A Discussion with Sophia Badakhshan, a third-year science and business student with a specialization in biotechnology.
Sophia is the vice president of the science & business student association and president for Enactus Waterloo, a social entrepreneurship group. Sophia has worked as a bacteriophage researcher, won Fusion Case Competition 2020 and Best Pitch and Spirit Award Enactus National Competition 2019.
BioTEC: What initially motivated you to enroll in the program of science and business?
Sophia: With the intention to pursue medical school, I knew I was going into science. However, it struck me that if I have skills in addition to medicine, I can have an even bigger impact on people’s lives. And in today’s society, business skills are transferable and applicable anywhere, so I decided to do science and business.
BioTEC: What are some of your highlights and obstacles in the learning experience?
Sophia: One of the biggest highlights of my journey has been noticing the application of science in every single step of the way, and the overlap between scientific models and business. It brought me to come up with the analogy of seeing business as a eukaryal cell that has many compartments: its mission statement and vision can be the DNA since DNA directs the growth of the cell, signal molecules are like communications between different departments to relay information, etc. So that’s my biggest ‘aha’ moment, being able to see everything connect.
One of the obstacles is not being able to dive very deep in both areas. Because we need to cover both science and business, it is hard to take all core courses for both areas, and this results in some knowledge gaps. I think this can be best resolved through extracurriculars, which I tried to integrate into my daily life in university. One of my favorite extracurricular activities that I found so meaningful was teaching a nine-year-old with autism. Being able to establish rapport between your student and build that connection has been an amazing experience.
BioTEC: What are some of the instances where you applied your background in science in real-world applications and any future career goal for yourself?
Sophia: Two areas of my interest are probably genetics and phages. For genetics, I was able to apply the knowledge about color genomics in the Fusion Case Competition, which focused on the topic of where you should invest your money in the next few years. It allows people to be pre-diagnose and proactive about their health conditions. It can save the health system a lot of money, which can be better allocated for other research. I was able to combine my research and business skills to present to the judge that color genomics can offer better patient care and prevention measures at a reduced cost.
For phages, I believe they are untapped resources, and gradually scientists are finding more and more about them. I have worked with them as a researcher on a bacteriophage poultry cluster project at Agriculture and Foods in Guelph. During the coop experience, my job involved isolating and purifying 12 viruses against 3 pathogenic bacterial strains. I am very passionate to work with them and bring their impact into the world, anything from treating a bacterial infection or even their potential for cancer therapy.
A very distant career goal I have is working for the United Nations. I see a lot of opportunities for people to share their knowledge across borders despite the barriers caused by political influence. The UN has a framework already built, and there is a lot of potentials for me to go help as a person growing up with the background and culture of the Middle East and having experience in Canada. Collaboration can be a great breaker of barriers.
BioTEC: Could you elaborate on your involvement in Enactus Waterloo?
Sophia: Enactus is a student-run social entrepreneurship incubator. Each term we work together towards certain themes to create projects. In Enactus, we aim to create projects that will have an impact on society: each term we also go to a regional and national competition and compete against all universities in Canada, and the winner of the national competition gets to compete internationally.
What I enjoy the most is providing opportunity is providing opportunities for students to grow and allowing them to choose to do what they want. We take an open and proactive approach for people to learn and apply skills. For example, if one of the team members wants to learn tableau as it becomes increasingly useful in the job market or help showcase our projects in the national competition, we encourage them to learn it and give them the tools to come back to teach the whole team about the new skill.
BioTEC: What are some of the tips you would give to yourself when you first entered university?
Sophia: Take advantage of the freedom and time in first-year to open yourself up to many new opportunities: extracurricular, networking, even new ways of learning. Mentioning learning, it is important to leverage the resources your professor and TAs can provide, not only they can help you grasp a concept faster, but also they can network you with professionals as well. A second very important point: learn to ask critical, well-rounded questions in classes because it helps you think beyond the mere concept but to the application of that knowledge. Knowledge is not useful if you don’t apply it.
BioTEC: Overall, how has your experience lined up with your expectation of the program?
Sophia: Waterloo’s science and business program is a tight-knit community. During my daily practice of communication, cooperation, and presentation skills, I have fallen in love with the business aspect. In addition, I found great life mentors such as Professor Kashif who focuses on teaching transferable life lessons. Professor Jean Richardson and Okey Igboeli and individuals in our program treat one another as people and not just numbers in classrooms which I expected coming into University. Just recently, I received a LinkedIn message from a science business alumni who saw my résumé and wanted to help me edit it. She sat down for one hour with me and offered to help with additional edits. I truly feel that in science business, you are never alone and one thing you learn is to generously pass on your knowledge and experience to others. There is somewhat of an honors system that is established! When I asked the student why she wanted to help me is that when she was in my position,upper-year science business students helped her, and all she expects from me is to pass it on.
Inspired by Sophia? Check out her LinkedIn and connect with her!
Tips & Resources from Sophia:
If you are interested in the intersection of science and entrepreneurship, check out Concept by Velocity and watch their pitch competition. Check out their coaching if you are someone who is an aspiring entrepreneur in the science field. If you are interested in social and environmental entrepreneurship, check out Entrepreneurship at Environment and St.Paul’s GreenHouse for their workshops, one on one coaching, and pitch competitions.
Looking for opportunities to integrate business skills in your learning? Check out Enactus Waterloo, a tight-knit community dedicated to providing workshops to help students gain career-relevant skills. The Enactus team strives on individuals trusting and relying on one another and is super encouraging students to pursue their interests.