Peer Tutor Spotlight – Nafeesa Alibhai

Photo source: Nafeesa Alibhai

Nafeesa is in their 4th year of completing an Honours BSc in Integrated Science at UBC, focused on genetics, physiology, and neuroscience.

Nafeesa is also a member of the UBC Neuroscience Club (UNC), Climate Justice UBC (formerly UBCc350), the Climate Hub at UBC, and sings in SARGAM UBC. They serve as a mentor for UNC and Integrated Science, and earned the 2018-2019 Undergraduate Teaching Award for Peer Tutors.

Nafeesa has been a peer tutor for BIOL 121 and 200 multiple times and is currently a peer tutor for BIOL 112 and an Undergraduate Academic Advisor (UAA) for BIOL 200.

What do you most enjoy about being a peer tutor?

I really like seeing how people interact differently with the course material – and learning how to look at the same concepts from novel perspectives. It helps me understand these concepts more fully, too. I know from my neuroscience courses that the more ways you can understand something (e.g. media, text, diagram, etc.) the more connections you’ll have to that piece of information, so the better you’ll know it. Knowing this, I try to present concepts in multiple ways so that different types of learners can access the material in a way that works for them.

What has being a peer tutor brought to your undergraduate experience?

I feel that being a peer tutor has helped me to humanize profs a bit and understand where they’re coming from. It lessens that divide between student and prof and has made me a better student in my own courses. I’m less afraid to start a discussion in class, raise my opinion, or even just email my profs.

Also, being exposed to different learning styles has made me test out different ways of learning for myself. I’d say my favorite one so far is drawing things out on a whiteboard or chalkboard. There are some great chalkboards in Brock Hall Annex that I used to visit whenever I could.

What has been an interesting outcome of your peer tutoring experience?

When I first entered this role I was coming to terms with my own identity, and much of it is still in flux now. I didn’t realize that students would be looking to me as a non-academic mentor, as well as someone to support their learning, and I really have tried to step into that role as well as I can. I know that my queer visibility has inspired students to be more openly authentic and I like to think that I’m inspiring them a little bit to be more open about themselves. It’s incredibly rewarding, and I’d say that it’s almost better than helping students learn.

How has your unique background influenced your peer tutoring experience?

All of the facets of my identity kind of come into play when I act as a peer tutor. One example is that English is my second or third language. I grew up speaking Kutchi and watching Hindi movies, and I wasn’t introduced to English until I went to school. So, I try to be more patient and understanding with ESL students who are struggling with terms, and I try to factor that in when I prepare materials so that I use both the proper terms that we use in class, as well as simpler language to explain concepts.

I’m the first person in my family to be completing a university degree and I have received the most education out of anyone in my family. Also, being queer, being a person of colour, and having some female experiences, I understand how identity affects how students learn. I’m a big proponent of learning, but I think it is more important for us to take care of ourselves. I try to be conscious and understanding of that and advocate for students in terms of their own health and ways that we as a University and a teaching team can support them in that regard.

What is something you are currently doing at UBC that you are excited about?

I’m excited about my thesis. I’m working with Dr. Eric Accili on a project to better understand exercise-induced bradycardia. We’re still figuring out the specifics given the pandemic, but I’m hopeful. I think I’m going to get an EKG to strap onto my chest and other friends’ chest and then make them run. 🙂

I’m also excited about the work that I’m doing with Climate Justice UBC. We have entered the Divest Canada coalition and we’re calling on UBC to divest from fossil fuels by 2025. There’s a lot of momentum from this movement, because we’ve got over 30 other institutions pushing with us and there has recently been a lot of focus on climate change in the news. I’m excited about seeing how that goes.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

My spare time is mostly spent doing club activities. I also like cooking a lot, and I’ve been told that I’m almost as good as my grandmother. I think that’s quite the praise.

I also like to hike and camp, and I think that taking a couple of days off and away from screens and school is really good for people. I was feeling quite burnt out this summer after studying for the MCAT, writing the MCAT, and working full time throughout. So I took three days to go jump in some lakes. It was fantastic! I’m a huge advocate for just taking a break for your mental health and recharging.

What is a fun fact about you that people may not know?

I think I look very tense as a person, and that’s probably true to some degree, but I’m actually really flexible. If fact, I can do the splits.

What are your plans following graduation?

I am applying to medical school, so we’ll see how that goes. I’m pretty hopeful and I feel like I’ve prepared for that. I think it’s really important to evaluate whether that’s something that you actually want to do, and I did that very rigorously. I worked with fruit flies last year in Dr. Gordon’s lab and I’ve also toyed with the idea of going to grad school or teaching full time. Ultimately, I came back to the idea that I want to go to med school, but I think it’s important to evaluate that for yourself and not base your decision on parental pressure (which I definitely had to control for).

Aside from that, I hope to keep learning about myself and connecting with students through the climate movements and the restorative justice movements. I also know that I want to spend some time just reading for pleasure. During the school year it’s a bit tough to do that, so immediately after I graduate, I think I’ll go for a swim and then read a book, but long term is still up in the air.

Anything else?

I was really happy to learn that some of the students that I peer tutored in BIOL 200 first-term last year are now peer tutors with me in BIOL 112 this year.  So, if anyone’s looking to become a peer tutor or wants to know more about the role, I’m happy to speak with them.

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