Celebrating the graduates of Spring 2020: Yekta Sharafaddin-Zadeh

Virtually celebrate convocation with our graduates on June 12, and meet some of the graduating class.

News Staff - 5 June 2020

The first-ever online celebration of convocation is quickly approaching on June 12, with a variety of virtual events planned to help celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates as they join the UAlberta alumni community. As we take note of all the hard work and achievements of our graduates that brought them to this moment, we’re sharing profiles of just some of the amazing members of the class of Spring 2020.

Today, meet Yekta Sharafaddin-Zadeh, graduating with a BSc Specialization and Research Certificate from the Department of Psychology, as she shares her thoughts on her UAlberta experience, advice for new students, and shares a tribute to her friends Sara and Saba Saadat, who lost their lives in the Flight PS752 plane crash

What led you to pick UAlberta for your studies?

Overall, UAlberta is a pioneer in research and development, with a wide variety of courses from several disciplines. Taken together, it became clear that this institution is where I will find many opportunities necessary for my future career and networking. Still, many other students in my situation also felt the difference between high school and university to be too large. As a high school student accustomed to small classrooms, choosing University of Alberta seems like a terrifying decision. Perhaps it is due to fear of obtaining poor academics because of the larger first year classes. Although it is clear that a grand transition exists between a high school and university class environment, this change should not be seen as having debilitating outcomes. In fact, it was due to UAlberta's consistent attempts at integrating its students into its community that has made me feel a sense of community belonging and engagement that I hadn't experienced previously. Additionally, it is filled with many professors who are passionate about their work and their students. These individuals find pleasure in answering questions, whether during the lecture or in office hours. 

Tell us about your experience in the Faculty of Science.

The last four years of my life has been enriched with an in-depth scientific knowledge, research skills, and community engagement that has shaped my identity. I would not trade the courses, people, environment, friends and colleagues, and even some poor decisions I made—all of these factors have truly made me a more sophisticated person with an analytical and critical outlook on the environment around me. I feel aware, mature, responsible, and independent.

University will definitely push you out of your comfort zone and will teach you about yourself and help you learn and grow as an individual. To be completely honest, university is definitely not always easy. There will be moments where you lose faith in yourself, feel burnt out, or unaccomplished. I believe that these moments as well as the successful times are equally important. The sensational experience you feel after academic or extracurricular success is only exponentially increased through recognizing and acknowledging that it was the results of your own hard work. The setbacks made me tougher and stronger. Now, critique is only seen as positive, with pointers I can use to improve my abilities. It is important to also note that during these setbacks, the support of the university, the understanding professors and colleagues, along with my friends and family were crucial elements that allowed me to push through the harder times. 

What is one of your favourite memories from your time at UAlberta?

This is a tough one—but I would have to say that my favourite moment at the university was during the awards ceremony of the 2019 Royce Harder Conference held by the Department of Psychology where I was awarded the prize for best undergraduate oral presentation. 

What advice do you have for current and future students at the Faculty of Science?

Students in their first or second year often feel a lack of cohesion with their community or the direction they want to take. The number of options for activities, sports, clubs, courses, and labs available can be overwhelming, especially if you are keen on finding the "best" option available for you. I want them to know that there is no such thing as the "best" thing available. You will learn new skills, meet wonderful people, and experience new things with any decision you make. All possibilities will provide you with valuable skills.

It’s okay to not know what program you want to be in, it's okay to be undeclared, it’s okay that you took a course you realized later you did not need for your program. What does matter is that you try things out. Are you interested in seven clubs? Narrow it down to four, sit in on a few meetings and pick one or two you can devote yourself to and build cohesion. If there is a program you're interested in, take a prerequisite for that program and see how you feel about it. I have changed my program roughly four times and I didn't realize what I wanted until half way into my third year! This isn't a race; this is a marathon with obstacles and break stops that ask you to do a lot of self reflection. 

How have you spent your time during COVID-19 distancing?

I have picked up a lot of my old hobbies along with new ones during the COVID-19 social distancing. Can you believe I made a cake for the first time? And learned how to play the keyboard to an intermediate level? It can definitely be frustrating to physically distance yourself, but it is important to make the best out of it and do all the things you never had time for before that you always complained about.

How do you plan on celebrating convocation?

I think self-care activities like a nice bubble bath, glass of wine, and a good book (or some Netflix) are appropriate for an occasion that celebrates all the hard work of my last four years.

I would like to pay tribute to my beloved friends, Sara and Saba Saadat who lost their lives in the PS752 plane crash. Sara had already graduated from the Faculty of Science in 2019 and Saba would have been graduating with me at this moment, and is being honoured with a posthumous degree. The loss of loved ones is definitely difficult, but the loss of such young, brilliant, and eager lives is truly a great loss to humanity as a whole. With their aspirations to become a psychologist or medical doctor, Sara and Saba embodied the mission to provide assistance to their community. Thank you to the Faculty of Science and a special thanks to Dean Matina Kalcounis-Rueppell who have been so diligent, respectful and understanding of myself along with the rest of individuals in the university community who were affected by this tragedy. 

What's next after graduation?

As of the spring semester, I have been enrolled as a graduate student in the Department of Psychology, completing a thesis-based masters of science degree. I am currently working on studying the attitudes and behaviours toward face masks during COVID-19. My focus will shift to knowledge mobilization in Fall 2020 where I will be helping to put together a course to teach how students can disseminate and translate academic knowledge to general audiences of all ages. If things go according to plan, my work should end in Winter or Spring of 2021. I will be applying to medical school this year for fall 2021 to pursue my goal of becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon.