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Women in Engineering Profile: Karly Chester Etzel

September 12, 2018
Source: ASM International

This profile series introduces leading materials scientists from around the world who happen to be females. Here we speak with Karly Chester Etzel, quality assurance coordinator at PiSA BioPharm Inc.


What part of your job do you like most? 

The part of my job I like the most is the same thing I love about materials engineering. I love stepping into a puzzle in the middle and figuring out what’s happening and how to solve it. I like researching the different aspects or characteristics of the problem and fitting them all together to help find a solution. I always feel like I am stepping into the middle of a problem with materials because you never start with nothing. 


What attracted you to engineering?

I am fortunate to have grown up with engineering as the family profession, as my mother, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all civil engineers. However, I wasn’t interested in building structures or exposed to other types of engineering. After pursuing different options in community college, I returned to engineering because I missed the challenge math and science gave me in high school. My community college advisor was a female mechanical engineer. She introduced me to other engineering disciplines, which reopened that door for me. I eventually chose materials engineering because of its role in the forefront of technology. You can only redesign something so many times until you must make a better material for the job.


Did you ever consider doing something else with your life besides engineering?

Yes, I wanted to be an international business lawyer. I was able to take a few law courses while studying for my master’s and it was great. I really enjoy law and the problem-solving that goes into it, but I don’t enjoy legal writing. It was incredibly difficult for me to thoroughly explain the assumptions made when arguing a legal position. I understand the need and usefulness of it as it pertains to law, but coming from engineering where you get to list the assumptions as givens, it was incredibly tedious.


What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on implementing a quality management system (QMS) for a company in an FDA regulated industry. Working for a start-up means I have the wonderful opportunity to have a real, tangible impact on how the business operates and ensuring the product we’re creating is safe for our end users. Creating a QMS is a giant puzzle. I use the same strategies I learned studying materials as I do solving a QMS puzzle.


If a young person approached you for career advice about pursuing engineering, what would you tell them?

I would tell them that engineering is a great field with a lot of opportunities. I would encourage them to attend engineering camps and interview engineers in various disciplines to obtain a better understanding of all of the different types of engineering. Having grown up with civil engineers, I didn’t think it was the right path for me until I started exploring other engineering disciplines than the big three. I would also encourage them to get an internship as soon as possible. I think having hands-on, real-world learning is invaluable for determining if engineering is the right choice.



Traveling, board games, and knitting.


Last book read?

“The Truth” by Terry Pratchett.


Do you know someone who should be featured in an upcoming Women in Engineering profile? Contact Vicki Burt at

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