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Career Quick Look
Salary: $63,560* Education:
Years in Field: 3 Technology Diploma in Nautical Science, in progress
City/State: St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada View 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 thing."

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 concerns.

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 cares?"

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 office."

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


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