What made you pursue a Master’s degree in Bioinformatics and Systems Biology?

Bioinformatics and Systems Biology is a multidisciplinary field. The primary reason why I wanted to pursue my education in this field is the fact that this program can give me new insight into my field of study, mixing computer knowledge and biology, which is really interesting these days! You can study genes, DNA, RNA, protein structures, various synthesis processes using just your laptop with good computational power, which is quite enough to explore the answer to the most intriguing questions in biology, chemistry, etc.

What do you think is the strong point of this field?

As we have a huge amount of biological data that is produced every moment, bioinformatics is necessary for applying information technology and computer science in a biomedical context to study, analyze and process genetic and clinical information. This will help to solve many problems with saving time and money resources.

Was there any specific reason you chose ITMO University?

First of all, IT's More than a University and I found ITMO to be a young university in the sense that it’s still growing and using new methods of education. As I wanted to continue my education in the bioinformatics field, I found this program with a well-organized syllabus at ITMO. I became familiar with Alexey Sergushichev's group and decided to learn more about bioinformatics with his group.

What are some of the comments you get about your native country here?

Well, answering this question is really interesting! People often think about Iran as a country with colorful and beautiful nature, but most of them believe that traveling to Iran would not be so easy for them as it is a Muslim country and the atmosphere would not be so comfortable for them! Actually, I would like to say that it is not like this and Iranian hospitality is famous around the world.

One of my Russian teachers asked me about this and instead of describing the situation of my country, I invited her for 15 days as my guest and I tried to do my best to introduce her to Iranian nature, our rich culture and delicious food! She said it was one of the most amazing trips in her life. I was happy to hear that.

Has your stay here in St. Petersburg changed your perception of Russia?

Before coming I heard that Russian people are not so friendly and life for foreigners would be hard and most of the time, they would be homesick. But, fortunately, I felt very comfortable even on my first day here in St. Petersburg and I would like to say “thank you” to my coordinator Ksenia Spiridonova and to all my kind classmates that I have ever had! They warmly welcomed me. Even the first day was a surprise for me because of the friendly atmosphere at ITMO University.

How do you mostly spend your free time?

I can tell you that this is a really intensive two-year program and I have to study all the time. The best part is that I have found metagenomics to be my favorite field in bioinformatics thanks to Ilia Korvigo, who was teaching this course. Now I am spending most of my time learning the concept of metagenomics and currently I am working on two different projects in this field. But sometimes I prefer to walk and enjoy the beauty of this city.

I like traveling, I was thinking that I can visit most of the cities and beautiful places in Russia but unfortunately, I could not even visit Saint Petersburg properly because of study and lack of free time! 

If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?

Well, this is one of the really hard but easy questions! As a mentor, I would choose my parents. I have learned kindness and the way of behaving from my mother, patience and the way of thinking from my father! Every moment of my life, I have learned something new from them. I would like to say thank you so much for being my parents.

What do you miss the most about Iran?

When you hear your country's name, the first word and feeling that comes to your mind is family, which is the most important thing. This is the worst part of studying abroad! The second one can be the sun! I miss the sun and the hot weather!

Can you share your favorite quote?

“I’ve learned and believe that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel!”

Written by Ethan Avila