|Years in Field:
||Technology Diploma in Nautical Science, in progress
John's, Newfoundland, Canada
Karen Duff's Resume
"Regardless of what your position is, whether you're
male or female, you have to earn your respect," Karen
says. "And that applies to any field."
Getting Started: Karen spent twelve years working
in retail, for Canada's Woolco company, which was eventually
purchased by WalMart. "I had a really good job," she says,
"but one day I asked myself, do I want to do this for
the next 20 years, and I realized I didn't." When she
decided to change careers, she went to her local career
center to investigate other fields, and found the four-year
marine programs appealing. "I had to find a job that paid
really well," she says, "and I couldn't afford to be in
school for ten years."
Despite growing up on Newfoundland, Karen says, "there's
nobody in my family who's a seafarer - I've just always
loved the ocean."
"If you're going to drive a boat," Karen says, "you
have to know all about it." As part of the Nautical Science
program, students spend a week in the engine room, take
courses in marine engineering, naval architecture and
CAD draft drawing. "So I know how to draw a ship, and
I know how to build it - all the parts, and the parts
of the engines," she says. "The program is great in that
respect - you get to see everything. It's really cool."
Education: After high school, Karen completed two
years of university in general studies, before working
in retail. "Math is probably my forte," she says, so the
emphasis on math and science wasn't a problem. For other
women - and young students - who might be interested in
any technical field, her advice is: don't be afraid to
seek help from your instructors. "Try and get help, get
their attention when you have the chance, and build a
foundation," she says.
Karen is currently in her third of four years at the Marine
Institute of St. John's in Newfoundland (www.mi.mun.ca),
where she's been exposed to all kinds of shipping and
related jobs. After one year of general academic training,
students are required to spend two months on 'work term',
where they're assigned to a working vessel to test out
their sea legs. "If you come back from sea after two months
and you don't like it, you haven't wasted a year of school
- you can still apply it to one of the other programs,"
she says, like naval architecture, marine systems and
design, or any of the other, shore-based jobs.
These days, she sees more and more women in the marine
field - and the young girls she speaks to at high schools
and seminars seem enthusiastic. "Two years ago there were
three females that graduated from the program," Karen
says, "and in my class there are ten, out of about 63
students. So within just two years it's grown."
Greatest Professional Achievement: Karen says she's
proudest of receiving four scholarships in her three years
at the Marine Institute - among them the Ocean Ranger
scholarship for academic performance, named in honor of
the drilling rig Ocean Ranger which capsized 170 miles
east of St. John's in 1982, and whose entire crew of 84
was lost. In June of 2000 she won the Marjorie Ball Bursary
at the annual YM-YWCA's Women of Distinction Awards, and
in November she was awarded the Captain Wilfred B. Morgan
Scholarship for academic performance. This past March
Karen was given the Dale Howse Memorial Scholarship, named
for a former Marine Institute student and awarded for
academic performance, community involvement, and mentoring
to fellow students.
"It's nice to be recognized for your hard work," she says.
As for her most thrilling professional moment so far,
she says it was probably seeing her first school of porpoises.
"They were diving alongside the vessel as we were sailing
out from St. John's," she recalls. "It was the coolest
Barriers: Despite the inroads women have made in
the Marine industry, Karen says there are still a few
holdouts among the big companies who don't tend to hire
females - unofficially, of course. One of the reasons
she's been waiting to start her latest work term, she
says, "is because for three positions that they wanted
to put me on, the vessels didn't accommodate females."
"I think it's traditionally been a men's job," Karen says,
"and some vessels are older, they probably don't have
the accommodations for females. Rather than start making
changes, they just don't want to hire any women." Having
had successful on-board experiences, Karen remains confident
that the right position will come along.
Working with Men: Working on shipboard, Karen says,
"most of my co-workers are men - ninety-five percent."
In some ways, she says it's not that much different from
retail. "When you look at executives or a board meeting
of any company," she says, "they're mostly all men. So
I'm kind of used to that." Karen feels that regardless
of industry, the fundamentals of respect and professionalism
remain the same. "I think the biggest thing is that if
you think, if you act, if you feel that you should be
treated equally, then you will be," she says.
She also says she's found the faculty at North Harris
"very helpful," and approachable with any questions or
Advice for Women: "Make sure that you can handle
the lifestyle," she says. "Being away and travelling is
a different lifestyle - and it's not for everyone. But
if you like to travel, it's awesome." She says that for
every few months out at sea, employers tend to be generous
about vacation time, giving you at least a few months
off at home. "You can basically work all over the world,"
Karen says, "see everything at the expense of your employer,
and then come home and relax."
Her own experience taught her that everyday job satisfaction
was important for Traci. "I like working with my hands,"
she says. "And it's really nice to be able to go into
a so-called man's job and do it well."
Typical Workday/Environment: Not surprisingly,
Karen's physical environment on board the ship changes
just like the weather - a feature she happens to like.
"When we work on the deck we wear insulated coveralls,
similar to mechanics' coveralls," she says. "Insulated
ones for cool climates and Helly Hansen rain gear for
wet weather." Indoors, on the bridge, they dress in typical
navy uniform - something like a white shirt and black
pants, with colors varying by company.
"When we're up on the bridge we take readings, levels
of fuel and all that. We plot our course, monitor the
weather conditions and the ship's radio - all things we've
learned to do in school," she says. On a slow day, she
says, she and the others might be asked to go out and
paint the sides of the ship. "That was probably what most
people grumble about," Karen recalls - but if the day
is nice and you get to be outside, she laughs, "then who
Career Ladder: When she completes her four-year
course of study, Karen will be a third officer - responsible
for navigation, "which is basically driving the boat,"
she explains. As she notches more and more hours on board,
Karen will move up the ladder to second and first officer,
where she would supervise the ship's safety and cargo,
and if she continues, to Master Mariner - also known as
the Captain. "The Master Mariner is obviously responsible
for the whole vessel," Karen says. "They're the manager
of the ship and they work in conjunction with the shore-based
The number of hours and years it takes to move up vary
according to different routes and ships she might work
on (trans-ocean voyages vs. in-land waterways, for example).
"There's a lot of opportunity in international shipping,"
she says. "And the offshore oil industry is probably the
highest paying industry right now."
Once Karen has earned her 'tickets' to higher-ranking
positions in the field, she'll be able to apply her experience
to a variety of related jobs. "When I decide that I don't
want to be on the water anymore," she says, "I can go
and teach, or work as a surveyor, work for the government,
work at a port authority - you name it."
Professional Associations: Upon graduation, she'll
belong to Seafarer's
Association, and eventually the Master Mariner's Association
when she makes Captain.
Hobbies: Karen likes to stay active on and off
the water. "I like just about any sport," she says, including
mountain biking, running, sea kayaking, basketball, weight-lifting
and more. "I love to walk my dog," Karen says, "and I
love to read - that's obviously a big plus when you're
on board." When she's not out to sea, Karen enjoys working
around the house - gardening, painting, or just fixing
things. "I always like to be outdoors," she says.
*Annual salary number is not the role model's actual salary. Salary for Marine Scientist based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition