From a PhD in chemistry in Brazil to a CPA in Canada

By Leah Giesbrecht
Jun 25, 2024
From a PhD in chemistry in Brazil to a CPA in Canada
Photo credit: Bobo Zhao Photography

Curiosity can draw us to experiences that are both challenging and rewarding. For Mirela Oliveira, CPA, PhD, a consultant with Deloitte’s finance and performance team, this has meant relocating from Brazil to Canada and career changing from a PhD in chemistry to a CPA. In some cases, her journey has meant starting over, at other times, pursuing the natural evolution of her passions and interests.  Mirela’s journey is unique, but relatable for many – including those of us who have immigrated to Canada as adults and changed careers in the process. We caught up with Mirela to learn more. 

A career in chemistry and research

A natural love of science originally drew Mirela, who grew up in the coastal Brazilian city of Salvador, to her first career as a petroleum chemist and researcher.  “Science is my passion and I believe that knowledge in chemistry, physics, and mathematics can help us understand ourselves and the world around us,” she says. “It provides a foundation for solving a wide range of problems.” 

Mirela pursued a bachelor's degree in chemistry and explored different fields until she found her place in the energy, oil, and gas industry, working in the research centre of Petrobras, a multinational petroleum company headquartered in Rio de Janeiro. “I’ve always been a curious person, constantly questioning and seeking answers,” she says. “At Petrobras, I worked in their research center for several years, developing new processes and applications, and working with crude oil evaluation processes to support oil and gas exploration, production, transportation, and refining. I also developed my PhD thesis there - which explored aspects of polymer science - where I could see the practical application of my research.” 



From Brazil to Canada

Mirela’s work with Petrobras led to her first visit to Canada in the winter of 2014, as part of a research-related exchange program at the University of Alberta. The balmy beaches of Brazil were replaced with temperatures of -30 C alongside sleet and snow. Despite that, she says, she had the feeling that Canada could be a great place to live. While she initially planned to spend only a couple of months in the country, these plans ended up changing. “In 2016, my family and I decided to explore Canada and we fell in love with Vancouver,” she says. “Political unrest and rising violence in Brazil further influenced our decision to relocate. So in 2017, with seven pieces of luggage and a lot of dreams, we embarked on a new chapter in Canada.”

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Recalibrating her career  

After she and her family decided to settle in Vancouver, Mirela made the leap to refocus her career and pursue a post-degree diploma in accounting at Langara College. On what motivated this shift, she says, “I found it challenging to continue my career as a chemist in Canada. I was either overqualified for many positions or lacked Canadian experience for others.” 

Her interest in the finance world was also sparked in part by her work as a researcher and project coordinator, through which she had gained preliminary experience in budgeting, forecasting, presenting to stakeholders, and securing funding. “I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of business and complement my career,” Mirela says. “Instead of pursuing another master's or doctorate degree in chemistry, I decided to learn more about accounting and further develop the business skills that I had always wanted to have.” With the support of one of her teachers at Langara, she explored her potential in accounting, an area that she found both challenging and rewarding. 



How chemistry led to accounting

Asked if her chemistry background supported her career transition, as well as her role today, Mirela replies, “Absolutely. My experience in chemistry equipped me with valuable skills that have been transferable to studying and working in accounting. The inquiry mindset, numerical aptitude, and problem-solving skills I developed as a chemist have been instrumental. And the advanced mathematical concepts in chemistry provided a solid foundation for tackling finance and statistics, while my research background proved beneficial in understanding complex financial reporting and taxation issues.”

An ever-evolving journey

Mirela began her CPA career as a staff accountant with Deloitte’s audit team in 2019 and notes that working in audit allowed her to build a solid foundation in financial reporting and get a broad view of the roles and responsibilities within the accounting world. Along with acquiring essential CPA skills such as critical thinking and ethical decision making, her role evolved as she got closer to becoming a CPA. “As I approached the completion of my designation,” she says, “I realized that I wanted to support clients from a different perspective. Drawing on my background as a researcher, I wanted to bring value to our clients by improving processes, introducing disruptive technologies, and saving costs, so I transitioned to Deloitte's consulting practice under the finance and performance team.”

In her current position as a consultant in the finance and performance team, Mirela brings together her research background and accounting expertise to support clients in a forward-focused manner. She notes, “Our team’s work involves shaping finance strategy and vision, redesigning core finance processes, implementing global business services, and helping companies improve operational efficiency and cost-efficiency.” Taking a moment to reflect on the many changes and milestones that have brought her to this point, she says, “It’s been a great journey.”

Fun facts

Do you ever use your chemistry knowledge in your daily life? 
Always. Chemistry helps me to understand my body and emotions, and to drive my doctors crazy with all of my questions and suggestions from scientific papers that I’ve read!

What do you miss about Brazil? 
The weather and being five minutes away from a nice beach where I can have fresh coconut water and an acai bowl.

Where in the world would you most like to travel to? 
Europe. There is a history in every corner, which I am fascinated by, and every time we have the chance to travel there, we learn something new. 

How do you recharge your batteries?
My family is my anchor. I prioritize quality time with them, whether it's through outdoor activities like dog-walking, tennis, or stand-up paddleboarding, or simply spending time together at home. 

All photos courtesy of Bobo Zhao Photography. 

Leah Giesbrecht is a communications specialist at CPABC.

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