Women in Science: Dr. Qi (Joy) Yang, Assistant Director of Pharmacometrics

Authors: Yang Q

According to an article published by United Nations News last year, women in STEM are still not the norm. Only one in three researchers worldwide is female.

However, the women who are working in science are making significant impact, and this Women’s History Month we are launching our Women in Science blog series to shine a light on them. In each post, one scientist will share how she chose her career path, what obstacles she overcame, and the advice she’d give someone considering a similar career in STEM.

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Qi (Joy) Yang, Assistant Director of Pharmacometrics here at Simulations Plus.


What career did you imagine for yourself as a child?

When I was younger, I used to dream about being a teacher, a scientist, or a doctor. When I was little, I loved to play pretend as a teacher, eagerly imparting knowledge to my parents and grandparents. My fascination leaned heavily towards science subjects rather than literature. Consequently, I opted for Physics, Chemistry, and Biology as my primary courses of study during high school.


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

Initially, my aspiration was to become a doctor, leading me to pursue life science in the first year of my undergraduate studies. As we progressed into the second year, we were given the opportunity to select our specialty once again. While exploring the programs offered by my university, I discovered pharmacology, which boasted an intriguing internship program known as PEY (professional experience year). Notably, this program demanded a higher GPA for admission. Intrigued by the prospect of delving into drug development, I found pharmacology to be an enticing choice.


What was your first job out of college?

My first job was a one-year internship at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, which I undertook in 2011. I was placed in the clinical pharmacology department, which I believe was just beginning at the company. During my internship, I had the opportunity to delve into pharmacometrics programs such as NONMEM, Monolix, and WinNonlin. I was fortunate to be involved in the evaluation of these three software packages, comparing their advantages and disadvantages. This experience not only provided me with valuable insight into the work of a pharmacometrician but also sparked a deep interest in this field. Consequently, I made the decision to return to university to pursue a Ph.D. degree in pharmacometrics.


How did you end up in your current role?

I was contacted by a headhunter who presented me with an intriguing opportunity. Despite not actively seeking new positions, I found myself drawn to this exciting opportunity. I’m particularly excited about the chance to expand my knowledge of Monolix and further my career in the pharmacometrics field.


What does your current role entail?

My day-to-day responsibilities involve performing population pharmacokinetic (PopPK) modeling and simulations. I utilize the results of these simulations to guide dosing selection, optimal sampling design, pediatric simulations, and efficacy/safety analyses. As a consultant, I regularly interact with our clients, initiating discussions on modeling results and assisting them in answering critical questions. These questions often revolve around topics such as the impact of food/formulation effects, renal/hepatic dysfunction (or other covariate of interest) on drug PK and efficacy, and determining the most effective dose without significant toxicity.

Furthermore, I play a key role in preparing data analysis plans, which provide guidelines for the analysis and pharmacokinetic (PK) reports needed to support drug submissions.


What is your favorite part of this job?

My favorite aspect of this job is being actively involved in and providing support for new drug development. It gives me a profound sense of achievement to contribute my efforts to the development of new drugs, ultimately improving patients’ quality of life. I also thoroughly enjoy building models based on the unique mechanisms of action of drugs. It’s akin to solving a puzzle – once all the pieces come together and the model accurately describes or predicts the data, it feels incredibly satisfying. I find this work both interesting and challenging, making it truly rewarding.


What is one of your proudest professional accomplishments?

Once, I was assigned to an urgent project with an incredibly tight deadline. While negotiating with our client to extend the timeline, I remained focused and committed to completing the tasks within the original timeframe. Despite the challenges, I managed to not only meet but exceed our client’s expectations. Witnessing the satisfaction of our client and knowing that my work directly contributed to key decisions in the drug development process fills me with pride. It’s moments like these that reaffirm the value of my efforts and dedication to delivering exceptional results.


What is an obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

One of the obstacles I face, like many working moms, is balancing my career with my personal life, particularly when my children are young. It’s a constant challenge, but I’ve found that improving time management skills has been incredibly helpful. For instance, I often need to work late at night after my kids are in bed, but I make sure to prioritize spending quality time with them when I can, such as after picking them up or during breaks. It’s all about finding a balance that works for both my professional and personal responsibilities.


What traits and/or habits have helped you succeed?

One of the traits I value greatly and consider crucial for achieving success is embracing challenges. When faced with a tough project, I see it as an opportunity to delve into something fascinating, igniting my enthusiasm to solve problems and find solutions.

Additionally, effective time management skills are important for me. Starting my day with a to-do list, prioritizing tasks from the most important to the least, helps me stay organized and focused.

Furthermore, teamwork plays a vital role as we often work in multi-functional teams. It’s essential for me to cultivate an image of reliability and responsibility among my teammates. To achieve this, I ensure to keep my promises, strive to be punctual, and make myself available to my coworkers whenever they need assistance. By demonstrating these qualities, I aim to be seen as a dependable and collaborative team member.


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

When I was young, my exposure to science history often lacked representation of female scientists. However, one prominent figure who stood out was Marie Curie, renowned for her groundbreaking achievements in science. Notably, she was awarded Nobel Prizes in both Physics and Chemistry. Her dedication to her work, even at the cost of her own health while working with radioactive materials, left a lasting impression on me. Marie Curie’s story serves as a source of deep inspiration and motivation for me, highlighting the significant contributions women have made to the field of science despite facing numerous challenges.


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

I vividly recall a moment from my childhood when my teacher asked whether I wanted to focus on science or literature in school. I often heard the suggestion that girls should lean towards literature for a stable job. It left me with the impression that some people believe girls aren’t smart enough for STEM fields. However, this notion couldn’t be further from the truth.

Throughout my undergraduate and Ph.D. studies, I encountered many intelligent and hardworking females who excelled in STEM fields. It became evident that we must focus on ourselves, listen to our hearts, and pursue paths that genuinely interest us. It’s essential not to heed the voices of others, especially when they suggest that girls should avoid careers in science. It’s crucial to defy such stereotypes and follow our passions fearlessly.


This is our first installment of our Women in Science blog series. If you’d like to hear about upcoming installments (and events, industry news and more), register to receive our email newsletter.