International Women in Engineering Day 2019: Interview with Dr Zeynep Karatza

Dr Zeynep Karatza is a Research Associate in the School’s Institute for Infrastructure and Environment, where she studies the geotechnical behaviour of hydrophobic sands.

Having gained an MEng Mining and Metallurgical Engineering from the National Technical University of Athens and an MSc in Geomechanics at the Université Joseph Fourier – Grenoble 1 – both with Distinction – she came to the University of Edinburgh in 2013 to study for a PhD. Following the completion of her doctorate, and a year of lecturing in geotechnical engineering and soil mechanics, Zeynep progressed to her current position of Research Associate.

Outside academia, Zeynep volunteers as a STEM ambassador in schools where she teaches children about science and engineering through interactive sessions and games.

Here, Zeynep shares her engineering inspiration, insights into her career journey, and advice for aspiring female engineers, to mark International Women in Engineering Day 2019.

What sparked your interest in engineering? Is it the same thing that inspires you today?

I’ve always enjoyed problem solving and challenging myself and so knew that mathematics, physics or engineering would suit me best. I picked engineering out of the three because I felt it was slightly more creative, practical and versatile and I was right!

My interest in research, though, came organically. I realised while doing my MEng in Mining Engineering, that what I enjoyed most was asking questions and trying to find the answers myself, and it didn’t bother me that I had to spend more time studying.

At that point, one of my professors told me to consider doing research, as I “fit the profile”. I guess I just followed his advice and I am still grateful for it.

Can you explain your career journey up to this point? What have you found most enjoyable, and challenging about working in engineering so far?

Being a rationalist (one of the attributes that helped me succeed in engineering), I decided to try every engineering career prospect by doing summer placements before choosing what suited me best.

I tried working as an engineer in mining construction but as a 20-year old, found it difficult to order around the workers and also felt I wasn’t using my engineering knowledge. I also tried consultancy, but felt I lacked the experience to produce the amazing and innovative solutions clients were seeking and that put me off.

Then I decided to follow my professor’s advice and do research and specifically to be an experimentalist. It is very creative, demanding and satisfying, albeit with the occasional frustration, crying and disappointment. However, that does not get me down – in fact, the more emotional I get the better results I produce in the end!

To my surprise, I have also enjoyed teaching. I think this is because explaining the subject to someone else helps me to better understand it myself. I suppose it is also my secret love of theatre, because to teach well you need to give some sort of a performance – I am still learning though!

What advice do you have for the next generation of women interested in getting into engineering?

Go for it! There is no need to defend your choices – it is completely normal for a woman to want to be an engineer, why wouldn’t it be?

It is a tough job, it needs persistence, determination and discipline, so you must really enjoy it if you want to pursue a career in engineering. In the end, it can be very rewarding.

Related information