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Niknaz Riazati is smiling at a lab bench behind two microscopes. She is wearing a green blouse and has her hair up.

Niknaz Riazati '17

Grad Degree:

Biology M.S.

Outcome Opportunity:

Graduate/Professional School


PhD Candidate


University of California - Davis College of Biological Sciences 

Working Toward a Career in Research & Education

With her master’s of science degree in biology from SJU, the next stop for Niknaz Riazati, a native of Iran, is the Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology Group at the University of California – Davis College of Biological Sciences. She will study for four to six years to earn her Ph.D. When she completes her doctoral degree, she wants to research and return to teaching.  

From Being Denied Education, To Teaching Others

In her home country, Niknaz was denied education because of her religion (Baha’i). Baha’is believe in equality between men and women and in the independent investigation of truth — there are no religious leaders or clergy — which is contrary to Islam’s authoritarian structure. “Even attending high school was difficult. At the first high school I applied to, they asked about my religion and denied me when they found out I was Baha’i. I had to go to a school far from home just to study,” she says. As a young adult, Niknaz joined non-governmental organizations that allowed her to teach younger students. “Teaching brought me happiness for two reasons,” she says. “I was serving people and I found myself as a member of the society that I was planned to be kept from.”  

Research at SJU

At Saint Joseph’s, Niknaz studied under Matthew Nelson, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, researching the neuroscience of sleep. She worked with other students to study the sleep mechanics of the roundworm species Caenorhabditis elegans. The experience has been a welcome relief for the woman who had spent so much of her life going to extra lengths just to feel like she was part of a student population.  

How did your SJU Education Help you Accomplish Your Goals?

“People in the United States, and especially at SJU, were so quick to welcome me. They asked about my background and religion not to persecute me, but to actually engage in a conversation where we could learn from one another.”