After being named to In Vivo’s 2021 list of Rising Leaders, William Masters, a reporter for Scrip/Informa, interviewed Dr. Nazli Azimi. An excerpt of their conversation is below:
Azimi knew from a young age that she wanted to be a scientist – not a doctor– even though she did not know what that meant at the time, she told In Vivo. Growing up in revolutionary Iran, and with no other family member in healthcare, she recalled her parents’ confusion at what she described as her, “Innate desire to gravitate towards science.”
“I just loved the intellectual exercise of it so much,” said Azimi. “I wanted to solve these puzzles … only later I figured out that one can make a career out of it.” She finished high school in Iran and completed her Doctor of Pharmacy at the University of Tehran. Azimi did not see a future for herself in the country. As would become a theme in her career, “It was the love of science that drew me to emigrate to the United States,” she said.
Despite the challenges of emigrating halfway across the world, “especially with my background and experiences, the trauma of coming out of a revolutionary environment and into the United States – this [problem solving desire] was an eye opening to me, I couldn’t get enough of it. I just loved it like a fish in water,” she said.
Initially, when Azimi moved to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre as a research scientist and assistant professor she thought, “I achieved my goal, I achieved my dream” of becoming a published scientist and working “somewhere as prestigious as Fred Hutchinson.”
This feeling did not last long. “It was the biggest shock of my life,” she said, realizing that “this is not enough for me.” The main reasons were lingering questions from her research, believing that “there have got to be better ways of making drugs to target cytokines.” Once again Azimi’s intellectual curiosity prompted her to “take the biggest decision of my professional life, to say goodbye to that fantastic job and environment and pursue this intellectual curiosity.” Asking herself, “Can I make better drugs in a way that nobody has done before?”
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