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Nadia Chaudhri (1978 – 2021): ‘She was a force of nature’

Beloved professor spent final days raising awareness — and record funds — to support the next generation of neuroscientists at Concordia
October 6, 2021
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Nadia Chaudhri Nadia Chaudhri joined Concordia University in 2010 as assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and member of its Center for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology (CSBN).

Brave. Thoughtful. Talented. Inspiring. Nadia Chaudhri — a Concordia professor, neuroscientist, mother and wife — will be remembered as much for how she lived as for how she fearlessly shared her final days on Twitter and with media.

Chaudhri passed away on October 5, 2021, more than a year after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

After making her terminal diagnosis public in 2020, she amassed over 143,000 Twitter followers by sharing her most intimate moments. She also leveraged the social media platform to provide insights on her struggles — and triumphs — with the world.

“Help me shake my booty to raise funds for the Nadia Chaudhri Wingspan Award,” she tweeted, at the onset of her record-breaking fundraiser.

The 43 year old spent her last weeks at the McGill University Health Centre’s palliative care ward rallying support for minority and historically marginalized students in neuroscience.

Concordia will lower it flags to half-mast in Chaudhri's honour on Thursday, October 7.

nadia-chaudhri-twitter Since the beginning of her diagnosis in 2020, Nadia Chaudhri chronicled the ups and downs of her journey with cancer with more than 143,000 followers.

Chaudhri gathered unprecedented support for her student award by signing up for Shuffle 32, Concordia’s annual walkathon, pledging to walk the palliative care ward for as long as she could. “Your donations and love are giving me wings,” she tweeted.

Chaudhri’s cause raised over $615,000 from a record 8,600 donors.

“Nadia was a force of nature. She was an incredibly talented researcher with a passion for teaching and student success matched only by her commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Concordia President Graham Carr.

“She enriched us. Our entire community grieves her death and offers deeply heartfelt condolences to her son, Reza, and husband, Moni — whom she lovingly called her Sun and Moon — her family, friends, colleagues and the thousands of supporters to the Nadia Chaudhri Wingspan Award who embraced her cause.”

Chaudhri openly shared her story on Twitter and with media to advocate for better screening for ovarian cancer, as well as for increased funding for research and treatment.

In recognition of Chaudhri's efforts, Liberal MNA Jennifer Maccarone dedicated the Medal of the National Assembly of Quebec in her honour on October 5. The medal will be presented to Chaudhri's family.

From Pakistan to Concordia

Originally from Karachi, Pakistan, Chaudhri left her home at the age of 17 with just two suitcases in hand to pursue her Bachelor of Science degree at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania — with a full scholarship to cover her yearly $31,000 USD tuition, room and board.

Chaudhri became the first woman to receive the college’s Williamson Medal, awarded to a member of the senior class for their outstanding academic and extracurricular achievement.

She earned her PhD in neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh in 2005 and then became a postdoctoral fellow at the University of San Francisco.

 

In 2010, she joined Concordia University as assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 2014. Chaudhri was also a member of her department's Center for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology (CSBN). 

On September 9, 2021, Concordia promoted her to full professor.

Her research on the development of alcohol and drug addiction, she said, was propelled by students of her Chaudhri Lab in the Faculty of Arts and Science. She was also a member of her department’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (EDI) committee.

“Nadia was an international leader in the study of neurobiology of substance use disorders and relapse, and her innovative research led to major discoveries in the field,” said Aaron Johnson, chair of the Department of Psychology and associate professor.

“However, perhaps her greatest accomplishment was working with the students in her lab and our psychology program — promoting, mentoring and supporting them. Nadia was a true scholar in every sense, and tirelessly did service for the department and the Center for Studies in Behavioural Neuroscience,” he added.

“One issue she championed was addressing the underrepresentation of women and minority groups in the field of neuroscience. Despite her diagnosis and hospitalization, she continued until the end to develop support for students from underrepresented backgrounds that will impact the department and the field of neuroscience for years to come.”

A lasting legacy

As an advocate for emerging scholars from diverse backgrounds, Chaudhri launched the Nadia Chaudhri Wingspan Award at Concordia to provide vital funding to behavioural neuroscientists unable to fully participate in the field due to prejudice and other systemic barriers.

“Nadia’s strength and grace were an inspiration,” said Brad Skog, principal director of Annual Giving at Concordia, whose unit oversees the Shuffle. “Her efforts resulted in the greatest outpouring of support we’ve ever seen.”

Nadia Chaudhri Nadia Chaudhri was a leader in the study of neurobiology of substance use disorders and relapse, and her innovative research led to major discoveries in the field.

The annual scholarship will support neuroscientists from underrepresented backgrounds and will enable diverse scholars to achieve their fullest potential while helping to shape future neuroscience research.

“Nadia was such a special part of my life,” said Krista Byers-Heinlein, Chaudhri’s friend and colleague in the Department of Psychology.

“She was impressive in so many different ways — a brilliant neuroscientist, a dedicated mentor to students, a talented artist, a great cook, a loving mother to her son and partner to her husband, honorary auntie to my daughter and a caring member of her family and community.

“Nadia’s tireless work to raise funds for her award — even during the final stages of her terminal cancer diagnosis — is a true inspiration and characteristic of her drive to make important things happen.

“Her absence will leave a big hole in our hearts.”

Chaudhri leaves behind her husband, Moni Orife, and their son, extended family, colleagues, friends and supporters. Funeral details will be updated when shared with the university.

Nadia Chaudri and Moni Orife Nadia and her husband, Moni Orife.
  • To honour Nadia Chaudhri’s legacy of support for the next generation of scientific leaders, visit concordia.ca/wingspanaward.
     

Learn more about how Concordia provides support in times of need.



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