Spotlight on a Student Leader: Katarzyna Kȩpa

6 Dec 2017

Katarzyna Kȩpa is an AIBN PhD student in the laboratory of Professor Darren Martin. Her research focuses on understanding the structure-property relationships of Spinifex-derived nanofiber materials, developing ways to incorporate these nanofibers into cardboard and paper.

“Recycled cardboard will lose its strength after several recycling cycles, so this is a great sustainable way to add strength,” she says.

Katarzyna has a background in chemical and biochemical engineering, and actually doesn’t mind when things don’t go smoothly in the lab. When problems arise, she sees it as a puzzle to be solved.

“Interesting challenges lie where something isn’t working, and you have to come up with solutions. Initially it would make me really frustrated but now I have learnt this is the whole purpose of research and I really enjoy overcoming the obstacles, I must say.”

Katarzyna wants to make a difference not only by solving interesting bioengineering problems, she also wants to see more young women enter STEM so they can enjoy research and make contributions in their own right.  

For the last year, Katarzyna has been a UQ Women in Engineering Student Leader, which gives her the opportunity to inspire current and prospective female engineering students. She’s extremely pleased to have been selected to participate in the program for a second year in a row in 2018.

“I’m super happy!” she says, and is looking forward to continuing her work with high school students and first year engineering students.

Female high school students in particular rarely have the opportunity to meet women in engineering fields, particularly those students who live in rural areas. Consequently, it’s difficult for them to see themselves in an engineering career.

Katarzyna's research focuses on understanding the structure-property relationships of Spinifex-derived nanofiber materials

Representation is important, says Katarzyna.

“A lot of girls, even if they’re very good in advanced maths and biology, they still think they wouldn’t be able to study engineering.”

“We show them there are girls studying engineering and succeeding in it.”

Katarzyna and the other Student Leaders bring the students to UQ and show them what it’s like to do research in engineering. They also go out to rural schools to talk to students and encourage them.

The Student Leaders also provide support and guidance for female students who have already arrived at UQ and have begun their first year studying engineering. 

“When I started engineering there was nobody who could tell me about student life or the career paths I could take,” says Katarzyna, so she is keen for students to come to her with their questions and concerns. She wants to show them that resilience and persistence are more important in the long run than getting everything perfect the first time. She wants to show them to enjoy the scientific challenges.

Some of the students Katarzyna has mentored in the past are now applying to be Student Leaders themselves, which goes to show how effective the program is and how much it meant to them.

While Katarzyna did not have a mentor for her undergraduate experience, she says that she is fortunate to have had a wonderful female mentor when she worked in industry in Denmark, and can speak first hand about the importance mentoring can have.

“I was a typical student starting out, very nervous, self doubting. Because she was female, it was easier to talk to her.”

Katarzyna’s mentor regularly gave her great feedback and encouraged her to speak up in meetings.

“It helped me so much. Now I’m not afraid to speak up and share my ideas. Now I’m trying to do the same for somebody else. It can have so much impact on your life.”


More information about the UQ Women in Engineering Student Leader Program can be found here.


AIBN Women in Science Series home page

Gender and Diversity at AIBN