Faculty Spotlight: Aref Zarin

profile photo of aref zarin

Dr. Aref Zarin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology, investigating developmental and experimental neuroscience in Drosophila. Dr. Zarin received his Ph.D. from the University of Dublin in 2013, and joined the department of Biology at Texas A&M University in 2020 after his postdoctoral research at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Dr. Zarin sat down with us to answer some questions about his life, and offer some advice based on his experience in academia.

image of drosophila larvae stained green

What got you so interested in neuroscience and genetics to make it your life’s work?

How brain works is still a big mystery, even in simple organisms. We know a lot about how other organs (i.e. heart, kidney, liver, etc) but not the nervous system. Our capability to do successful transplantation of organs other than brain clearly indicates that we are far from understanding the brain’s structure and function. This challenging question is pretty much what made me interested in neuroscience. I wanted to take part in addressing this challenge.

aref zarin with god on shoulderDescribe a recent research collaboration that has impacted your research

I have an ongoing collaboration with Dr. Wesley Grueber’s lab at Columbia University. He is well-known for his work on the structure and function of sensory neurons. We are working on a joint manuscript that should be published in 2022.

Who is your role model, and why?

My postdoc advisor. In his opinion, everyone has unique talent, and you need to discover it. He was really good at identifying people’s strength and helping them flourish.

What is the best advice you’ve been given?

“Never procrastinate”, and this will be my best advice to everyone!

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

Perhaps the fact that I like gardening and landscaping a lot. I got into this when we lived in Oregon. We had purchased a house with a plain backyard and front yard. I started working on landscaping it. I even made a wooden gazebo and a fire pit.

What is your favorite word?


aref and tamineh with sonWhat’s it like balancing work with life?

I am husband and a father to 4yrs old boy. Keeping balance between work and family can be challenging sometimes, especially when I have several deadlines to meet back-to-back. I think my wife should be the one to tell how good I am in this aspect. 🙂 She is one of the main reasons for my scientific success!

What characteristics do you prize most in a colleague?

I like my colleagues who are always optimistic and radiate positive energy. Also, in my opinion, a great colleague is someone who is always willing to help and share knowledge and recourses. Fortunately, I have many such colleagues in the department.

What advice would you give to a new graduate student or new professor?

Never procrastinate 🙂

What strategies did you use to be successful as an undergraduate student?

Back in the college, I learnt how to manage my time so that I could have a healthy life/study balance. This skill prevented me from being easily exhausted by study and work. During my undergrad years, I used to exercise seven days a week. I was a member of kick-boxing team in our university. Had tough days as you can tell. 🙂 This was a really good distraction when I was super tired of studying hard. I would encourage everyone to regularly exercise. The chemicals released during exercise resets the brain.

Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.

My performance in the entrance exam for graduate schools would be one of the main accomplishments of my life. In Iran, to be admitted to graduate school, we need to take a nation-wide exam. Based on the performance, students are ranked. The better the rank, the better the university you get admitted to. In 2006, there were over 10,000 applicants in this exam, and I was ranked first! That is how I got into a master’s program and got my M.Sc degree in molecular genetics.

What was a memorable experience at A&M?

The tailgates before the football games. It is very fun to be among people who hang out and cheer for their team of interest.

Are you prepared for what comes next? 

Getting funding from NIH and NSF is the next step for my career, and I am fully prepared for it!

Anything else you want to share?

I consider myself a global citizen. I speak three different languages, have lived in four different countries (Iran, Ireland, Spain, and the US), and have travelled to many other countries. I am a big fan of soccer, especially the world cups. Given my global citizenship thoughts, I must admit that it has been very difficult to choose which country to cheer for.