Bahar Shahidi never planned to become a physical therapist or to complete a PhD in rehabilitation sciences. In fact, she says she never planned on most of the things in her life. Rather, the important things have happened through chance, dedication, and hard work.
When Shahidi started college at the University of California, Berkely she wanted to be a chemist. In her senior year she worked for a chiropractor, where she was able to observe the patient interaction. She realized that she would much rather work with people than work in a laboratory. She changed her major, completed all the pre-requisites for PT school, and started applying to programs around the country. Shahidi chose the CU Physical Therapy Program because of its strong clinical education program. In 2006 she moved to Colorado and began her journey into physical therapy.
Soon after arriving in Colorado, Shahidi found a gym where she could practice judo, something she had been doing for 10 years. The gym also happened to be a grappling academy. She realized she was a lot better at grappling than judo. Grappling is a traditionally male dominated sport, similar to wrestling, where opponents try to gain physical advantage. Shahidi quickly rose to the top among her competitors. She competed in the Grappling World Championships three times where she received the bronze medal in 2009 and silver medals in 2007 and 2013.
After receiving her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree in 2009, she started working as a research assistant with CU PT faculty member, Katrina Maluf, PT, PhD. After the first year, Dr. Maluf asked Shahidi if she was interested in enrolling in the PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences program. At the time, she wasn’t. After her second year, Dr. Maluf asked again, and Shahidi decided that it would be a good career path that would allow her to do the three things she is passionate about; research, teaching, and being a clinician.
Shahidi completed the PhD program in December 2014. Her dissertation focused on risk factors around the development of chronic neck pain. She found that the development of chronic neck pain is multifactorial in nature and prevention can be directed toward modifiable risk factors in psychological, neurophysiological, and physical domains.
Reflecting on her life and career up to this point, Shahidi said, “I haven’t been sure about anything that I’ve attempted to do, it’s just that I’ve stuck with it. No matter what I’ve decided to do, I’ve always been enthusiastic and committed. Once you open yourself up and commit to something, the sky’s the limit!”
Shahidi is leaving Colorado in April to complete a post-doctorate fellowship at either Northwestern University or the University of California San Diego.