+
upworthy
Packard Foundation

Pardis Sabeti: Award-winning computational geneticist by day, indie rock singer by night

Pardis Sabeti: Award-winning computational geneticist by day, indie rock singer by night
Courtesy of Pardis Sabeti
True
packard-foundation

Pardis Sabeti has had an obsession with math and logic from a young age. When she was little, her mother set up a makeshift classroom in their home where Sabeti's older sister, Parisa, taught her everything she learned in school. By the time she started school herself, Sabeti already had all of her math facts memorized, so she simply worked on answering faster than everyone else. "I already had the information," she told The Smithsonian, "so it just got me to focus on excellence."

Her math proficiency led to a defining moment in 7th grade math class, one that foreshadowed her bright academic future. "The teacher came in with a VHS tape of a video of an MIT 2.007 (then 2.70) competition," she told Upworthy. "It's a wild event where mechanical engineers build robots for head-to-head competition with other robots. I saw this and thought, 'What is this magical place?' It was my Charlie and the Chocolate Factory moment. That's when MIT came into my consciousness."

After earning a National Merit Scholarship, Sabeti went on to MIT and earned a B.S. in biology with a perfect 5.0 GPA. (She was also class president and played on the varsity tennis team.) She won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, where she earned a Masters and Doctorate in the field of evolutionary genetics. In 2006, she became the third woman to graduate summa cum laude from Harvard Medical School.


Sabeti says she didn't come from a family of doctors or scientists, but her family history did impact her choices. She was born in Tehran, Iran, and her family immigrated to the U.S. shortly before the Iranian Revolution of 1979. "I thought that if you like math and you're an immigrant, you'll become a doctor," she says.

As she advanced in her education, however, she realized she was more interested in medical research than in treating patients. Her graduate work included developing a breakthrough algorithm and tool for analyzing genetic factors in infectious diseases, helping scientists figure out humans adapt to microbes, and later how microbes themselves adapt and spread.

Sabeti went about her research in a somewhat backwards way, developing new tools to look at existing data rather than collecting new data and using established scientific tools to analyze it. She would eventually win several prestigious awards for her work — but not without going through the trials innovators often experience when they take a radically different approach.

"Everyone thought what I was trying to look for was a waste of time," Sabeti says. "It seemed as if the work was going to go nowhere. Most people have a hard time somewhere in their arc in graduate school, but my outlook looked quite bleak for some time."

But her hard work and unique approach has paid off. Her research and analysis of genetic factors in infectious diseases has earned her the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for Natural Science, the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise, a National Institutes of Health New Innovator Award, as well as the honor of being named a Time magazine Person of the Year in 2014 and one of Time's 100 Most Influential People in 2015.

Courtesy of Pardis Sabeti

Much of Sabeti's success has come as a result of her field work in Africa. As an assistant professor at Harvard's Center for Systems Biology, Sabeti collaborated with the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital in Nigeria to study the deadly Lassa virus — a project that posed serious risks. "I had tremendous challenges," she says. "Universities are not always thrilled about having someone actively working with a deadly virus."

Being awarded a five-year, $875,000 Packard Fellowship helped make her field work possible. The fellowship, awarded to promising scientists in the dawn of their career, offers unrestricted funds for recipients to use at their own discretion. Sabeti says the exploratory funding Packard offers gives researchers the opportunity to go into areas that aren't traditionally funded, which is vital for innovation.

"The Packard Fellowship is the most generous junior faculty award," she says. "It allows you to be creative, to be curious. That kind of funding is invaluable and hard to come by. It allowed me to think boldly, differently — things that would have been difficult for a junior faculty to do otherwise."

"Packard is an organization who thinks about not only how to make science move, but for scientists to do so while also having a quality of life," she adds.

Some of Sabeti's funds went to helping the hospital in Irrua provide resources for all of their patients, providing more data for her research, which in turn helped doctors better diagnose and treat people. Christian Happi, director of the hospital's Infectious Diseases Laboratory, told The Smithsonian that Sabeti's work helped thousands of patients as he sung her praises. "Apart from being dedicated, generous with her time, generous with her knowledge, generous with everything, really," Happi said, "she just really wants to be involved. That type of generosity is a quality that not many people have."

Generosity, empathy, respect — these qualities, combined with fierce determination and drive, define Sabeti's approach to her work. She says one of her life goals is to train students to be good people as well as good scientists. As part of that effort, Sabeti has partnered with a middle school to create an outbreak simulation for students to figure out how to contain. "It's a full fledged, 200 person, massive outbreak," she says. "We simulated this by sending a virtual virus through bluetooth." The simulation, which includes an app and other technical materials, is being used in multiple schools.

Teaching students about infectious diseases is only one of Sabeti's passion projects. The remarkably well-rounded scientist also plays bass guitar and is the lead singer of an alternative rock band called Thousand Days. Before a near-fatal ATV accident in 2015 shattered her pelvis and knees, she enjoyed competitive tennis and volleyball and was a regular rollerblader.

Courtesy of Pardis Sabeti

And she brings that energy and creativity into her lab. The Sabeti Lab at Harvard creates an elaborate holiday card every year to highlight her team and the work they're doing, hoping to share the joy of science and inspire young scientists. "We get to show there's this very creative and different life you can have," Sabeti says. In fact, that's what she wants aspiring scientists — especially female scientists — to realize.

"Much of what people see of science is a culture created by men many decades ago," she says. She wants to help everyone see that they can have a rewarding life in the sciences, to "see that they can be themselves, that they can do hardcore technical work that advances the field, while just being who we are."

Image from Pixabay.

Under the sea...

True
The Wilderness Society


You're probably familiar with the literary classic "Moby-Dick."

But in case you're not, here's the gist: Moby Dick is the name of a huge albino sperm whale.

(Get your mind outta the gutter.)

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

More parents are taking 'teen-ternity leave' from work to support their teenage kids

Parenting through the teen years takes a lot more time and energy than people expect.

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

Raising kids through adolescence is not for the faint of heart.

When you have a baby, it's expected that you'll take some maternity or paternity leave from work. When you have a teen, it's expected that you'll be in the peak of your career, but some parents are finding the need to take a "teen-ternity leave" from work to support their adolescent kids.

It's a flip from what has become the traditional trajectory for modern parents. Despite the fact that the U.S. is the only developed nation in the world to not have mandated paid parental leave, most parents take at least some time off when a baby is born to recover physically from pregnancy and birth and to settle into life with their tiny new human. Many parents then opt to have one parent stay home full-time during their children's younger years, as full-time childcare is often cost prohibitive, and raising babies and toddlers requires an enormous amount of time, attention and energy.

Parents often return to work when their kids are in school full-time, and many feel a bit of a respite from the relentlessness of parenting as their kids become more independent and capable of doing things on their own. It's not that older kids don't need their parents, but their needs are different. Physical parenting gives way to more complex emotional parenting as kids get older, and for a while, those emotional challenges are somewhat simple.

Then the tween years come along. Then the teens. And for some parents, a realization hits that parenting kids through puberty takes almost as much time, attention and energy, as toddlers do. Only now, those needs are much more complicated and consequential.

Keep ReadingShow less

Tony Trapani discovers a letter his wife hid from him since 1959.

Tony Trapani and his wife were married for 50 years despite the heartache of being unable to have children. "She wanted children,” Trapani told Fox 17. "She couldn't have any. She tried and tried." Even though they endured the pain of infertility, Tony's love for his wife never wavered and he cherished every moment they spent together.

After his wife passed away when Tony was 81 years old, he undertook the heartbreaking task of sorting out all of her belongings. That’s when he stumbled upon a carefully concealed letter in a filing cabinet hidden for over half a century.

The letter was addressed to Tony and dated March 1959, but this was the first time he had seen it. His wife must have opened it, read it and hid it from him. The letter came from Shirley Childress, a woman Tony had once been close with before his marriage. She reached out, reminiscing about their past and revealing a secret that would change Tony's world forever.

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

People are debating the merits of a 24-hour daycare and the discussion is eye-opening

There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about the need for this.

StableDiffusion

Are 24-hour daycares a good idea?

Millions of American parents utilize daycare centers while they work. Since most people work during the day, most daycare center hours fall somewhere between 7:30am and 5:30pm. It's rare to find a daycare that's open after normal working hours.

But one "24-hour" daycare in Houston captured people's attention—and sparked a debate—when a mom posted about it on TikTok.

Adventure Kids Playcare in Houston isn't actually open 24 hours a day but it does offer childcare up to 10:00pm during the week and until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. In the video, the mom drops her daughter off and we hear the employee tell her they close at midnight. The mom later says she picked her daughter up at 11:55pm.

Reactions to the video rand the gamut from "24-hour daycares are a brilliant idea for parents who work odd shifts" to "Moms shouldn't be leaving their kids at a daycare late at night just so they can go out," sparking a fascinating and eye-opening discussion.

Keep ReadingShow less

A dad is looking for a little more respect at home.

The title of dad or father is a sweet and respectful way to acknowledge a child's special bond with their male parent. It signifies love and respect and shows appreciation for his role in their life. But the title works both ways. The term dad reminds fathers of the responsibility to guide and protect their kids.

The importance of the unique role dads play in their kids’ lives is why a father named Steve was upset with his wife for repeatedly using his first name when referring to him with their preteen children.

The father vented about the situation and asked if he was wrong in a Reddit post with over 10,000 responses.

“My wife recently started using my first name when referring to me to our preteen kids, as in ‘Steve's gonna pick you up from school tomorrow,’” the father wrote on Reddit’s AITA forum. “I asked her not to when I first heard it, saying I don't really like when you use my first name to the kids. Can you say ‘your dad’ or ‘dad’?”

Keep ReadingShow less

Husband's portrait of wife is so bad that she nearly stops breathing

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder but what if what your eyes behold is objectively...not good? In what appears to be a creative way to spend quality time together for a married couple, things go hilariously wrong. Ted Slaughter, uploaded a video to his TikTok page of an activity he and his wife did together.

Slaughter's wife seems to be holding the phone so you can clearly see what appears to be a painting of Slaughter, who is sitting at the other end of the table in front of an easel. The text overlay on the video says, "husband and wife paint portraits of each other (gone wrong). But what could possibly be wrong, sure his wife's attempt isn't art gallery ready just yet but it's not bad.

Based on the critiques the man had of his wife's painting, surely his looks much closer to professional level work. Right?...Right?

Keep ReadingShow less