An interview with Kat Young

Name: Kat YoungKatYoung

Current Job: PhD Student

Scientific Discipline/Field: Electronic Engineering, specifically audio technology

Country: UK

Pick some letters: Q, T (I feel that Q is more representative, but I’m also technically T so that too…)


Twitter or other social media handle? @percussionism

What does your job involve?
My research is in the perception of spatial audio and how we can exploit the way the hearing system works to create and improve 3D sound experiences – this technology is known as binaural audio (bin – two, aural – ears). Perception, and the idea that you can essentially fool the brain to make it hear what you want fascinates me.

I work mostly with simulations, so I use 3D meshes of heads (yes, real people’s heads) and calculate how sound travels and interacts with objects. I’m currently focussing on designing a new system for binaural audio – or at least, the early stages of it!

How did you get to this job (education etc.)?
My undergraduate degree was in Electronic Engineering with Music Technology, and once I’d started learning about perception and how the brain works out where sounds are I couldn’t stop! I did my Masters project on one tiny aspect of the hearing system and ended up turning the section of my report entitled ‘Further Work’ into a PhD proposal! I’ve been lucky enough to stay in the same department and under the same supervisor as during my undergrad.

Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions?
I haven’t had that many career decisions to make, but it definitely played a part in my wanting to stay in the department I knew with the people that knew me. In hindsight, I must have felt that it was safe to stay where I was. It does affect which conferences I submit to and attend – there are some countries I just wouldn’t feel safe.

Have you had any reactions from colleagues about being LGBT, either good or bad?
I’ve essentially come out twice – once as gay and then again as non-binary – and had slightly different reactions to each. My being not-straight wasn’t ever an issue. Most of my colleagues are good with pronouns, and those that get them wrong don’t do it out of maliciousness. It’s more difficult to correct people from outside of my immediate research group though, and I’ve had some taken-aback facial expressions and scowls when I’ve tried. There’s a lot of people in a university, and it’s just not worth the fight sometimes.

Did you have any role models growing up (LGBT, STEM, totally unrelated…)?
The biggest role models for me during my teenage years were the band Tegan and Sara (feel free to insert all of the gay clichés here…). Their outright queerness and their refusal to be quiet about it really made me feel like I had somewhere I could be me and be safe at the same time.
Another more recent role model is the character LaFontaine (and the actor that portrays them, Kaitlyn Alexander) from the web series Carmilla. LaFontaine was the first non-binary person I came across, and suddenly I had the words to describe what I felt with respect to my gender. They are also unapologetic about their love for science, which is greatly refreshing in a world of stereotypical nerd boys – I guess they count as an LGBT-STEM role model!

What are your plans for the future?
I enjoy research and would like to stay, but academia feels very unstable at the moment so I’m not actually sure…

Anything else you’d like to add?
There must be some link between being queer and having to think outside of the box for the good of science, right?

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