Katrina Lawrence making waves on the world science stage

​​​It was a light bulb moment in Year 10 maths that enabled Katrina Lawrence (nee Staines), class of 2000, to pursue a successful career into science. Now working as a Microbiologist, she completed a Bachelor of Science in microbiology, with a graduate certificate of molecular biology and has worked in STEM industry for 15 years.

“The defining moment for me came in year 10 at St John Fisher College when I was bombing in maths. Everyone knew I was born to be a microbiologist, boring everyone with stories of gory infections. I was acing science, but just couldn't handle maths,” Katrina said.

“My maths teacher Mr O'Connor pulled me into his office to show me exactly how I was doing in maths and said; “There's no way you can be this good at science and that bad at maths. I'm going to be blunt, if you don't do better in maths, you won't get into science."

“Mr McCourt did his bit by explaining things in another way and with that, quadratic equations suddenly became crystal clear. Mrs Blum continued this into year 11 and 12. I even came second in senior Maths B. If not for the solid education, and these people who believed in me, I would not have achieved any of this”.

Starting her career as a laboratory aide at Sullivan Niccolaides pathology in 2004, Katrina worked her way up to scientist after graduating, and branched into quality control, quality assurance and routine diagnostics. After accepting a scientist position at the Prince Charles Hospital, she worked in the microbiology lab, the very same workplace that hosted her work experience in Year 11 at St John Fisher College.

It was the three years of intensive training received at Prince Charles Hospital that set the trajectory for her career, later transferring to the TB and microbiology departments at the Royal Brisbane Hospital.

In 2017, Katrina accepted a job as a research assistant in Child Health at the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin where she was responsible for the day to day operations of the child health laboratory.

“We investigate the causes of serious ear and lung disease in Indigenous children and seek to expand microbiology laboratory capabilities in our South East Asian near neighbours.

“I am also heavily involved in training young Indigenous women in laboratory skills, my last trainee is the NT Indigenous apprentice of the year and gained entry to a Bachelor of Nursing through this pathway.”

Katrina was the first person in the world to isolate a bacterium that has had its genetic signature detected in the noses of very sick kids with very serious lung disease, authoring a published paper on the breakthrough.

Currently based in Darwin, and completing a PHD, Katrina is making waves on the world science stage with a recent finding that may well change the management of children at risk of Rheumatic Heart Disease.

“My hope is that by sharing my story, I can inspire just one young woman scientist. We need more women in STEM and it's getting easier overall for women. It can also take you places to do things you never imagined possible,” Katrina said.  

© Brisbane Catholic Education​, St John Fisher College Bracken Ridge (2019)