A Conversation with: Jazeel Limzerwala, Mayo PhD Candidate and Former Professional Soccer Player

Hearing from inspirational and successful people is always stimulating, but there is something special in talking with someone close to my own age who has accomplished incredible things. It is equally terrifying, because it causes me to think “Well shoot…what have I been doing with the first 22 years of my life” as well as “This is absolutely amazing. These are the millennials who are defying all of the stereotypes about us being the lazy and dependent generation.” Today we are talking with someone who has certainly defied many expectations, boundaries, and stereotypes to accomplish his current success (and he would argue with me that there is much more work to be done before he can be considered successful, but that just tells you more about his sense of drive and humility). So let’s have a chat with Jazeel Limzerwala, a PhD candidate at Mayo Clinic in Cancer Biology, and former professional soccer player.

Jazeel spent the first 22 years of his life in Mumbai India, where he earned his masters in biotechnology. He concluded that the education system in America was more conducive for the kind of rigorous and advanced scientific work he wanted to do, and began applying for graduate school in the states. One of the institutions he was granted admission to was Mayo Clinic, where he is currently pursuing his PhD in Cancer Biology. While in Mumbai, Jazeel was also a professional soccer player for several years, serving as the captain for his team for five of them.  Throughout his early life he prioritized academic success while simultaneously thriving in sports. So, this is a guy who knows a thing or two about being driven and tenacious.

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We spoke about his transition from Mumbai to Minnesota, his current research, how he balances work and life (the scales tend to tip more towards work for him) and if he feels as if he is burning out with his intense schedule. He also touches on the importance of humility, competing with himself, and how he is so thankful for how his family raised him. Continue on to watch specific video clips about Jazeel’s experience, or watch our full video conversation below. Also be sure to check out my podcast with Jazeel, where I go deeper into some of the things we could not cover in this video interview.

Jazeel uprooted from one of the financial capitals of the world to move to a small town in Minnesota, 8000 miles away, with no friends or family near by, and a fraction of the public transportation. We discussed the cultural changes, the emotional toll of the move, and if he ever encountered discrimination based on his appearance.

“Here they didn’t care if you were from an Arabic country, if you were Indian, or of some different religious background. So that was really something that I started really liking about the US: they are very welcoming to people of different cultures, and especially here at Mayo.”

Jazeel’s input on how welcome he felt in the United States was reassuring to me, especially in the context of such seemingly rampant Islamophobia and general xenophobia. Of course, his experience is just one, but it was still wonderful to hear. I asked Jazeel what advice he would give to those entering big transitions after he moved 8,000 miles to pursue his dreams. He responded:

“Sometimes in life it is important to trust yourself and your decisions, and in the worst case scenario if you think you have made a wrong decision, you can just make that decision work for you…Another thing I have also learned is that in life you will always have a choice.”

The most striking thing about my conversation with Jazeel was his work ethic. He gave me a glimpse into his strenuous work schedule, but did not complain once, because his passion keeps him motivated enough to endure the little sleep or little immediate gratification.

Before coming to Mayo, Jazeel made many sacrifices to devote his time to studying for the GRE or working on his masters in biotechnology. Especially in one’s early 20’s where there is so much emphasis on spending time with friends, I wondered if Jazeel had any regrets about not going out with his friends more or stopping his professional soccer involvement.

He explained that although he sometimes wishes he would have relaxed more instead of studying or working so much, it was always worth it because he knew what he wanted to accomplish. In fact, when others encourage him to take time off or said he could not reach his goals, it motivated him even more.

“I never understood when people told me that you cannot do something. Even today, in fact, when someone tells me it can’t be done, I just like that because it’s more fun to prove someone wrong…Don’t tell me it can’t be done. That just means it is something that needs more time and needs more effort, and I am not going to shy away from working for it.”

We also talked about the limitations of hard work. Jazeel explains how he came to terms with not being the smartest person in his lab, but how that motivated him to want to work harder to reach the level of those most intelligent researchers.

“One of the things I have realized when I came to the lab I am working at currently, there are people who are way smarter than me, and I was in awe of the fact. Were they just born smart? Did the process of grad school make them smart? That is when I realized that in life, if you want to succeed, you either have to be really really smart, and if you’re not, you need a certain trait in you that’s going to compensate for you not being that smart.”

Finally, for all of you science-inclined folks out there, Jazeel delves into some of the frustrations and joys of the research process, as well as more specific information about what his lab focuses on.

I asked him why he decided to research cancer biology, and he explained how his grandmother passed away due to stomach cancer. Even though he was quite young, the loss impacted him in a profound way because he was so close to her. He started to wonder why cancer is evasive of treatment and how it might be stopped. His lab currently researches if there are genetic predispositions to having cancer.

“The reason I got so fascinated with cancer biology is the more I started to read about what cancer is, the more I came to realize the disease is one of the smartest diseases out there. Everything humans have tried since 1950 to try to eradicate this disease or to try to combat this disease, cancer as a disease just knows how to outwit humans. I was so fascinated with what is happening and how it is doing this. It seemed like there were so many possible avenues to explore in the field of cancer biology.”

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Jazeel’s excitement for his research contributes to one of his weaknesses: he is too impulsive! Many of his superiors have told him that in research there is no room for rashness, and his excited nature can sometimes lend itself to this tendency. However, he explains how he has worked on improving this trait over time. From my perspective, it is this very trait which enables him to work so fervently and tirelessly, so it can’t be silenced completely!

Speaking with Jazeel was quite refreshing for me, because it reminded me of the importance of pursuing one’s goals even if it means sacrificing comfort or recreation temporarily. Sometimes I wonder about priorities in my own life, about the balance between focusing on my career or soaking up all of the fun of college and the late nights talking with friends. Jazeel gave me quite a convincing argument for the former, because he explains how when one achieves their goals, they will make space to have fun later in life. He demonstrates how when one has a clear idea of what he wants to do, he should not be afraid of pursuing that wholeheartedly, even if it means taking a different path than most. As he acknowledged, each journey is quite individual, but he is certainly making the most of his.

Watch my full video conversation with Jazeel Limzerwala below, and check out the podcast episode I composed from our conversation!

Subscribe to The Conversationalist on iTunes!

Speak to you soon!

-Nora

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