Chijioke Nze is a Hematology & Oncology fellow at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. He received his medical degree at Harvard Medical School and a Master in Public Health (MPH) at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health with a focus on health policy. His clinical interests are currently ranging within benign hematology, malignant hematology, and oncology. He is broadly interested in healthcare delivery system design, value-based healthcare research, and the health policy contexts that shape care delivery.
He was at UCSB in the Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology department from 2018-2012, receiving his BS in Biochemistry.
Why did you obtain an advanced degree? What inspired you to pursue a STEM-related career?
I was always interested in science and understanding the world around me. If I am being honest, I was more interested in pursuing my interests than in pursuing a career (fun fact - my first job was as a research assistant during the summer after 10th grade). After several years of participating in research, I knew that I loved learning but also wanted to be able to apply my knowledge for some use. One of my family members suffered from cancer and ultimately passed away, and in that I saw a tangible way to apply my knowledge. Although I knew research and advancing the body of knowledge for cancer was important, I realized that treating patients would also be extremely rewarding. I wished I could have helped my family member and that wish propelled my desire to become a doctor.
What has led to success in your field?
I feel extremely fortunate to be able to do what I do. The main factors that influenced my success were interest, mentorship, and willingness to try. I believe the fact that I really like learning about biology, human physiology, pathophysiology, and learning mechanisms was a major plus. I genuinely enjoyed learning what I did and thus didn't find it very tasking. I think willingness to learn and mentors go hand in hand. I had some amazing people in my life both as research mentors, career coaches, and friends. I did not have any mentors who were doctors but the people I knew were always willing to help however they could. More importantly was being able to ask for help or advice whenever I needed it. It can be extremely hard to ask for help and can almost be embarrassing but it is such an important attribute. I don't think anyone can or should try to succeed alone. It is important to know when to reach out and who to reach out to. And developing good relationships with people is invaluable.
If you could tell your younger self or this generation’s youth advice about STEM and university education, what would you tell them?
Don’t be afraid to try and fail. Two of my favorite quotes are "Fear kills more dreams that failure ever will'' which means people are so afraid to fail that they never try. "Successful people fail more times than other people ever try" which just means that a lot of time we see people who are successful and think how good they are and how they must always be right but those people likely tried and failed a lot and just kept going. We learn how to do things better when things don't work. It makes us better. So, I would say, keep trying.
What changes do you think could be made so underrepresented people in STEM can have better access to education and how STEM can be diverse?
I think access to mentors and exposure to what is possible is vital. Unfortunately, underrepresented people might not grow up knowing a lot of scientists or professions. They may not really know what becoming a professional in STEM entails and lack people to guide them along the way. I think programs targeted at exposing them to career opportunities and mentors especially early in their careers is vital.
Do you have any words about Black History Month?
We stand on the shoulders of so many giants who made this very moment possible. People who fought for us to be able to sit in the same cafes, study in the same colleges, and allow us the freedoms we have today. We should not take for granted the sacrifices of those that helped us to get here. BHM is an opportunity to learn more about those heroes and learn about the hard-fought journey to get to where we are today.
Is there anything else you would like to tell the audience?
Be brave, be kind, and seek peace always. There is a lot of turmoil in the world around us, always find time to find your joy and give the gift of a smile whenever you can.
Do you have a hobby or participate in any fun activities?
I love to play basketball and exercise. I am a bit of a basketball addict. COVID has been terrible because I haven't been able to play in 9 months. I also love spending time with people, reading about politics and current events.
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