Meet Monash University’s latest Women in STEMM Student Leaders – Qianya Zhao

Undergraduate – Engineering and MNHS

Research focus: Materials Engineering with a particular interest in medical technology, public health and preventative medicine, and women’s health and wellbeing

Qianya Zhao is a recipient of a 2022 Women in STEMM Student Leader Awards. These awards aim to recognise, celebrate and support women students at Monash University who are contributing to innovation in healthcare and medical technologies. MIME spoke to Qianya upon accepting this award.

Qianya Zhao

What is your chosen degree and what inspired you to pursue this path?

I am currently studying a double degree in Engineering and Biomedical Science, specialising in Materials Engineering, and chose this pathway because I was interested in healthcare, hands-on innovation and solving problems affecting large populations of people. Now in my penultimate year, I am pleased that this choice has enabled me to not only develop technical skills but also uptake various opportunities in engineering teams growing my “soft-skills”, undergo research and connect with various academic and industry professionals.

What is your favourite aspect about this STEMM field?

Hands down, my favourite aspect about this STEMM field is how much potential for growth medical technology has in Australasia – despite it being a small niche compared to other industries, the intersection of health, medicine, patient-care with engineering, innovation and technology has immense advancement and I hope by the time I graduate; I will also be involved in its progression.

Can you elaborate on your contribution to innovation in healthcare and medical technologies?

As an undergraduate, my involvement is primarily within a student engineering team called Monash Young Medtech Innovators (MYMI). My key previous work with MYMI included hosting Professional Industry Nights with speakers with a medical technology background and running a student-centred hackathon competition addressing prevalent healthcare inefficiencies or issues. As the 2023 Engagement Director, I hope to involve more students interested in this avenue, provide both academic and social events for students, and ultimately assist in the growth of the team for its posterity.

I have also had the opportunity to be involved in women’s health research at Hudson Institute of Medical Research, where I was working amongst an interdisciplinary team of engineers and doctors to fabricate meshes suitable for new mothers experiencing or susceptible to pelvic organ prolapse.

Through my contribution, my underlying goal is to continue learning and develop myself as foremost, a continuous learner, and as an emerging graduate in this field.

Can you tell us a little of your leadership experience?

My leadership experience stems from wanting to see strong representation. I like to be involved in various extracurriculars but my main leadership experience is evident as my position as a Teaching Associate for a first-year engineering unit. Working with students and having the chance to inspire and guide them in their tertiary career is indispensable – and I take pride being one of the female Teaching Associates and being proof that times are changing, inspiring my female students to also aspire and work hard for what they want.

The MIME Women in STEMM Student Leader Award recognises student leadership. What does receiving this award mean to you?

Receiving this award for student leadership as a woman in STEMM is both humbling and gratifying. It’s an acknowledgement of my efforts thus far but also a sense of support unparalleled to anything else – proof that the university believes in what I study, who I want to be as a professional and giving me the opportunity to do so. I am inspired to continue working hard, learning, and leading my peers and the younger generation of students.

What will the $1,000 cash prize to support your studies go towards?

Coming from interstate and having to support myself through my tertiary studies, this award will directly help me with my living costs.

What are you most looking forward to in regard to the MIME networking opportunities afforded to you due to receiving this award?

I am most looking forward to connecting with professionals and explore opportunities for after my graduation. I am eager to pursue the medical technology space but also interested in general consulting or project management areas where I can directly work with clients and liaise between teams. I have a personal interest in the start-up eco-system and undoubtedly, I look forward to meeting all the people in MIME who have made it possible for me to receive this award.

Why do you think awards like this are important for Women in STEMM?

Awards like this are crucial as it recognises and supports the progressive advancements and contributions women have in the STEMM fields. It is a good step forward in acknowledging the unfortunate disadvantages women may have in this male-dominated field but an even better step forward in tackling this issue. I believe this award is a key example of “being more than its monetary value” – the acknowledgement and support for women is just and unparalleled.

What is your advice for women in STEMM or those thinking about a career in STEMM?

One anecdote I heard at the beginning of my degree was:

“Five years down the track, you’re eventually going to be five years older – so why not be five years older and a qualified engineer? Why not be five years older and celebrate your PhD accreditation?”

That type of thinking paired with the insatiable desire to continue learning, developing yourself as the best individual you can be, breaking through the glass ceiling, knowing that other women before you have paved the way and there is a multitude of support all around you – why not be a woman in STEMM?