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I recently defended my Microbiology PhD thesis at the University of Pennsylvania and currently attend the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health for a Masters in Public Health. I served as a teaching assistant (TA) for two years as a graduate student for a class called the “Molecular Mechanisms of Infectious Disease Biology." As a TA, I was able to interact with students in a classroom setting and sharpen my teaching and tutoring skills. I liked learning through teaching; being a TA taught me how to impart knowledge and concepts in easily digestible formats that could be retained. I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a TA because it not only allowed me to hone in on specific skills I felt I needed to strengthen, it also made me realize how invaluable it is to be a role model to others.

In addition to TAing as a graduate student, I also volunteered with the Science Education Academy (SEA) weekend teaching program for four years. This program aims to teach the scientific method to grade school-aged inner city youths (grades 2-6). I taught a class of six 4th graders on Saturdays; topics ranged from the properties of air to infectious disease spread. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the young children and can only hope that my efforts to plant the seed of scientific curiosity in them will not be in vain.

Since relocating to Boston, I have not found an opportunity to work with students in an academic setting and I strongly believe that working with Varsity Tutors would be a great way to exercise my love for teaching. I believe I am a great tutor because of my past experience with students of diverse ages and backgrounds, my tenor in academia, and my natural knack for imparting ideas to others in ways that they can understand and remember.

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Zahra’s Qualifications

Education & Certification

Undergraduate Degree: Washington and Lee University - Bachelors, Biology and Spanish

Graduate Degree: University of Pennsylvania - PHD, Microbiology, Virology


I enjoy going to plays, movies, and comedy shows.

Tutoring Subjects

10th Grade Writing

11th Grade Writing

12th Grade Writing

AP English Language and Composition


Cell Biology

College Biology

College English


High School Biology

High School English

High School Writing


Molecular Biology



Q & A

What is your teaching philosophy?

I find that the best way to teach is to tackle easily digestible morsels of the subject, and systematically link them together to get a thorough understanding of the big concept.

What might you do in a typical first session with a student?

In a typical first session with a student, we would share some info about ourselves as an icebreaker.

How would you help a student stay motivated?

I'd help a student stay motivated by including incentives in the learning process.

If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?

If a student has difficulty understanding a concept, I'd first ask the student to try to explain the concept to me. We can then identify and assess where the weakness lies. I'd clarify the concept for the student, and have the student repeat the first step until he/she can explain the concept to me and someone else with ease.

How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?

I'd break the sentence down into at least four parts. We can address each part of the sentence separately to gain an understanding of it's function in the whole sentence. Once we know the function of each part of the sentence, we can then put them together to fully comprehend the message of the sentence.

What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?

1) Understand how the student learns. 2) Explain how I teach. 3) Find ways to mesh points 1 & 2.

How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?

For younger students, using point systems that lead to incentives such as chocolates/candies. For older students, encouraging self-appointed incentives.

What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?

Teach the student. Have the student teach me. And have the student teach someone else.

How do you evaluate a student's needs?

I evaluate a student's needs by identifying the weakness in their explanation of a concept that we either have (or have not) gone over together.

How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?

At the beginning of the first session with a student, I ask how he/she prefers to learn. Some students learn best with visual aids; others learn best simply by listening to you speak.

What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?

Visual aids, such as drawing out concepts.

How can you help a student become an independent learner?

Asking the student to verbally navigate through the difficulties they are having in front of me. The idea is that as the student is walking through the challenge, we can identify their limitations and work through them.

How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?

Show them their progress from a previous assessment.

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