Özlem received her BSc degree in Physics from Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, Turkey. Then she moved to the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at the same University for her MSc degree. She obtained her PhD from Max-Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics and Free University, Berlin, Germany. While doing her PhD, Özlem became interested in structural biology, and during her postdoctoral positions (Texas University, USA; University of Western Cape and University of Pretoria, South Africa) she gained experience in structural bioinformatics as well as structural biology. During her education Özlem received numerous fellowships and awards, including Turkish Government Education Scholarship (Turkey), British Council Research Scholarship (UK), Monbusho Research Student Scholarship (Japan), Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) PhD fellowship (Germany), NRF Free-Standing Postdoctoral Fellowship (South Africa) and Claude Leon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship (South Africa).
In October 2009, Özlem took up a senior lecturer position at Rhodes University, South Africa. She initiated a one-year MSc programme in bioinformatics by coursework and research thesis in 2011, which was the first such programme in Africa, and established Research Unit in Bioinformatics (RUBi) in 2013. Since joining Rhodes University, Özlem has graduated 11 PhD students, of whom she was main supervisor to 9, and 31 MSc students. She has over 60 peer-reviewed articles in internationally accredited journals including.
Özlem’s broad research interest is structural bioinformatics and bioinformatics education. She is a member of international education bodies including ISBC Education committee and Global Organisation for Bioinformatics Learning, Education & Training (GOBLET). Özlem is also honorary member of Golden Key. Özlem was co-founder and the first president of the South African Society for Bioinformatics (SASBi) (September 2012 – October 2014), and mentor to SASBi Student Society (October 2014 – September 2016).