Fourth-year student Farhang Ahadzadeh is graduating this year (May, 2020) with his BSc in Microbiology and Immunology. When asked how he was going to celebrate, he shared that no matter how it’s done – it’s something he and his parents are both really looking forward to.
“Back in my home country, because of my religion, Baha’i faith, I was banned from attending university and obtaining higher education,” he shares. “Now that I’m graduating, it reminds me of all the sacrifices my parents did for me, all the hardships that I have gone through, and the failures and challenges that never stopped me.”
He and his family spent three years as refugees in Turkey before coming to Canada, where attending university was not banned, but a welcome option for him to study and research freely without limitations.
Now, as a scientist, he shares that the journey is more important than the results.
He believes that it is during the research project journey that you develop your curiosity further and further to create deeper questions for future scientists.
“Science is not about finding an answer to a question,” shares Farhang. “It is about developing more meaningful and deeper questions so that you can keep your curiosity growing.”
Developing curiosity through research
Before the COVID-19 quarantine began, Farhang was involved in a collaborative study with the Osborne, Crowe and Horwitz labs that inspired his research focus on whether enteric viral infection causes a change in the intestinal microbiota, and whether or not this change is responsible for Type 1 diabetes (T1D).
“While mice models allow for functional insights to be gained into host-microbiome interactions, interpretation of the data requires key isolates of the gut microbiome,” he shares. “Therefore, I cultured isolates from the fecal pellets of non-obese diabetic mice to better model the human gut microbial ecosystem in T1D.”
He describes that the immune system plays an important role in the health of individuals, and that any disturbance to the immune system can result in diseases, such as TD1, which is identified as an autoimmune disease. Therefore, this experiment would allow one to better understand intestinal microbiome, and how it can play a role in diseases such as TD1.
“This is of a special importance, because even though insulin injection can be a temporary solution for T1D patients, T1D still remains a dangerous disease for specific groups of patients, such as children and pregnant women.”
Therefore, this project may suggest that development of an effective vaccine against enteroviruses may not only limit childhood disease, but also limit virus-induced shifts in the microbiome and thereby reduce the risk of T1D onset.
Staying focussed through uncertain times
Though research has slowed down since, the plan is to go back again once things start getting back to some level of normal and labs open up again. Farhang has been part of the Crowe lab for three years and has beenworking on this research for a while already, so he doesn’t intend to stop now.
“The important question is how to compromise,” says Farhang. “Even though the research is going to be slow, we know that we have the online tools, we have the research, we have the network we had. Of course, it’s not going to be the same as before, but at the time I think it’s important that you manage the situation tactfully and to try and make your way through other means.”
Some of his favourite activities include spending time at UBC Rose Garden, walking by the Waterfront and writing thoughts about life inspired by his own personal experiences – most of which are still possible to do safely during isolation.
One of Farhang’s most recent writings is a reflection about current events relating to COVID-19:
There was a time when we isolated the Bacteria and looked at them.
Now, we, ourselves, are isolated while Bacteria are socializing in their community.
He admits that he still has a lot to reflect more on both in life and his research. A part of that reflection process is how best to utilize his time so that when he goes back to the lab, he will be ready to work.
“I’m not going to be lost. I’ll have a direction and I think that’s important,” he says.
Making plans for a successful future
Since he admits the future is still quite unclear, he shares his advice for staying on track: 1) having a structured plan, 2) sticking to that plan, and 3) connecting with people you trust in whatever way possible.
“Do not wait to see what happens,” he says. “If you are going to do it, you have to do it. You have to make a plan. Either you succeed, or you come to know what does not work. Either way, you grow."
"A linear failure, if managed properly, can lead to exponential success”
Things are quite different at home and it won’t be the same for everybody, but Farhang emphasizes that the ability to stay flexible, manage situations accordingly and keep in touch with others are some of the most important things.
On advice about how to create a structured plan and manage tasks, he suggests picking a specific time each day to work on something – maybe even the same time you used to do that thing while still on campus. For example, studying for a subject around the same time you would have normally been attending the class or continuing to wake up at 5 AM every day if that’s what you used to do.
Farhang hopes that following this advice, combined with his dedication and research, will bring him to medical school one day to become a neurosurgeon. He says you never know where medicine will take you, but knows there’s still a long and rewarding journey ahead.
“If you want to be a good scientist, find answers to questions,” says Farhang. “But if you want to be an influential and unique scientist, question the answers and develop meaningful questions from your observations.”
“Live with your critical thinking and let it give directionality to your research path. Never give up. Trust yourself.”