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10 Questions with Zahin Ahmed, Teaching Fellow in Biology

Zahin Ahmed, Teaching Fellow in Biology, aims to pursue medicine after Andover.

After graduating from New York University (NYU) in the Spring of 2020, Zahin Ahmed joined the Andover community as a Teaching Fellow in Biology for the 2020-2021 Academic Year. While Ahmed originally grew up in Lexington, Mass., he now resides in Bishop Hall in West Quad North. On campus, Ahmed teaches two sections of Biology-100.

1. How did you end up at Andover?

[When] I was at NYU, I knew that I wanted to take a gap year after college and before [medical] school… and it really came down to either doing something in a hospital, like being a medical assistant, or teaching… I think Andover provided a really unique opportunity. You get to really lead the classroom by yourself, [and that’s] something that you don’t see in a lot of places. [Andover] doesn’t just think about success in terms of academics, but it thinks about success in terms of developing the student as a whole, having them work on their creative side… and live in a community of your peers and learn how to work with others… I heard about [the Teaching Fellow Program] from actually a former Teaching Fellow who was a family friend of mine… The moment I stepped on the campus I was like, ‘this is really what I’d want to do for my gap year.’

2. What stemmed your passion for biology?

I think initially when I was younger, I wanted to be a writer because I really liked creating stories…  I think one thing that helped me understand my passion for [Biology] was just how interested I was in the way things work… And I found that my passion for storytelling and writing stories was something that came across in Biology, because I feel like every sort of thing that I studied could be thought of as a story… When I teach my Biology class, I get really excited because it’s so, so cool to think about all these different things that are going on in [and outside] our bodies… I think like the biggest thing is just, it gets me excited like nothing else really does.

3. What was your favorite thing about NYU?

I’d have to say, I really liked going to school in the city. So I grew up in Lexington. Very suburban town, as are most Massachusetts towns… Everything closes at night, and the only thing to do after nine is hang out at your friend’s house… And so, NYU was really the opposite end of the spectrum for me… I think it really helped me develop my sense of independence and maturity…I grew up in sort of a bubble. And so, when I got to NYU, forcing myself to find that independence was really helpful for me… There was one day where we were studying, and it was 2:00 a.m., and my best friend was like, ‘oh, let’s just walk to Times Square’ and that’s something that we could do, which is really fun to do on a Wednesday night. 

4. How does the diverse Andover community compare to your highschool experience?

[At Andover,] there’s always momentum and there’s always someone pushing… and not getting complacent and not getting comfortable with where we are… once we get comfortable and once we stop pushing for change, that sort of means we haven’t done our job, because there’s always more that we can do… And [at Andover] there really is a strong approach towards that, which I appreciated a lot. I think it makes me feel more comfortable being in this environment and feeling like I can speak up about that too, which is really nice… I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with the CaMD team which I’ve really enjoyed. 

5. How has Biology-100 curriculum changed recently?

Last year they restructured the [Biology-100] curriculum to focus more on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion… We [also] get the chance to talk about topics [that] I think are more related to societal issues, such as environmental justice, racism, and colorism in our society and understanding how biology can have impacts that go further than just what we read in the textbook. I think that’s important because not everyone that takes a [Biology-100] class is going to go on to pursue biology in the future. But all these lessons that we teach them regarding the [intersections] between science and the society we live in, are lessons that they can take with them, regardless of whatever field they’re going into. 

6. What is one change you wish to see in the field of medicine?

Medicine right now, unfortunately, is a field where it is very hard to get into if you don’t have the resources, like taking the MCAT, studying for the MCAT, the process of applying, it’s something… that you might not necessarily get exposure to, unless you hire these crazy expensive advisors… one goal that I had was… [about] how we could change the environment of the healthcare field to make it more accessible. Not only just in terms of how we can make sure that people of all backgrounds can enter medicine, but also making sure that once we are physicians, and once we are doctors that the way we practice is a way that’s respectful of all cultures and all backgrounds. 

7. How are your current Biology-100 classes going?

My kids are all super engaged. They’re really great, always raising their hands, which I’m not used to. I’ve taught it in other settings, and usually it’s really difficult to get that engagement from my students… I was working a lot of times with college students and older, high school students who were studying for the SAT, and even with them they were so shy and nervous in class, and I don’t see that in these 14-year-old students that I’m teaching. [It] is really great that they feel comfortable and feel like they want to engage and participate and have these discussions, which I’m thankful for.

8. What have you learned so far from your time at Andover?

I thought I was really technologically smart. But I realized I really wasn’t… [I have] adjusted to learn new technologies and make sure that I’m adapting and innovating… I think especially when everyone’s at home and and doing things over Zoom, it’s important to switch it up and not [have] every class be presenting information and lecturing. Some classes will do debates. Some classes will do activities. Some classes will do a Jeopardy game… switching it up and using different types of technology is something that I’ve had to really adjust to and learn how to do. 

9. As a young faculty member, what is it like living in Bishop Hall?

I was living with, I think, ten [Post-Graduates]. And the thing is— these are all athletes who are giant. They’re only three years younger than me and I’m 5’8”, so I’m tiny. [In the beginning, it was hard to] serve as a sense of authority, when there’s these giant people who were so much taller than me… It’s hard to connect with students when everyone’s wearing a mask and when you can’t be in common spaces together, especially during the quarantine period… I tried to get to know each one of them… And over time I think we were able to get closer and develop a sort of relationship and bond that helped me.

10. As a recent college graduate, do you have any advice for current Andover students?

It doesn’t matter where you go to college. And I think we get really caught up in needing to… go to all these amazing schools that we hear about. But I think the biggest thing to realize is regardless of where you go to college, regardless of if you go to college or not, you can still get to that same endpoint that you’re trying to achieve. Because it’s all about how you use the resources that are provided for you. Another thing is [to] just have fun… oftentimes, we can get bogged down in doing really well academically…  and it can be hard to focus on having fun. Honestly, if you’re going to Andover, once you get to college, you’re gonna have no issue, you’re gonna have no problem doing well… the first two years of college, I spent so much time in the library—like so, so much unnecessary time in the library. And I think in the last few years, I really learned how to create more of a balance.