Kate O’Brien attended Caboolture State High School from 1988 to 1989, after completing her Junior Secondary education at Woodford State School. She was Senior Dux, School Vice-Captain and also a member of the Queensland Debating Team. In 1989, she won a Comalco Scholarship to the University of Queensland where she completed a double degree in Mathematics and Chemical Engineering with First Class Honours. Her first job was as a process engineer with Comalco in New Zealand. Since completing her PhD in 2003 at the University of Western Australia, Kate has applied systems modelling and analysis to environmental problems ranging from greenhouse gas emissions to sustainable water resource management.
Dr O’Brien is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Queensland, where she leads the chemical and environmental engineering program. She developed a new, introductory environmental engineering course, and is passionate about teaching students critical thinking. Kate has received numerous nominations and awards for Excellence in Teaching, and mentors junior academics.
Kate has also applied modelling techniques used for environmental systems to the challenge of increasing workforce diversity. With her friend, colleague and former Caboolture High classmate, Professor Karen Hapgood, Kate has provided strong advocacy for increasing the options for balancing work and family demands in academia, and improving mentoring and role models for women in science and engineering.