Jul 12, 2023, 4:00 am UTC
Meet wmnHealth: Shafaq Zia, science journalist
Is there a brain health topic that’s close to your heart?
My experiences of growing up in Pakistan with an autistic sibling drew me to writing about the brain. I vividly remember patiently waiting outside the speech therapist’s office every Saturday. Occasionally, a parent visiting the pediatrician next door would inquire why my mother and I were there, and eleven-year-old me would passionately explain everything I had learned in the past year about autism. Now, as a professional science journalist, I carry the same enthusiasm around brain awareness and have spent the last several years covering disability, assistive technology, and health inequities in the Middle-East and North America.
What have you written lately that has really stuck with you?
After years of reporting, I’ve had the realization that it’s not so much the stories I write but the people I meet in the process that makes writing a worthwhile experience for me. My husband’s uncle was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s and while reporting a recent piece on what it means to live with Parkinson’s, I connected with Caroline Thornton, a horse breeder in rural Ontario. Her journey of accepting and leading a fulfilling life with Parkinson’s moved me. After publication, I shared the piece with my husband and his family, and it offered them a glimpse of hope that no doctor had been able to offer before. And this is what I’ve always wanted my work to do — share the power of lived experiences to inspire and uplift.
You live in the Boston area and studied at MIT. How do you like to spend a day out and about in the city?
I first came to Boston in early 2020 for a science writing internship at an online news publication called STAT. Within a couple of weeks of my arrival, COVID-19 cases surged around the globe and, in response, most of the U.S. shut down. The ensuing months were incredibly challenging for my mental health, but I left Boston with fond memories — perhaps it was the opportunities I had been given and the people I had connected with during my time at STAT. Naturally, I chose to come back for a Master’s in science writing at MIT. I met my now husband soon after — he grew up in Boston — and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything from eating Belgian waffles in the middle of winter in Harvard Square to walking along the Charles River esplanade at sunset. Boston feels like home.