Women in Science: Camila de Almeida, Director of Clinical Pharmacology

Despite the many contributions to science women have historically made, only 35% of graduates in STEM-related degree programs are female. In some fields, the percentage is even lower.

Without a clear blueprint, how are these women navigating the professional world to build their careers?

In this blog post, Dr. Camila de Almeida, Director of Clinical Pharmacology here at Simulations Plus, offers her first-hand experience. She shares her proudest personal accomplishments, her career trajectory, and some words of advice for future women in science.

What career did you imagine for yourself as a child?

Since a child, I always loved to learn and I was very keen on learning mathematics and science. I did not come from a family of scientists, though. My dad was very good with mathematics, and I loved to give him mental arithmetic to challenge him–and he was always right with his answers! I found that ability of his outstanding. I did not have a clear view of what I would become then, but I had this view of myself trying to solve abstract math problems and complex issues… funny enough, I believe I ended up very close to that initial idea!


What career did you plan to pursue when you began university? If different than before, how did that change of mind come about?

When I joined the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, I started a career in Physics. That was my fall-back position: it was not my first choice. I always knew what I really wanted to do, which was an interdisciplinary course called Molecular Sciences. However, the application process was a little different, as you first must join the University in any of its main degrees, then half a year later, you were required to take a second test to join that specific course. Molecular Sciences had a track record of attracting the best scientific minds and of being a very tough course! I tried to apply for it twice and was selected the second time. I am so glad I did not give up, as it was the best course I have ever taken in my life and I enjoyed every single minute of it. And that was where I was able to learn biology, math, physics, computer science… it was a real dream come true.


What was your first job out of college?

After University, I was accepted to do a PhD at the University of Aberdeen in Systems Biology.


How did you end up in your current role?

After my PhD I was looking for career alternatives, other than a pure academic career. I started reading about pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics and absolutely fell in love. I was so amazed that I could apply all I had learned into something that could have an immediate impact in people’s lives. It felt that was the best combination, as not only the science was fascinating, but the work was practical, useful and impactful. I was in awe of the prospect of working in drug discovery and I knew that would be my future. I was given an opportunity to start a Post-Doc at AstraZeneca in the Oncology Department, and I don’t think I could have ever been in a better place. I was surrounded by brilliant and highly motivated scientists, and that was where I really grew in the field of drug development and PKPD. I am sincerely grateful for that opportunity up to this day.


What does your current role entail?

My current role entails being a project lead, carrying on PKPD analyses and offering clinical pharmacology guidance whenever required. As I have more than a decade of experience in the area now, I can tackle a wide range of projects, from preclinical to late-phase data analysis. What I find fascinating is that even the most experienced person still has something to learn in this field. Learning never stops and each project and client is different. It is very dynamic, and I love being part of a project team.


What is your favorite part of this job?

My favorite part of my job nowadays is the opportunity to stretch myself and do something new, to truly challenge myself. I find a lot of support from my immediate manager and my peers to troubleshoot projects, get the work done, and immerse myself into something new. Finding the balance between applying what you know and learning something new is an art, but I feel that at Simulations Plus you are given a lot of opportunity to grow. I knew Simulations Plus was a supportive work environment since my interview, and it was no different when I joined the company. I have learned a lot in a short period of time, and working as part of this team is absolutely amazing. I feel very fortunate to be here.


What is one of your proudest professional accomplishments?

Just before I left AstraZeneca, I was part of the team responsible for an oncology drug called Camizestrant, designed for treatment of postmenopausal women with advanced breast cancer. The company at the time was booming with the science it was pursuing, and the new leadership was keen on making decisions based on solid science. As this project specifically was high priority, a lot of high-quality data was being generated and I worked alongside an amazing team of bioscientists. I predicted the human dose prediction of Camizestrant, which seems to be still going strong in the clinic, so that is one accomplishment I will take with me forever. It is deeply rewarding to know you were part of the development of such an important cancer drug. I still remember the day we started looking at that molecule more closely, so to know it has been so successful is an amazing achievement.


What is an obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

I have come to realize that sometimes the biggest obstacle in our careers could be ourselves. This is because it is hard sometimes to find a balance between personal life, work, dealing with failures, and trusting yourself. It was not until I realized I was in full control of my career that things changed for the better. If you are not happy with something, you have the power to change it. You have the choice to decide what you want at any point of your career, but you also need to be patient as changes sometimes take time to happen. I believe in the combination of two fronts for success: having a long-term goal to guide you on your path, and knowing when it is time to press the accelerator and challenge yourself.


What traits and/or habits have helped you succeed?

Overall, I feel that being always curious and eager to learn something new is what helped me succeed. Sometimes I did not have a clear view of the stepping stones in my learning journey, but somehow they always took me higher, always put me ahead, and gave me the opportunity to keep following the path. I believe that, fundamentally, pure passion for what I do and having a supportive network is what helped me succeed.


What would you tell other women considering a career in STEM?

I would tell women considering a career in STEM to keep going. I would say that in the past I had doubts I would ever succeed. I was shy, I did not like talking in public at all. I saw so many successful women in prominent leadership positions and wondered whether I would ever get there. Throughout my career, by changing environments and being exposed to different scientists and companies, it certainly broadened my view of the world. Everyone has a unique set of skills and strengths in this field, and you need to find yours. Leave behind the feeling that you are not enough and change it to believe that you are unique.


Did you have a role model that influenced your decision to work in science?

During my youth I was very fortunate to meet another early scientist who changed my view of the world and inspired me to become a scientist myself. Nowadays I am very much inspired by the successful female scientists I work with at Simulations Plus.


This is the second installment of our Women in Science blog series. If you’d like to read about other professional women working in modeling and simulation, visit our Resource Center.