Image of Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, Illinois associate professor in food science and human nutrition.

Urbana, Ill. When a scientist gets the keys to run their first lab, they soon realize that they must also become experts in human resources, networking, and administrative skills that they were never truly trained for.

Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, Illinois associate professor in food science and human nutrition, and her collaborators, Matthew J. Sikora (assistant professor, University of Colorado) and Rebecca B. Riggins (assistant professor, Georgetown University), founded the NR IMPACT group that specifically addresses the challenges for early and mid-career faculty studying nuclear receptors (NRs).

NRs are proteins that regulate genetic transcription and expression, recognizing hormones and lipid molecules. They also play a critical role in the development of normal tissues and disease physiology such as brain, prostate, liver, and breast cancers.


“We had amazing senior mentors and advocates that definitely helped us through our career, but we were also feeling the need for that scientific community as well as additional programs to support us as we continued through our careers,” Madak-Erdogan said.

NR IMPACT is the first Illinois faculty-initiated cohort to come together around NR science and post-training career development. It will amplify the success of current faculty while also aiding new faculty in overcoming challenges and provide unique resources for researchers making advancements in NR biology. Madak-Erdogan’s hope is to help future generations of cancer researchers at Illinois and accelerate their labs’ establishment and independence.

Madak-Erdogan’s own research is facilitated by her work with the Cancer Center at Illinois, Cancer Research Advocacy Group, and the Birmingham-Illinois Partnership for Discovery, Engagement and Education (BRIDGE) program, which focuses on creating a community and platform to share knowledge and research.

Image of Matthew J. Sikora and Rebecca B. Riggins.

Image of Matthew J. Sikora and Rebecca B. Riggins. 

According to Madak-Erdogan, one of the biggest challenges in launching this cohort was the impact of COVID-19, but she and her collaborators were still able to recruit members for their group. They are now focusing on expanding the cohort and bringing in more junior faculty to continue fostering an inclusive scientific community

“Hopefully, our impact will give some sort of initial comfort to faculty throughout their careers and especially while they are establishing their laboratories,” Madak-Erdogan said. “We don’t want it to be a one-time event; we really want it to be a long-lasting initiative.”


– Written by Lisa Mei, Communications Intern 

Matthew J. Sikora, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver-Anschutz Medical Campus

Rebecca B. Riggins, PhD, is an associate professor at Georgetown University and is a part of the Department of Oncology at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Read more about the BRIDGE Program: