Female Scientists and Engineers to Lead Ocean Tech – A Global Marine Research Project

Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley

Ocean Tech’s Chief Scientist, Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley. Photo by Alex Chequer.

It isn’t news that fewer women than men are working in the scientific, engineering and technological sectors.  In the UK, just 13 per cent of workers in these industries are women.  Unequal pay and funding opportunities may be part of the reason for the lack of females in these fields. The American Economic Review has published findings in a new study that confirms female scientists are still losing out on pay if they choose to have a family: married women with children consistently earn less than men and often drop out of science altogether.  The UK’s research councils show that men have a 3.8 per cent higher chance of success when applying for research grants in biological sciences.  However, a lack of relatable female role models might also be the reason that young women don’t embark on a career in these sectors.

Ocean Tech’s communication director, Catherine Capon, says ‘this ground breaking research project will bring together pioneering autonomous underwater vehicles and unique technologies with the world’s top scientists. Our mission is to track and record iconic marine species behaviour so we can reveal how and why they use a given marine environment; this is crucial if we are to ensure the protection of critical habitat.  We are thrilled to announce that our chief scientist and chief engineer for mission 1 in Bermuda are both female.  Public outreach, through our documentary, global exhibits, education programme and social media, is just as important to us as the scientific research.  We’re aiming inspire the next generation about the importance of ocean conservation, whilst also introducing young people to charismatic and engaging female scientists that are working to justify marine protected areas around the planet.’

Ocean Tech’s chief scientist, Dr. Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley from the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences states, ‘Throughout my career I have approached adversity with fortitude and determination. Forging my way through an academic path dominated by my male counterparts, I was lucky to have several key female mentors and role models, as well as the unwavering support of my mother. These women taught me that hard work, dedication and strength are skills that are not solely attributable to the male gender and that through persistence I could become whatever I set my mind to. One of my accomplishments that I am proudest of is becoming a technical rebreather diver. I believe what makes this a stand out achievement is not only the fact that I am one of just a few women executing scientific research using technical diving, but the physical hardships that I overcame to reach this level of diving. In 2011, I was diagnosed with Stage IIB breast cancer and underwent a year of treatment including a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. When I returned to work in 2012, I could not even lift a single SCUBA cylinder. Yet, through persistence and commitment I gradually progressed and increased my skills as a diver and in 2013 was certified to dive with double tanks on my back and deco stages on my sides. To go from being unable to lift one tank to wearing four on a single dive was a major feat. Since then I have been trained to dive using TRIMIX and am now diving a closed-circuit rebreather to depths up to 200ft. I am proud to be among the outstanding group of women leading the Ocean Tech project and I hope each of our stories will resonate with young women and give them strength as they battle adversity.’ states Ocean Tech’s chief scientist, Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley.

Chief Engineer Amy Kukulya

Chief Engineer, Amy Kukulya of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Photo by Christopher Church for National Geographic.

Chief Engineer, Amy L. Kukulya of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, shares Gretchen’s excitement for Ocean Tech’s outreach potential- ‘Ocean Tech is a once in a lifetime opportunity unparalleled to any ocean conservation effort to date.  It brings together a suite of cutting edge technology led by female experts. It’s not surprising that Ocean Engineering, especially the military applications which dominate my job, has so few women.  But, despite having participated in over 80 expeditions, there was only one time in my career where I was part of a team led by women researchers and it took place in a remote fjord in Greenland where we were dropped in by a helicopter and camped out for ten days foraging for our own food while studying the meltwater of a calving glacier with underwater robots.  Early on in that trip, I was struck with the realization that, for the first time, I was working in a very challenging, extreme environment with a team lead by only women. It was empowering. It still amazes me how few women are in the trenches.  Ocean Tech is here to change that.  The OTECH expedition will also enable researchers, policy makers and the general public to understand and experience our liquid planet in a way never before possible.  The time is now, otherwise adverse human impacts will be infinitely more difficult to curb’.

The humpback whale research projects of Ocean Tech will be lead by Susan E. Parks who states that a lack of female senior scientists and mentors was her motivation for becoming a professor.  ‘I wanted to be a senior scientist in the field to provide young women an example of a female role model. My graduate students have predominantly been women, and all of my graduates have continued in the field, either to higher degree programmes or successful careers in the field of marine mammalogy.

Ocean Tech is working with the Sylvia Earle Alliance on outreach and Dr. Sylvia Earle has also overcome challenges being a woman in science. ‘I fast discovered through starting [these] companies and through serving on the boards of Fortune 500 enterprises that it can be especially challenging for women who aspire to be leaders. But I now feel, all things considered, that never before has there been a time of greater opportunity, or need, for women in business, government, science, technology, engineering, art and math. Women are needed to help solve the biggest problem of all for the ocean and for the world – ignorance’, says Dr. Sylvia Earle.