As a biology major, Nayab is charting her own path to becoming a dentist. She is passionate about a career, with aspirations of opening a non-profit for affordable access to dental care. To augment her knowledge about running a non-profit, she is simultaneously pursing her Master’s in Nonprofit Leadership in the School of Social Policy & Practice, one of Penn’s graduate schools.
Nayab decided to pursue dentistry, because she knows what a big difference dental health makes to overall health. She also views dentistry as an art, bringing health, beauty, and care to each patient. Through her work shadowing dentists both in the U.S. and in Pakistan, she watched patients make difficult decisions to extract teeth rather than fill or fix problems because of their financial circumstances. She hopes to change the conversation around these difficult decisions by making resources available to underserved populations.
With her developed interests in the natural sciences, Nayab was inclined to find a meaningful research opportunity to connect to her major. While speaking with friends and classmates at the Spiritual and Religious Life Center (SPARC) about her interests in finding a lab to work in, a post-doctoral student invited her to join his lab and research at the Perelman School of Medicine’s Lu Lab. Nayab is interested in neurobiology and discovering how organisms interact with the sensory world. In particular, she is interested in how our nervous systems encode pain versus itch. To address these questions, she has pioneered the use of a technique called optogenetics, which activates molecularly defined populations of sensory neurons. She has shown that the use of light can genetically activate pain versus itch. Her research is creating new knowledge about how itch and pain work, with the ultimate goal of designing treatment options that selectively treat chronic itch versus chronic pain. While some labs require lots of individual work, Nayab has found great collaboration and mentorship in her research space.
Nayab is a leader on campus. She has served as co-chair of Penn’s Programs for Religion, Interfaith & Spirituality Matters group (PRISM), whose mission is to promote interactions among various religious groups on campus through discussion, prayer exchange, programming, education, and advocacy. Through her work with PRISM, she organizes events, that encourages dialogue, collaboration, and fellowship across different religious communities. In addition to her role with PRISM, Nayab has served as Vice President of the Muslim Students Association.
From her first year at Penn, Nayab found a home away from home at SPARC, a physical space on campus where the University Chaplain’s office is located. Rev. Charles Howard, PhD, Chaplain, and Steve Kocher, Associate Chaplain are responsible for oversight and coordination of religious activities on campus. Making daily visits to SPARC, Nayab has found community that listens carefully; provides mentorship and advice, and is present and available for all students.