What's your name and job title? What did you study?
My name is Kate Lipczynski and I am an undergraduate engineer with WSP’s Power Team. I am studying mechatronic engineering and am working in the Control Systems Division.
Who are your mob?
I come from Tasmanian Aboriginal heritage – Palawa people – and our mob are at Circular Head.
Where did you grow up? Can you talk us through some important stages of your life in regards to your education and work history?
I grew up in Sydney after our family moved there because of my Dad’s work. We lived there until 2008 when we moved to Brisbane. In 2012, I began studying at Stuartholme School and was a part of the music department for most of my time there. I was fortunate enough to spend one month in Spain in 2014–2015 as part of the school’s exchange program and it was fantastic to learn about how people live in different cultures. I was also lucky enough to be part of the Red Earth program, where we went to Cooktown to spend time in an Indigenous community and learn about their local culture. I graduated in 2016 and started university the next year studying mechatronics at QUT. I have had a few jobs since 2015. I worked in a pizza van, an ice cream shop and as a kitchen hand until I was offered an internship with WSP.
Do you identify with a particular tribe or people?
Our family did not get confirmation of our indigenous heritage until 2016 when we found the link to our past. My mother is from the Circular Head region of Tasmania and because we are unsure of the specific tribal boundaries my ancestor is from, I identify with Palawa people.
How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?
I was contacted by Gurijala services about an internship with WSP through my university. An interview was organised and I started on 27 February 2018.
Did you face any obstacles as an Indigenous student?
I feel that because I didn’t identify until recently, I have not faced many obstacles like others and I am very grateful for that. I have experienced people telling me that I am not Indigenous, but I feel that it hasn’t set me back.
Was your Indigenous heritage ever an advantage?
I would say that my heritage has been an advantage for me when it comes to my education due to the support networks and opportunities designed to encourage my pursuit of tertiary education and becoming the first in my family to go to university.
How did you choose your specialisation? Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?
I chose mechatronics because I could see that people were transitioning towards a technology-based society and robots would become an integral part of it. I was always interested in STEM – wanting to be a scientist of some kind, specifically a physicist – but I enjoyed the thought of creating things and being a part of projects, which is what led me to engineering.
What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?
My interview process was quite nice! Peter Skindberg was accommodating and lovely. I was asked about my interest in mechatronics and what I knew about the company. I took a tour of the office, chatted about my hobbies, experiences and ambitions and Peter told me about his experiences working with the company, as well as the opportunities WSP could provide.
Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to study? Are there any soft skills it would be beneficial for them to develop? Should they pursue any sort of work experience?
If a student in high school was considering studying engineering, I would recommend that they study maths B, physics, english at the least, with maths C, chemistry and IT. Research subjects are also a good option. In consulting, client engagement is important, so being able to converse with the client is key to success in keeping people happy and satisfied with the services we provide. Work experience – if available – is important however not necessary to succeed. If the opportunity presents itself, seize it. If that is not a viable option then focus on achieving good grades and maybe just working to demonstrate you can hold down a job.
What does your employer do?
WSP is a large multinational consulting firm providing engineering consulting and professional services in property and buildings; transport and infrastructure; resources; water; power; and environmental sectors. As part of my work in the power team, we focus on consultation for projects such as power plants, alternative energy solutions, renewable energy production and power infrastructure.
What are your areas of responsibility?
I’m responsible for project management tasks mainly, however I am also involved in activities that further my learning, such as calculations for volume or checking if the right equipment is used in the environment it is needed in.
Can you describe a typical work day? What was the last thing you worked on?
A typical work day starts with working on some document management and then I will get asked to help with a small part in a project that someone else is working on, or I might receive a request to assist someone else. These tasks range from researching technology and drawing diagrams for control systems, to checking the materials required in the project with the order.
What sort of person succeeds in your career?
The people who succeed in my career path are those willing to put in the time and effort and care about what it is they are doing. They don’t have to be super smart because resilience, passion and a willingness to learn is key to continuing with engineering; it is not an easy profession.
What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here?
From my position in this company the doors for me are wide open. I could work abroad, stay within the company but work in a different section or state, or even switch to the side of the client. These prospects are one of the many attractive qualities of working in engineering, as there are so many ways that your skills can be utilised.
Could someone with a different background do your job?
Someone with a different background could do my job, however having an Indigenous background in engineering is very important to implementing these projects effectively in the communities in which they are located. I can add value by improving general cultural awareness and sensitivity, as well as encouraging the dialogue between the client and the communities. Also, in such a male dominated industry, I feel as though being female adds to the team’s ability to solve challenges.
How important is it for Indigenous youths to stay connected with their communities?
I believe it is integral for Indigenous youths to stay connected with their communities as it prevents the loss of culture, language and diversity in our society. Coming from a background where there are little remnants of what my ancestor’s culture was and having to try to piece back together our own history, I think the prevention of losing this knowledge is key to a thriving Australia. Much wisdom is held by Indigenous people and everyone benefits from the information that can be passed down from generation to generation.
Which three pieces of advice would you give to Indigenous students nearing graduation?
My three pieces of advice would be: