Chowdhury, Mr. Jeeshan

2007 Winner: Leaders of Tomorrow

Accomplished Twenty-Two Year Old Graduate Looks Towards Exceedingly Bright Future

In 1979, Tofael and Nadira Chowdhury moved from Bangladesh to Calgary so that Tofael could obtain his Master’s degree in Psychology, and also to offer their family better opportunities than were available in the native land. It worked. Their third son, Jeeshan, was born in 1983. Twenty-two years later, the double-major MD/PhD student became the University of Alberta’s 23rd Rhodes Scholar.

Privilege and Responsibility

To call Jeeshan Chowdhury an over-achiever is rather like noting Wayne Gretzky had a decent hockey career. Like all ASTech’s Leader of Tomorrow Award Finalists, he excels at every facet of his life. His parents have preached to him and his brothers, Rezwan, Raiyan, and Sheehan, that along with the privilege of living in Canada comes responsibility; to be truly successful, one must give back through active citizenship and be involved in myriad activities.

A graduate of Edmonton’s McNally High School, Jeeshan was always interested in science, particularly biology, and participated in the WISEST program, where his passion for research was truly ignited. Once he started at the U of A, he quickly realised that as drawn as he was to lab coats and microscopes, he was just as fond of human interaction. And then came the moment that turned him on to medicine and the daunting challenge of the MD/PhD program.

“I was at the wedding of the sister of a close friend,” he remembers. “They started their vows, and the phrase, ‘in sickness and in health’ kind of jumped out at me. I suddenly understood that health comes first and everything else follows. You don’t start with, “for richer or for poorer.’” He has never regretted his epiphany, enjoying every minute devoted either to research or to helping people.

Worldwide Presence

It may seem redundant to note that a Rhodes Scholar has achieved a lot for someone so young. But consider that in addition to publishing a new article in the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics about a micro-fluidic tool whose use in patient care Jeeshan has demonstrated, the 24-year-old has: run the Cape Town (South Africa) half marathon; attended the California-based NASA Academy; been invited to France to conduct research on human physiology and micro-gravity at the European Space Agency; and, raised $20,000 to support a small local hospital in Bangladesh. Is it any wonder he’s one of our Finalists?

Jeeshan believes the exciting applications of his research are just around the corner. What thrills him about space is that to study anything while on board a shuttle you have to be economical and use your resources to their fullest potential. His work on micro-fluidics has the same focus, and he foresees a time when it will translate from the laboratory into the lives of patients, providing improved care at reduced costs, effectively making the results available to those who would otherwise lack access to such treatment.

Potential Groundbreaking Applications

He believes research for the sake of knowledge to be important but that progressing from abstract pursuits to concrete results is truly exciting. When asked to summarize the potential impact of his current research, he pauses before answering. “Well, we’re talking about a point-of-care solution that’s easy to use. This is the bio-medical equivalent of cellular telephone technology. In effect, it’s a handheld device allowing local caregivers to bypass huge infrastructures and take a solution to the patient.”

So how do Rhodes Scholars have fun? Do they actually have down time? In Jeeshan’s case, he spends his summer in France studying French. Why? Because as the youngest member of Canada’s Millennium Scholarship Foundation Board, he feels it is incumbent on him to be proficient in both our nation’s official languages. So, he’s doing something about it.

What Does the Future Hold?

Yes, he’s also trying to finish the fifth Harry Potter novel so he can go see the movie; and yes, he loves starting the day at the local “boulangerie,” enjoying a pain au chocolat (that’s a chocolate croissant for those of us back in Alberta) and a bowl of café au lait; and yes, admits he did go see Transformers, though he was disappointed. But above all, Jeeshan is all about applying research and helping others. There’s just no doubt that when he looks back in 30 or 40 years…when he remembers his first trip to outer space…when he reviews the accolades and prestigious appointments…he won’t have to wonder if his life was able to impact others. It will be there in black and white.