SCIENCE ALWAYS MADE SENSE

Her brother sparked interest in research

Considering that she has a PhD and has been a lecturer at three universities, one a medical school, it may come as a surprise that Dr. Daria Camera said she wasn’t a standout in high school.

“I wasn’t exceptional at anything. I wasn’t an athlete, I wasn’t an artist,” she says. “But I loved biology, and I was good at it. It was something I always understood. It made sense to me.”

So, when it was time to go to university, she knew she wanted to study science. Dr. Camera was going through medical school interviews at Monash University in Melbourne (AU), when she had a revelation: She realized that more than becoming a physician, she wanted to be a scientist.

Dr. Daria Camera with daughter, Mia (12), and son, Domenic (2½). Nikolas (4) is not pictured.

Changing course, she attended the University of Melbourne where she found the areas of pharmacology and neuroscience most interesting. Her interest in studying neuroscience actually started long before university, as her older brother has cerebral palsy, so she was always fascinated by what was damaged that led to his condition.

A second fascination

“During my second year, I dipped my toes into pharmacology. I was also fascinated by how drugs can alleviate so many conditions, so I wanted to conduct research in drug discovery. I eventually decided on a double major during the final year of my undergraduate study,” says Dr. Camera.

After completing her degree with honors, Dr. Camera spent five years as a research assistant at the Florey Neuroscience Institute in Melbourne, working in both the Neurodegeneration Laboratory and the Integrative Neuroscience Facility, before supervisors convinced her to pursue a PhD.

“Much of my research has involved gaining a better understanding of how the brain works. Since the brain and the nervous system are all connected so that messages can pass throughout the body, when the nervous system doesn’t work properly, it can cause problems with movement, memory, and learning,” she says. “We grew brain cells in my lab in order to look at what happens when they are damaged and how those changes impact the messenger system. Understanding how some proteins work and change will one day lead to new and better ways to treat diseases of the nervous system.”

At a crossroads

Like many of her students, Dr. Camera is busy. She and her husband have three children, ages 12, 4, and 2. After her last maternity leave she felt at a crossroads. She returned to RMIT University (formerly Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) in Melbourne as a Lecturer in Pharmaceutical Sciences, but didn’t feel the same sense of achievement and fulfillment that she had before. Juggling her three children together with her university duties — committee appointments, lectures, administrative responsibilities, academic advising — had become especially difficult.

A supervisor had read about OUM and urged her to look into it. Dr. Camera researched OUM and submitted her application. She remembers the interview well.

“I met with Dr. Brown, Dr. Ghazi and Dr. Diamante * and it didn’t feel like an interview at all. I felt as if I was speaking with longtime colleagues, friends,” she says. Dr. Camera joined the faculty in January 2017.

She currently teaches Pharmacology, her area of specialization, and recently began lecturing on Genetics and Molecular Biology. She really enjoys teaching.

“I enjoy preparing for lectures and am often asked why it takes me so long to get ready. I tell them that teaching an area of science is like telling a story. If you don’t put it together so it flows, students won’t understand. It is very satisfying. One of my greatest joys is when a student says ‘I understand,’ ” says Dr. Camera, adding that sitting at commencement, watching her students graduate is another great joy.

New research role

Dr. Camera’s passion for research and her extensive time spent in the lab has also led to her new OUM role as Assistant Director of Research, working with Dr. Brown in his responsibilities as Deputy Vice Chancellor overseeing the research enterprise. She did a presentation at the March Student Conference attended by students from Australia and New Zealand where she discussed the research requirement and the assistance available to them.

“Since the conference, I’ve been inundated with questions, which makes me very happy. I want students to realize that we can provide them with a lot of help and support. This project doesn’t have to be daunting. I want to help them see that research can be interesting and we can really learn from it,” she says.

Academic advising is something else Dr. Camera wants more students to take advantage of at OUM. She doesn’t believe most students realize how unique it is to be offered regular one-on-one meetings with an academic adviser. Advisers at other universities may not allocate much time to a student outside of lectures, perhaps 5-10 minutes per term, she says. OUM’s advisers are committed to ongoing, scheduled meetings intended to guide and help, whether their students’ needs are academic or personal. She has been honored that her advisees have trusted her enough to share some of the private information they have during their meetings.

Delete “stupid”

As a lecturer, academic adviser, and a research adviser, Dr. Camera says the most important thing she wants every student to understand is quite simple: There is no stupid question.

“I really want them to change how they think. I tell them that they aren’t going to ask me a question that I didn’t ask of someone one day. I tell them to just leave ‘stupid’ out of it. When you do, it’s just a question, something you want to understand.”

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* Randell Brown, PhD, Deputy Vice Chancellor; Sarmad Ghazi, MBChB, Dean for North America; Paula Diamante, MD, Director of Faculty Affairs