20 Questions with Nika Shakiba

Nika Shakiba, PhD

Assistant Professor, School of Biomedical Engineering




20 questions with Nika Shakiba

1. Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
I was born in Iran, moved to Canada when I was two and grew up in Toronto. And I have recently moved to Vancouver.

2. Where did you go to school?
I completed my undergraduate degree and PhD at the University of Toronto. My undergrad was in Engineering Science. This program was probably one of the first that was available at that time in which they blurred the boundaries of what engineering is. You could explore cellular engineering, non-traditional definitions of engineering and get a sense of how engineering principles can be more broadly valuable in biology.

I don’t think I truly realized the opportunities for engineers to impact biology until I met Peter Zandstra, a chemical engineer who had the audacity to play in a stem cell researchers sandbox. It was so non-traditional and that really excited me. I joined Peter’s lab  as a grad student. I came in very much on the computational modeling side, and I came out almost entirely experimental. It was a steep learning curve, but Peter had provided such a supportive and collaborative environment that I could pick up that expertise. He was really supportive of that idea exchange across fields and across peers and collaborators.

Through my PhD I explored the underlying rules that shaped the decisions of cells, skin cells as we genetically reprogrammed them back to a stem cell state. Biologists and clinicians were fundamentally driving those quests, so it was a really fun experience to dive in there and work together.

Read the full interview here.

Published March 2021.