Azadeh Shirzadi

Secondary Science Teacher, STEMneutral

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Ask questions, get out there and give it your absolute best effort.

What do you do?

I try to engage my students with the beauty of science and motivate them to be activists in their communities. 

Why did you choose this field?

I always liked helping people and did a lot of volunteering as a mentor for youth. In university my plan was to apply to teachers college but a TA pointed out that my grades were high and suggested I do graduate work. I couldn't afford to go into any more debt for school, so when he told me, “They’ll pay you!” I was sold on academia. I got into a direct entry PhD program in chemistry, but decided to finish with a Masters after two years when discovered I didn’t enjoy doing research. I did love being a TA; so it was back to the original plan of becoming a teacher.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I wish I had understood that I was smart. This lack of confidence stemmed from being an immigrant and ESL learner. No teacher or mentor ever encouraged me or told me of my potential, so I always assumed everyone else was doing far better. If I had had more confidence in my abilities I think I would have pushed myself even harder. I wish my younger self would have known that a sense of inner confidence and competence was going to be possible. 

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love working in STEM because it allows me to understand how parts of the natural world work. I love reading about new scientific discoveries and being amazed at the enginuity of biological systems. I wake up looking forward to sharing the joy I get from science with my students and seeing their eyes light up when they too are stunned by its beauty. I also love that science can be used to solve problems. We are facing a great deal of global problems and we need yonge people to think critically and be innovative in finding solutions -- science can get us there.   

Best advice for next generation?

Exert your will. Speak up. It can be uncomfortable, especially if you’re a natural introvert. In this world, if you don’t stand up for yourself, nobody else will. Ask questions, get out there and give it your absolute best effort. Additionally, if you have some level of privilege, recognize that you are privileged and help break down barriers for others. 

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

Ever since I learned about the incredible yet simple process of natural selection, I was enthralled by the process of evolution. I used to say, “Charles Darwin is my hero.” That was until I read Angela Saini’s book, Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong – and the New Research That's Rewriting The Story. In the first few pages she highlights how Darwin believed in the inferiority of women. It was yet another reminder that despite being able to think critically in one realm, we often hold biases that create blinders for us in others. 

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