Centre Domain Leader Named a Queensland Tall Poppy

Dr Kate Helmstedt is on a mission to save the world using mathematics. She’s also doing all she can to ensure that there are many others on that mission.

Kate with Queensland Chief Scientist Professor Hugh Possingham

Recognising that work, the Australian Institute of Policy and Science awarded Kate a Queensland Young Tall Poppy Science Award.

“Maths can solve so many exciting challenges, so it’s fantastic to see my mathematics research getting recognition and attention,” says Kate.

Kate is a co-leader for the Environment and Natural Systems Domain for the QUT Centre for Data Science. She uses mathematics to better understand threatened ecosystems and species and how we interact with them. Her projects include designing better strategies to protect the Great Barrier Reef and Antarctica.

The Tall Poppy award also recognises enthusiasm for communicating science. For Kate, one of the main messages she pushes out is that mathematics is for everyone, not just ‘maths geniuses’.

“I’ve always loved maths but didn’t realise how useful it can be and that there’s a job called mathematician. I love opportunities to tell people, especially young people, that this fun thing they like doing can bring so many opportunities for them and the world,” says Kate.

“You can pair it with your other passions, like the environment, or sport, video games, health, computing, or just explore the depths of maths itself.”

Kate also puts a lot of effort into improving gender equity in STEM, particularly the mathematical sciences. She was the Women in Data Science Ambassador this year for the Centre and the Australian Data Science Network.

“Girls have always been interested in maths and science in schools, but we see fewer girls and young women choosing to continue with advanced STEM studies. We’re working hard at the moment in mathematics and universities to build supportive, collaborative environments where women can thrive,” says Kate.

Kate was one of just 12 scientists in Queensland to receive the Tall Poppy Award. In 2021, Queensland Women in Technology awarded her its Rising Star in Science Award. The Australian Research Council awarded Kate a Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA) in 2019 to develop mathematical methodologies to optimise the research and development of new technologies to help threatened ecosystems.

Kate says there is a real urgency to get the next generation involved in solving significant problems like the kind she is tackling and to ensure they have the skills they need to do that.

“The world will be better off with more excellent STEM specialists, so we all gain a lot by capturing that interest of young scientists of all genders,” says Kate.

The Tall Poppy award is widely considered to be an early indicator of Australia’s future scientific leaders. It’s clear that Kate is one of them. Congratulations, Kate!

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