Six Questions with SWMS – Sonia Ahrabi-Nejad

“Six Questions with SWMS” is a series of interviews with women across marine science with a wide range of career paths, degrees, and experiences. 

Sonia Ahrabi-Nejad

What is your current job, and how did you end up there?

I work as a School and Youth Programs Educator at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans, Louisiana. With School Programs I lead and help develop lessons for visiting school groups coming on field trips to the aquarium. These lessons cover a range of topics from frogs, to rainforests, to shark dissections. With different schools visiting each day, I have a new experience each time. I also train and supervise the youth volunteers that come to the aquarium on the weekends. Over the summer, I led a month-long training for a group of 20 middle schoolers to teach them about the aquarium as well as how to talk about climate change and its impact on ocean habitats. During the school year these volunteers interact with visiting guests, passing on their knowledge and climate change solutions.

I went to Northeastern University for my undergraduate degree and participated in their cooperative education program. I knew I wanted to work in informal education when I got my first internship at the Northeastern University Marine Science Center in Nahant, Massachusetts. While there I worked with classes teaching kids to do biological surveys in the intertidal zone. I loved connecting kids to real science methods. Since then I have worked as an educator in the Everglades and at fishing camps, and when I moved to New Orleans I was lucky to continue working as an informal science educator.

What is your favorite thing about marine science, or your research field more specifically?

My graduate research focused on two small tuna species commonly caught by recreational anglers in southeastern Florida. Working with non-scientists, especially children, and helping them understand their connection to the ocean and their impact on it is my favorite thing. Even though I am not currently doing research, I love to translate active science to the general public to foster a better connection between scientists and the community.

What is your greatest professional/educational accomplishment?

All of my accomplishments, including graduating with a bachelor’s in biology and a master’s in marine biology, have gotten me to this point in my life, so collectively those are all my greatest accomplishments. Through all of this I have grown and I am glad for all of my experiences.

What are your goals for the next six years?

I want to continue to grow in my ability as an informal science educator and develop programs that engage audiences about the ocean. It is becoming more important that people not only talk about climate change and its impact on the world, but also about how collectively we can make changes to our lifestyles that will help reduce this impact.

What advice would you give the six-years-ago version of yourself?

Six years ago at this time I was in the fall semester of my senior year of undergrad and working at my Marine Science Center internship. I had just come back from a year-long marine biology program called the Three Seas Program run by Northeastern University. During this year my class traveled and researched marine biology in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Pacific Ocean. I was trying to decide what I should do after graduation and if I should pursue a graduate degree or start applying for jobs. My advice to myself would be to work towards your goals but be flexible in the path you take to get there. Find out what makes the most sense for you, what makes you the happiest, or what gives you the skills you want to develop.  

Our theme for our 4th annual fall symposium is “Swimming in Confidence: Declaring your Scientific Authority.” How do you increase your self-confidence?

I am lucky that I have a strong group of women to whom I can look for guidance and assistance, both professionally and personally. By talking and brainstorming with these women I am able to increase my self-confidence and see my accomplishments through others’ eyes. Sometimes I need to take a step back to appreciate how far I have come.