10 Questions with Andreia De Almeida
Andreia De Almeida, 31, from Portugal is a post-doctoral research assistant at the Cardiff University, Wales.
Her research focuses in understanding the role of aquaporins in health and disease, especially cancer. For this, they use gold compounds, designed by our group, that are selective and potent inhibitors for these proteins. Additionally, she works in testing new metal-based drugs as anticancer agents.
Andreia is a participant of the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.
Enjoy the interview with Andreia and get inspired:
- What inspired you to pursue a career in science / chemistry?
I was always a very curious kid and, of course, I also had the traditional microscope that all the scientists had in their childhood 😉 But I have to say that I didn’t always know that this was my passion. I was, and still am, very passionate about all types of arts, especially things that I can make with my own hands. With time, I realized that I liked arts, but mostly as a hobby. I couldn’t picture myself doing it as a career. I then chose a science path for my high school studies and applied for Pharmaceutical Sciences, Biochemistry and Chemistry. I got into Biochemistry and from then on my love for science truly started.
- Who are your role models?
In all truth, all my role models are women and men I met throughout my life. Firstly, my mother, who is a very strong and independent woman. She raised me to become empowered and successful and to never feel less than anyone, regardless of gender. Growing up watching her managing her own business, full time, while raising two children (after we lost our father, on her own) was definitely inspiring and showed me that we are capable of great things.
Secondly, I studied in a chemistry department that has more female scientist than males (in professors is about 50-50), the thought that this field could be male-driven never even crossed my mind. I also always worked with female bosses in groups with few men. I think that working in a female environment and with such strong and successful female models as supervisors always helped me feeling confident in my work and myself. So I can say that all the females who I have worked with me up to now contributed a lot for how I perceive science.
- How did you get to where you are in your career path?
As I mentioned before, I did my BSc in Biochemistry and then I did my MSc in Structural and Functional Biochemistry, in the same faculty. Moving from one to the other was the easiest choice, as they were organized by the same professors, and the master was an extension of what we learned in the bachelor. When I was finishing my master thesis, I met my current supervisor, who was doing a research stay in our lab at that moment. She had a position for a PhD student opening in a few months in The Netherlands. That was a big challenge for me: leaving the boyfriend, family, friends and my home country to move into a new country and culture where I didn’t know anyone. It ended up being a great 4 years. Since then I am working at the School of Chemistry, Cardiff University, as a Post-Doctoral Researcher, which again took our little family to a new adventure and new country!
- What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I have to say that the coolest topic I work on is related to aquaporins. The field is fairly new (a couple of decades) and there is so much to know and discover, that there are always new challenges and new ideas! I am actually really excited to have the opportunity to meet Prof. Peter Agre at the Lindau meeting, who was awarded the Nobel prize for discovering these little proteins.
- What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself / your work?
I think that the time I felt the most proud of myself was the day of my PhD defense. In Groningen, the defense is a public event, very formal, that takes place in an amazing room. After the defense, everyone goes and parties and the colleagues of the PhD student prepare a video, illustrating their life during those 4 years. Having my family there with me, witnessing that day was one of the best feelings ever.
- What is a “day in the life” of Andreia like?
This is one of the most complicated questions! (laughs) My days are never the same, and I think this is why I love what I do so much. One day I can be working in the lab in the morning, doing different types of experiments, mostly with cells, and then doing some computational work in the afternoon. Perhaps one day I just stay in front of my computer preparing some orders, writing publications or grant applications and correcting student’s reports. Other days there are seminars, group meetings and meetings with collaborators. There really isn’t one day the same! That’s the best part.
- What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?
I love the academic world, despite all the politics, and I would love to continue. Ultimately I would like to become a professor, but the road is still long. I think we have to take it one step at a time and build our own way.
- What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?
All kinds of things! I am a blogger/wedding planner, together with 3 friends, at a blog called Once Upon a Time a Wedding. I am also a dancer for more than 15 years and I used to teach Salsa and Kizomba during my PhD. Now I have turned to Tango, which is my new passion 😉 Besides that, I love sewing my own clothes (I made my own wedding dress), photographing and painting/drawing. I can’t say I have a boring life!
- What advice do you have for other women interested in science / chemistry?
Most of all, do what you love. It doesn’t matter if there are only few women in that field. It may be hard in the beginning, you have to be strong to fight stereotypes (and some mentalities) but don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it!
- In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science / chemistry?
This is also a hard question. There are so many things happening at the same time in the most varied fields. I can say that one that I hope comes soon, is a new cancer treatment. Of course that, as scientists, we know that one miraculous treatment is a utopian thought. However, an effective treatment for one cancer type, with less side-effects, would already be such a victory! I believe this can come sooner than we expect, as people are trying to repurpose FDA-approved drugs for different treatments than those they were originally designed for.
What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?
I think we should start by realizing that recruiting females students is very different from increasing the number of female academics. There are actually big numbers of female students at universities and some (if not most) European countries has more women than men in higher education. The biggest problem we face is keeping them in academia. I think the biggest challenges reside in showing women that the universities support them, with maternity leave, childcare, among other issues. These issues are not exclusive to women of course, but they do affect women more. When women don’t feel supported, they have a harder time at work and often feel like they have fallen behind their male colleagues (this is often potentiated by bosses and supervisors). Having a good support system in place and make sure that every person is treated fairly (regardless of gender) is a very important step to keep women in academia.