If life hands you a bowl of lemons, ask Stevens alumna Dr. Birnur Aral how to test the fruit, observe the data and then make lemonade.
As director of the Health, Beauty and Environmental Sciences Laboratory at the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, Dr. Aral heads the chemistry department, responsible for a team of scientists who evaluate products designed to meet the health, beauty and fitness needs for Good Housekeeping magazine and GoodHousekeeping.com. The GHRI evaluates products to ensure readers get the best value for their dollar. Some of the products tested include self-tanning lotions, eye makeup removers, moisturizing creams and long-lasting nail polishes.
Dr. Aral is part of a team with two other researchers, and each product, on average, takes six months to investigate from start to finish.
It’s a job Dr. Aral, M.Eng. ’90, Ph.D. ’96, loves.
“I’m a scientist at heart,’’ she said. “There is scientific thinking in everything.’’
She believes that a positive attitude brings you far in life and she gives off a calming presence when speaking. Her comforting voice is often interspersed with laughter. And since she has lived in New Jersey for almost 25 years, her words come out with rapid-fire speed, but quickly put a listener at ease.
Born in Turkey, Dr. Aral came to Stevens in 1987 as a newlywed when both she and her husband had goals of graduating from Stevens with master’s degrees. Her husband, Mehmet Nehrozoglu, instead received his M.B.A. from New York University, but Aral stayed at Stevens, earning a master’s degree in 1990 and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Stevens six years later.
She’s worked at four companies since her Stevens days, but with her “make lemonade’’ attitude on things, Aral is quick to point out that every job has contributed to the scientist she is today.
“Every job has added to me. It’s just been a different kind of thinking at each place,’’ she said.
During her time at Unilever, the personal care company, Dr. Aral worked with soap bars, body wash and cosmetics. When the company relocated to Connecticut, she commuted from her New Jersey home for a short time. But she realized the long commute wasn’t for her and she knew she was ready for a more managerial role.
“I was a small fish in a big tank there,’’ she said.
While working for Takasago, a fragrance company, she got the chance to lead a team, but soon after starting there, she was let go in 2007 due to the economy. Fortunately, her ever-optimistic attitude allows her to look at the short break in her career as a positive.
“I was laid off from Takasago in mid-June and I started with GHRI in mid-September, so I had the summer off’’ to be with her daughters, then ages 10 and 5, she said.
When the GHRI position was offered to her, she was hesitant at first.
“I wasn’t sure what the job specifically was or that I would be good at it,’’ she said. “Publishing and science – could I do that? But it has been wonderful these past four years and I really love it.’’
At GHRI, Dr. Aral gets to use her chemistry background by testing the products and then she reports on those findings for the magazine and online site. She said her days are never dull and she loves being an investigator on “real situation products’’ because, as she points out, we are all consumers, so the products she tests are things that are widely used by everyone.
As the mother of two daughters, does she hope they follow her footsteps into the sciences?
“I think it backfired,’’ she said, as she laughs heartily. “They are both more into the arts, but who knows? They do well in science and my husband and I don’t pressure them, and as long as they do well in school, they’re OK. I tell them you have to make a living and you have to be happy while you’re doing it.’’
And she speaks from experience, as she says she is satisfied with her work and life.
“You have to go with the flow of things. It’s hard nowadays to think ahead because things in life change so quickly. But doctors and engineers are still around, so I guess people still need them.’’
For full coverage of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Stevens becoming fully coeducational, visit Women at Stevens.