11:05 – Back to the psychologist

11:51 – On being made a study and the discovery of Autism

13:00 – Amazing. A couple of questions…

13:15 – The fallout and heartbreak

14:00 – Did you go back to your former professor?

15:05 – What types of things that you used to think were negatives, do you now understand to be positives?

15:56 – Fun fact: Your subconscious mind controls about 80percent of what you think; be mindful in your self-talk/inner dialogue. 

16:24 – On being happy inside and being kind to yourself!

17:44 – What advice would you give to someone who has been told that they are broken?

17:55 – THIS PART.  RIGHT HERE.

19:56 – What happened with her new supervisor?

21:30 – How can people find more about you? @GKCNSHN on Twitter

21:30 – Guys, as always thanks so much for subscribing! Do you have a cool friend with a great story? We’d love to hear. I’m www.petershankman.com and you can reach out anytime via email at [email protected] or @petershankman on all of the socials. You can also find us at @FasterNormal on all of the socials. It really helps when you drop us a review on iTunes and of course, subscribe to the podcast if you haven’t already! As you know, the more reviews we get, the more people we can reach. Help us to show the world that ADHD is a gift, not a curse! 

21:40 – Faster Than Normal Podcast info & credits 

TRANSCRIPT via Descript and then corrected.. somewhat: 

[00:00:40] Hey guys, Peter, Shankman welcome to another episode of Faster Than Normal. Unfortunately, again, I’m still recording from a hotel. Uh, we should be back in my apartment within a week or so, but oh my God, has it been not fun? Anyway, I do wanna talk about something fun today. I have an amazing story here I was on Twitter and someone tagged me in a post and said, you’ve gotta read what’s going on here. And I was introduced to a one whose name. Uh I’m I’m despite my best efforts, I’m probably gonna screw up and I wanna say it’s Gokcen shine and I’m pretty, I’m sure I’m relatively close there, but lemme tell you something about Gokcen was in a. PhD program. And, uh, she was doing her PhD in bioinformatics in order to learn how to draw meaningful conclusions from data and find solutions. She was, she loved new things; she’s very curious. She discovered a machine learning model and her thesis that could predict the muscle hetero PLAs ratio of patients with given demographic features basically stuff way beyond my pay grade. Right. She’s dealing with Mitocondrial DNA, uh, point mutation. I mean, incredible stuff. So what happens. She gets into another PhD program and gets diagnosed with ADHD in January. She learns that she has ADHD and learns that she’s autistic. And while this diagnosis works a great shock to her, she shared a diagnosis with a supervisor, and guess what happened with her supervisor? Her supervisor fired her from her PhD program via email! Okay. That’s like breaking up with someone over a text message, not cool! Okay. And then after that, her ex-boyfriend’s family or her boyfriend at the time who learned that she was a autistic and ADHD, did not want them to get married and they broke up a over a 2 year relationship. Unbelievable. But despite having many reasons to lose hope the opposite happened and the diagnosis resulted in G accepting herself and saw these challenges for what they were through her life, realizing that she applied for a new program. Got in. And now she tells everyone that being autistic and ADHD is part of the diversity in nature. And being able to live as ourselves to be free of masks is what we have a right to do. I am so excited to talk to you. Thank you so much for being here today Gokcen. 

[00:02:41] Gokcen: Uh, thank you so much for inviting me, Peter, 

[00:02:44] Peter: uh, an amazing, an amazing story. I, I, I, I, I remember reading it on Twitter and just being blown away that, that, that, you know, of, of all things, professors could still be that, uh, closed mind truly, truly just incredible.

[00:02:58] Gokcen: Actually leaving it was very hard, but eventually I just, uh, get something at you get new thing at you then .Right now I’m totally okay. 

[00:03:10] Peter: Yeah. I mean, it sounds like, it sounds like you took this, you know, as, as, as difficult as it was, you saw this as an opportunity and, and, you know, used it to your, to your advantage.

[00:03:20] Gokcen: Sure, sure. 

[00:03:21] Peter: So, so you said that you wrote something out that you wanted to share with us, feel free. 

[00:03:25] Gokcen: Yes. Okay. Uh, you can just, uh, cut me if I exceed the time. 

[00:03:29] Peter: really not a problem. Go ahead. Okay, go ahead.

[00:03:32] Gokcen: Uh, just let me mention about myself a bit. I completed my master on genetics in 2021. I am accepted to PhD program and I will, uh, start my education in the field of bioformatics and system biology in this semester. I was actually accepted to PhD program last year, too. Uh, three acceptance. Actually, I got three acceptance last year from three different universities. In the one that I choose I was fired after six months by my supervisor. Uh, I met with him on 6th of July, 2021. In the meeting I mentioned about my background, about my thesis, about my current knowledge in this field and I, um, What I want to do, et cetera. And he spoke very positively about my answers. Uh, and he said, a few people at your level can answer these questions so well, you know why you did what you did. Um, so I said to him that I didn’t get any education on this topic. I. In my thesis, uh, I just did something learning on internet, et cetera, but I didn’t get any, um, base education on this topic so I need someone to guide me. I’m looking for, um, my master and he said, okay. 

In the second meeting, uh, he wanted me to prepare a project, uh, based on my performance. I will get a chance to apply. I finished my project and email, but he was kind of person that don’t answer emails. Meanwhile, I was accepted by two other universities. I dunno why, but I see him as someone that I can trust, but I was totally wrong. Anyway, uh, I sent so many emails to myself, to him. Eventually he wrote something like this. Uh, you are a person who tries to do a given test properly. Is determined by technically needs to move forward. However, I think it will not cause any problems with study. So then I, I applied, accepted government accepted me, a university accepted me in the interview. Supervisor accepted me. So, um, let’s start .

Our courses was removed. Uh, however, I went to Institute for a journal club and was going meet with my friends, uh, my team friends. Uh, we were supposed to meet with each other. I expected that they will introduce themselves. Ask my name, myth[?] With me, ask about my background, et cetera. Just some friendly talking, but it didn’t happen. They were really cold people. After journal club I went our teams room supervisor came too. Uh, he started to talk with his students. They got along very well in a kind of manner that I don’t have any idea. Supervisor, um, open potato chips package. He offered to everyone in the room. I politely said that I didn’t want, um, he asked why; I said that I have a high intolerance to lactose and I cannot eat packaged foods. Then very interestingly, he got very closer to my ear, very closer and started to eat potato chips there. It was not nice at all, but I thought that probably this was how they make jokes. Um, because I can’t understand jokes most of the time. And I. even can’t understand why they are made. Um, while he was eating chips. I, he wanted me to ask a question to him. I asked, uh, why he put advanced statistics in the first term while introductory statistics in the second term, he started to laugh again and with his students and said, oh, did I really do this? Oh my God. And last lovely. Um, In the period of this course choice he didn’t say anything to me. Um, so these two courses actually was his own courses, but he didn’t warn me. He accepted my course choices and not surprisingly, I couldn’t succeed because I was almost your own statistics. And this course what was advanced, I said to him, I wish you would inform me at the beginning, but I will, uh, I said that I will fail in this course and take first of all the introductory course and take this course again later. He said, OK.

Uh, one day he called me to his room, uh, take a white paper in front of him, asked me, do you know this topic. I said, no, he wrote the paper. Do you know, this topic. I said, no; he wrote the paper. Uh, he wrote so many topics that I didn’t know about. And he said, okay, go and study them. You should be ready because you are here to do my job. I will do my job. Uh, you will do my job, then I will be able to look something else. Um, I didn’t like this attitude at all. I didn’t study, I couldn’t study what he gave me because this is not the way that I can study. Uh, But eventually he started to get angry with me. Uh, these times I was wondering so much about ADHD, uh, because my psychologist thought that I have. She was, um, nervous because uh, she also got a diagnosis for a while ago and she told me about the common traits that we share. And then I started to study so deeply on ADHD in a kind of manner that hyperfocus . I was collecting my traits to tell all of them to my psychiatrist. Uh, the hospital that I’m going is a medical hospital of Istanbul for, of medicine of Istanbul university. So doctors are working there with rotation, for education. Each doctor see patients for just one month. Uh, when I went to hospital for ADHD evauation , this was maybe the only chance that I have got in my whole life because doctor was a child psychiatrist She evaluated me. It was the 24th of December 2021 I diagnosed with ADHD . Gave me a drug after this session. She said she wanted to see again, very soon. I thought that she will probably ask me whether the drugs work or not. 

I told, um, my diagnosis to my supervisor, I was waiting some understanding, but instead he said that, um, a man without hands cannot be a Shoemaker and no matter how much he wants. But if he works hard, he can become a marathon runner. Maybe he [you] should try another sector. I. Trying to explain that ADHD is not a kind of attention deficit, actually. It’s a problem of regularizing of pay attention wherever we can focus, whatever we do more than neurotypicals. But he didn’t seem to understand at all. And maybe didn’t listen at all. Um, it was 12th of January. I went to a hospital again, I told my psychiatrist that, um, about this, uh, supervisor’s unpleasant behavior. And she told me to relax because she said no one had right to kick me out of the schools. I informed her about the effect of drug. Then she asked me tons of questions I didn’t understand because these questions was not related with medicine or ADHD. After this session she just said that she wanted to invite me to their department community meeting with the justification of I was their patient for long and she wanted, uh, her professor also evaluate me. Then I said, okay, but this wasn’t seem normal to me after going home. I checked each, each question and still didn’t understand and what is them about? I Google check [unintelligible] five, watch videos, one thing, but I got shocked.

Me? Autism? Is that possible? Then the face to face community meeting the professor who is the head of the psychiatric department of the hospital, and almost all psychs of the hospital was there approximately 20, 30 doctors. And this time professor asked me so many questions and all of them evaluated. I shared my bad language too, because I sit to someone, uh, after the meeting, my own psych took me her room and explained that I’m autistic. Uh, it was 26th of January this year. Uh, so, and my age is 29. It’s surprising. 

[00:12:55] Peter: So, uh, it it’s, let me, let me interrupt just, just for a minute, because I, I, I am, I am grateful to you for telling your story. I have, I have a couple of questions that I, I think my audience would wanna know are on the answer to as well. What, what did you, when you were told by your professor that a Shoemaker cannot make shoes, if he doesn’t have hands, how did that make you feel? 

[00:13:15] Gokcen: Terrible because you feel like you don’t have an ability to think, have an ability, don’t have an ability to do something. Uh, you don’t have a brain. You cannot think, you cannot be a scientist. Uh, these are, these are incredibly bad things. And, uh, you know what happens in after he said all this to me, I started to cry very deeply and he just look at me with a cold face and it was really horrible. 

[00:13:54] Peter: When you let’s fast forward to when you were accepted into your new program? Um, I’m I was curious, you didn’t mention this. Did you at all, at any point, go back to this professor and tell him that you were, that you made into this new program? 

[00:14:08] Gokcen: Uh, no, I didn’t. I didn’t. 

[00:14:11] Peter: Do you have any desire to do that? 

[00:14:14] Gokcen: Uh, actually, I have a really big desire to tell him, um, in a, in maybe I know government education department or something. I really don’t want to see him again anymore.

[00:14:30] Peter: Right. I understand that. It just seems to me that, that I think there’s, you know, for what he’s done and had the way he did it, uh, there should be some consequences for him. Um, you know, that’s a, obviously a bigger story, but I do think that that’s something you shouldn’t, shouldn’t just let go. 

[00:14:45] Gokcen: Um, and I will tell, um, more about what he did. Actually. There is so much bad things too, and it’s coming. 

[00:14:55] Peter: Well, let’s focus. Let’s focus on the positives for a second. So let’s fast forward to the point where you were accepted into the new program. Yes. What have you noticed? What have you noticed about yourself since your diagnosis? What types of things that you used to think were negatives are, do you now understand to be positives and things like that?

[00:15:14] Gokcen: Uh, could you repeat the question again, please? 

[00:15:17] Peter: Um, now that you’re diagnosed, you know, for instance, I’ll give you an example. My, uh, my ability to, to multitask I realize is a, is a positive, but when I was in school, uh, it was framed as not being able to pay attention. And so I thought it was a negative. Yes. Right. Once I was diagnosed with ADHD, I realized that it could be a positive. So I’m, I’m curious as to what sort of things that, that you might have thought of as bad things, um, have you since maybe sort of rethought of as possibly good things now that you understand sort of where your, how your brain works. 

[00:15:53] Gokcen: Um, actually, there are lots of things like that until to the diagnosis I always thought that I am weird because everybody in your environment say that you are weird. And when they say until that age, when everybody say this, eventually you also believe them. Um, but I actually, without thinking them, I was already happy in my inside. I couldn’t show it to the people, but I was happy too inside because I was, um, I love, uh, in, in a way that what makes me Gokcen and everything. Every trait of autism or ADHD, give me that they are my traits and this is, these are my parts. And I love myself. Uh, but after diagnosis, I can say it loudly that I love myself. 

[00:16:54] Peter: I think that that in itself is an amazing story right there. The fact that you’ve been able to; understanding sort of how your brain works has allowed you to be kinder to yourself, right? 

[00:17:04] Gokcen: Sure. Because I able to make this master thesis, which is very, uh, hard actually in that time, I didn’t know any knowledge about machine learning and I apply and even I created my own data set. Uh, examining more than, uh, 450 articles. This was a huge job. And needs a really strong attention. So this is why ADHD is my superpower and autism, my superpower. Um, yes. 

[00:17:44] Peter: What would you tell, what would you tell students or people who were in your position who might have been told that they were broken as well? What would you, what advice would you give to them? 

[00:17:55] Gokcen: Um, the thing that really saved my life is, um, just accept yourself as you are, because you are incredible, whatever other people say. Um, And be always kind. This is for everyone. Uh, as Robin Williams said, this, the quote that I love so much: Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know, nothing about. Be kind, always. Because until the time of the diagnosis, I had so many tons of psychological problems. I even stay one month in mental health hospital, like a prison. I suicide twice, uh, heavy drugs. Therapies, tons of therapies. None of them worked. Everybody thought that you are not normal. You just want, don’t want to be alive. But, um, but this is not true. Because if you can discover yourself, this is a gift, not a curse. Yeah. And after diagnosing all of the psychological problems just gone away. And I just right now use just one drug and this is for, to, to make it gradually decrease. Uh, and very soon that I will give up all the medicines I will take none of them. 

[00:19:26] Peter: That is wonderful. What a great, what a great story. I love that, you know, when I saw your original tweet, I was sort of blown away about how anyone could be that sort of close-minded, um, especially in education where you’re supposed to have an open mind, you’re supposed to, uh, embrace that. But, um, it seems to me Gokcen that you’ve definitely come out on top of this, that you have, you have come out the winner in this story, and I hope that you keep writing and I hope that you keep tweeting and keep sharing your story with the world because you’re an inspiration. 

[00:19:54] Gokcen: Thank you so much. Uh, what happened lastly, I wanna share with you. I told my new supervisor about a bit about my situation, and she said; uh, you have had a bad experience, but, uh, don’t be discouraged. I’m sure that, uh, you will be much more happier in here. Uh, there are bad peoples in the world, but fortunately they’re good ones too. I am grateful to her. Uh, but when I said that I’m grateful she to accepted me, she said that I didn’t do anything. You deserve it. We evaluated you as we did to all students. And you deserve it. This is so precious because people pity you uh, about your autism about your ADHD, and this is especially so in my country. But my dear supervisor treated me like she tries to everyone and she didn’t show sympathy because I’m autistic. She said I was accepted because I deserved; this is so precious.

[00:21:00] Peter: I love that. I love that. What a wonderful story. Gokcen, Thank you so much for taking the time. My pleasure. Give us your, give us your Twitter account so people can follow you. 

[00:21:09] Gokcen: Uh, sure. Um, my, my, uh, name with, uh, letters, uh, G K C N S H N. This is my Twitter. Thank you so much. 

[00:21:21] Peter: This. Awesome. Thank, thank you so much for taking the time. We’re definitely gonna have you back in several months to talk about, to give us an update on what’s going on. 

[00:21:28] Gokcen: Thank you so much. You can. 

[00:21:30] Peter: All right guys, as always, thanks for listening to fast than normal. We will see you next week with a brand new episode. Hopefully I’ll be back in my office and not in our hotel room and we will talk to you soon. Stay safe, stay well. 

Credits: You’ve been listening to the Faster Than Normal podcast. We’re available on iTunes, Stitcher and Google play and of course at www.FasterThanNormal.com I’m your host, Peter Shankman and you can find me at shankman.com and @petershankman on all of the socials. If you like what you’ve heard, why not head over to your favorite podcast platform of choice and leave us a review, come more people who leave positive reviews, the more the podcast has shown, and the more people we can help understand that ADHD is a gift, not a curse. Opening and closing themes were composed and produced by Steven Byrom who also produces this podcast, and the opening introduction was recorded by Bernie Wagenblast. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll see you next week!

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