Lindsay Knippenberg: Women are taking over the Dyson! September 15, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lindsay Knippenberg
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4 – 16, 2011

Mission: Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS)
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: September 15, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 55.41 N
Longitude: -167.98
Wind Speed: 25.86 kts
Wave Height: 10 – 13ft with some larger wind-blown waves
Surface Water Temperature: 8.7 C
Air Temperature: 8.7 C

Science and Technology Log

Real women aren't afraid of piles of jellyfish.

Real women aren't afraid of piles of jellyfish.

I will admit that before I met the scientists and crew onboard the Dyson I had imagined that the majority of the people on the boat would be men. I had wrongly gone along with the stereotypical view that scientists, engineers, fishermen, and the crew onboard ships were mostly men. Therefore when I finally met the people who I would be sailing with for the next two weeks, I was surprised and very happy to see that women had taken over the Dyson. For example, of the 12 scientists onboard the Dyson for this cruise, 9 are women including the Chief Scientist who is in charge of us all.

The seabird observers looking for birds.

The seabird observers looking for birds.

On the ship there are also NOAA Corps officers. The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. Officers can be found operating one of NOAA’s 18 ships or 12 aircraft to provide support to meet NOAA’s missions. Their duties and areas of operations can range from launching a weather balloon at the South Pole, conducting fishery surveys in Alaska, maintaining buoys in the tropical Pacific, to flying P-3 Hurricane Hunter airplanes into hurricanes. I have met several NOAA Corps officers while I have been at NOAA and they have mostly been men. I was excited to see that of the six officers onboard the Dyson three are women.

NOAA Corps Officers - Rene, Sarah, and Amber taking a break from their duties to pose for a picture.

NOAA Corps Officers - Rene, Sarah, and Amber taking a break from their duties to pose for a picture.

There are also several other women onboard the Dyson and my mission today was to meet some of these amazing women and interview them to see what they do onboard the Dyson and what motivated them to choose this as their career. Let’s meet them:

Name: Ellen Martinson

Hometown: Juneau, AK

Position: Research Fisheries Biologist and Chief Scientist for Leg 2 of BASIS

Ellen showing off a tiny squid that she was measuring on the scale.

Ellen showing off a tiny squid that she was measuring on the scale.

Ellen has always loved solving puzzles and has had a curiosity for nature and how it works. That love of nature and problem solving led her to become a fisheries biologist. She has worked at NOAA since 1995 and she does research to support the management of federally-controlled commercial fisheries. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate and is doing her research and dissertation on developing indexes of ecosystem health in the Bering Sea that includes climate and fish growth factors. Pollock is her species of choice and she is looking at the success rate of Age 0 (zero) pollock surviving their first year to become Age 1 pollock as a prediction of the future health of the commercial pollock fishery.

What does she like the best about her job? She gets to work with a variety of people ranging from scientists and fisheries managers to fishermen and even teachers like me. She listens to their problems and ideas and then looks for the important questions to address all of those viewpoints. She also gets to travel to a lot of cool places, learn new things from a variety of topics, and her job is often an adventure. How did she get such a cool job? Going to college is the first step. Ellen has a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and a master’s degree in Fisheries Resources. She is currently finishing up her Ph.D. at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and then she will be Dr. Martinson.

Name: Kerri Curtin

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Position: Able-Bodied Seawoman

Kerri tying up the trawl net after pulling in a big haul of salmon.

Kerri tying up the trawl net after pulling in a big haul of salmon.

Kerri is one tough cookie. All week I have been amazed by her as she shuffled around the back deck pulling in fishing nets, lifting heavy science equipment, and tying all different types of knots. She is the only able-bodied seawoman onboard and her responsibilities include various deck maintenance jobs, setting up the nets for fishing and bringing in the catch, tying and untying the boat when we are at port, serving time on the bridge as an observer, and helping to launch the small boats. Her favorite part about her job is that she gets to go to work at sea and be outside in the fresh air. She also gets to travel to unique places and see the world. So far her favorite place that she has been to are the Greek Isles. How do you get a job like this? Kerri went to school in Maryland at Seafarers International and did an apprenticeship program. Through that program she gained the basic training necessary to get an entry-level position on a boat. Since then, she has continued her training and has taken several other Coast Guard certification tests. All her time at sea and trainings have paid off because she just received her 3rd Mates license.

Name: Amber Payne

Hometown: Fenton, MI

Position: Navigation Officer

Amber is in control of the Oscar Dyson as the trawl net is being brought in.

Amber is in control of the Oscar Dyson as the trawl net is being brought in.

Amber is a NOAA Corps officer onboard the Dyson. Her job as the Navigation Officer is to plot all the routes that the ship takes on paper and electronically. She also updates all the charting publications and she gets to stand watch on the bridge every day for eight hours. When she is on watch she is responsible for driving the ship and is in charge of all the operations. Amber has been onboard the Dyson for a year and a half and has several favorite things about her job. She likes that being on a ship in the Bering Sea is an adventure that many people may not get experience. She also likes the authority and trust that she is given to correctly navigate and drive the ship when she is all alone on the bridge. How did Amber get from Michigan to navigating a ship through the Bering Sea? Amber went to a four-year college in St. Petersburg, FL and studied Marine Biology. While in college she joined the search and rescue team and learned a lot about driving small boats. She knew that she wanted to go into a career that included both boats and science and her college advisor told her about the NOAA Corps. She applied to the NOAA Corps after graduation, was accepted, spent 4 months in basic trainings with the NOAA Corps, and then was placed on a ship. She loves that she gets to be a part of scientific research going on in the Bering Sea and she gets to drive boats all as a part of her job.

Name: Wendy Fellows

Hometown: Liberty Lake, WA

Position: Junior Engineer

Wendy has a lot of screens and buttons to monitor when she is on watch.

Wendy has a lot of screens and buttons to monitor when she is on watch.

When I first met Wendy she was sitting in the galley with the other engineers wearing her cover-ups from working in the engine room and I thought to myself, this girl is pretty cool. There aren’t too many female marine engineers and Wendy has a great story. When she graduated from high school she didn’t know what to do. She wanted to see the world so she took a job working in the kitchen of an oil tanker. She traveled all over the world and learned a lot about the different jobs on the ship throughout her journey. Her dad had been a marine engineer and she liked the work that the engineers did, so she went to school at the Seattle Maritime Academy to learn the trade. As a part of a year-long program she became a qualified member of the engineering department and did an internship onboard the Oscar Dyson. She liked it so much that she decided to stay on the Dyson as a Junior Engineer. Her job on board the Dyson is to basically make sure the ship is working properly. She tests emergency batteries, monitors the generators and pumps, services the small boats, fuels the ship when it is in port, fixes random things that break around the ship, and tests the drinking water. Her favorite part about her job is when she gets to use the welding skills she learned onboard the Dyson to fabricate things for the ship or scientists.

Name: Kathy Hough

Hometown: Kodiak, AK

Position: Senior Survey Technician

Kathy is busy on the hero deck connecting plankton nets to be lowered over the side.

Kathy is busy on the hero deck connecting plankton nets to be lowered over the side.

As the senior survey technician onboard the Dyson, Kathy has the responsibility of working with the scientists to insure that the collection of their data goes smoothly. She helps the scientists to collect their data by lowering and monitoring the CTD, helping with the various nets, and making sure that all of the equipment in the labs are functioning properly. She also collects data of her own. As the Dyson cruises around the Bering Sea, Kathy is in charge of collecting the weather and oceanographic data that is sent to scientists and posted on the NOAA Ship Tracker website. What does she like best about her job? Kathy likes the diversity of operations that she gets to be a part of. The science teams that are doing research onboard the Dyson only stay for 2 – 4 weeks and then another team gets on and might be doing a completely different project. As the science teams constantly rotate, Kathy stays on and helps with a variety of projects and different types of scientists. Does this job sound cool to you? To get an entry-level position as a survey technician you need a bachelor’s degree in science or mathematics. Kathy’s background is in ecology/biology, but a background in engineering, mathematics, or chemistry can be helpful too. If you want to move up to be a senior survey technician like Kathy, you need time and experience working on boats and with the instruments the scientists use for their research.

Name: Rachelle Sloss

Hometown: Juneau, AK

Position: Lab/Research Technician

Rachelle with a huge king salmon from one of our hauls.

Rachelle and I have gotten to know each other pretty well these last couple of weeks as we sorted through piles of fish and did a lot of counting to fifty. Rachelle just graduated from college in May and for the past two summers she has worked in the NOAA labs in Juneau as a lab/research technician. She works in a lab that is studying bioenergetics. While onboard the Dyson, she has been collecting and sorting zooplankton and looking for specific species of krill that will be used for bioenergetic experiments back in Juneau. She has also been collecting juvenile fish species like pollock and herring for similar experiments. While at the lab back in Juneau, Rachelle does lipid class analyses of fish to look at the energy content of their lipids by season. Does this sound like a cool summer job? Rachelle thinks that it is because she gets to work with some really cool people, she is gaining great experience for the future, and she got to spend two weeks on the Bering Sea seeing tons of species of fish. What lies ahead for Rachelle? She got a degree in Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology from Whitman College and is thinking about becoming a high school science teacher. For now she is headed to a much warmer South America and will be traveling around for the next couple of months on her next adventure.

Personal Log

We finally made it back to land and now we are all heading off in opposite directions towards home.

We finally made it back to land and now we are all heading off in opposite directions towards home.

By now I am safely back to my warm living room and I owe all of the women above and the men of the Oscar Dyson my deepest gratitude. I had an incredible adventure on the Bering Sea and I learned so much. Even though we had some rough seas, I still loved seeing all the different fish that we caught in our nets and I loved being a part of a research project that has so much importance to our fisheries. The NOAA Corps officers, crew, and scientists were all incredible teachers and had a lot of patience as they took time out of their day to answer all of my questions. I can’t wait to share my experiences with my students and other teachers and I couldn’t be more thankful for the experiences that I gained as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.