“My father took one of the toughest jobs in the government because he cared about his nation more than himself. His courage and conviction have always driven me to want to make a difference.”
Pardis Sabeti is an Iranian American scientist and scholar in biology and genetics. Her research focuses on developing a genetic algorithm explaining how the diseases pass from animal to human. Her research on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa led her to be among the best scholars in the TIME Magazine’s Persons of the Year in 2014 (Ebola Fighters), and one of the TIME 100 most influential people in 2015. Since the outbreak of the Corona-pandemic, she also did valuable research in genomic sequencing to explain the evolution of the virus and how it was transferred from animals to human beings. Currently, she is a professor in the Center for Systems Biology and Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.
However, her ambition is not limited to the scientific world and she is also a talented rock singer. Are you wondering how a university professor of biotechnology, who is always busy in classes and in the laboratory, could become a successful rock star? That’s an interesting story, which makes her a good choice for our weekly inspiring Thursday.
Pardis was born in Iran in 1975, four years before the revolution. She was born in a Baháʼí Faith family, a religious minority which have been excluded and enormously tortured after the revolution. Because of the role of her father as a member of the army and of the intelligence service during the Pahlavi dynasty, the family was in great danger during the revolution and was obliged to emigrate.
Although Pardis was still a child, the bitterness of being forced to leave her homeland motivated her to pursue her dreams. Perhaps if she had to grow up as a woman in the Islamic society of Iran, she would not have been able to have her own music band or even be allowed to sing, although she could have been a successful researcher. Thanks to her efforts to succeed as an immigrant woman and to overcome all obstacles, she became a role model for many Iranian women. In her memoirs, she recalls her mother’s efforts and her role in inspiring Pardis to achieve her current position, and how her mother introduced Pardis and her sister to the academic world from the age of two, by playing the roles of teacher or of a diligent student.
It was during those years that Pardis developed her interest in mathematics. She recalls her mother’s and her sister’s support, which was empowering her through her academic life. “My sister taught me addition and subtraction and multiplication and division,” she says, “so by the time I got to school, I knew it all, and when we’d do the times tables, I was just focused on doing it faster than anybody else. I already had the information, so it just got me to focus on excellence.”
Written by WAVE intern Homa Bazafkan
Pardis Sabeti, the Rollerblading Rock Star Scientist of Harvard | Page 1 | Science | Smithsonian Magazine
Single animal to human transmission event responsible for 2014 Ebola outbreak | National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Pardis Sabeti: How we’ll fight the next deadly virus | TED Talk