Rhodes scholar Pardis Sabeti graduated with her medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 2006, earning the school's highest honor - the third woman ever to do so. She's also the lead singer and songwriter of the band, Thousand Days, who uses her music to make science appealing to children, especially, girls. As a graduate student at Oxford University in England, Sabeti developed a way to detect natural selection at the level of individual genes. In Eric Lander's lab at the Broad Institute, she scanned the entire human genome to figure out which genes have changed within the last 10,000 years and which have spread rapidly in the human gene pool due to natural selection. With these tools, geneticists can study how cultural and environmental changes have affected the evolution of the human genome. Now Sabeti is applying this technique to her true passion: understanding the interplay between humans and the pathogens that cause diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and leprosy. Her work - published in December 2007 - revealed genes involved in drug resistance and in evading the immune system, giving researchers potential targets for new therapies and vaccines.
Pardis Sabeti: So I never really played music growing up very much so-- I played a little short stint of piano as a child so I had some basic sort of notes and chords and things like that, some basic information, but it was very short. It was between moves in my family and so I didn’t play for very long but I had some basic information and I always just really liked music a lot so all growing up I just listened to music all the time and I started with probably-- I started with Michael Jackson and all that kind of stuff that you would listen to growing up in the ‘80s but then I remember I think I picked up New Order in 1997 or it was Substance and that changed my world. I was just listening to it in a car somewhere and I ran out and bought it and then got really in to sort of alternative music from an early age and began listening to that.
So I’ve always been very music obsessed and for most of the periods in my life if I’m working really hard at work I have an album that’s very connected to it so finishing my PhD it was Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine. There was always just an album that was playing that was centered around- my life centered around work.
Soul Coughing. What was their-- Well, so there was-- Actually, I’m going to forget the names of the Soul Coughing albums but there was a lot of Soul Coughing that happened through a lot of my tests in college and there was Bush, the one with Glycerine and all that, 16 Stone that I think was during another period of hard work. There was-- Yeah. It was-- So there’s music always. There’s Radiohead and all those kinds of different bands and a lot of real lesser known Indie rock bands like now probably Jealous Sound and Frightened Rabbit, which will probably be very well known soon, that are-, rock my world and help me through a grant application. So I think it’s-- Each grant application I could kind of go through it and make a little journal that it’s each kind of major application or test, a fisher schooner for my boards- medical school boards so-- Yeah. So a lot of albums and I just- but I always listen to music and-- I don’t know. That was my obsession and so that’s a long tangent on my obsession with music but-- So I always liked music but I never really- I’ve just considered it something that I spectate.
I did sports. I did school activities like leadership activities and I did school and that’s what you do and then I just listened to music, and it wasn’t until graduate school where I had two friends, Taylor Antrum[ph?] and Bruce Hickey,[ph?] who were also Americans studying at Oxford and they would always talk about they both liked guitar. They both loved-- We loved the same music. We listened to the same music, Modest Mouse, and we’d always be talking about these different bands we loved, and I’d always- and they always talked about starting a band, a kind of fantasy band, all the time and I was “Stop fantasy banding. Just start a band. Now is as good a time as any.”
And they said, “Well, we at least need a rhythm section,” and I didn’t really know what that meant. At that point I was “Well, what is that?” I knew drums I guess and they were “Well, we at least need a bassist,” and so that next day Bruce and I went out and bought a bass guitar and we started a band and we just started writing right away. We never did any covers because I think we would have made the cover sound so bad that we just did only original stuff but we- in this very short period we just gigged out all the time around Oxford and stuff and went crazy with it.
Question: Do you still play today?
Pardis Sabeti: Yeah, I’m still playing. I’ve been-- So I’ve been playing ever since so that would have been 1997 so I’ve been playing for a decade probably on and off but I started- I joined a band in medical school that I’ve been with ever since. Yeah.
Question: Does your scientific work influence your music?
Pardis Sabeti: It’s probably a release. I can’t really say it’s integrated. I think it’d be-- I don’t really want it to be integrated. I think it would be bad if it was sort of-- I don’t know. I think it’s a different thing. It comes together. I definitely get a sense that when I’m most creative scientifically is when I start-- I told one of my graduate students recently--‘cause I was thinking about all these projects and developing projects and reading a lot scientifically and trying to explore new areas--and I told her that I had realized that I was actually in a good place when three songs just spit out out of nowhere, and I- my-- I can tell my brain is one of those active creative places when random-like melodies pop out so—
Recorded on: June 29, 2008