Young, Female and Fearless: A Geotechnical Engineer's Story
The oil and gas industry is constantly changing and so are the individuals who choose to work in the industry. With more aggressive efforts to attract minorities and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and the eventual onslaught of young leaders and managers due to the Great Crew Change, the industry has and will continue to become even more diverse.
Take 23-year-old Scarlett Mummery from Suffolk, England, for example. Once told by one of her college professors that she “didn’t have a chance in hell at working offshore,” she graduated with honors from Coventry University with a degree in physical geography and geology. With plans to pursue a master’s degree in soil mechanics and offshore geology, she decided instead to start her offshore career and gain hands-on experience after she secured a permanent staff position just five days after completing her final exam.
Mummery began her career as a geotechnical engineer with Gardline Geosciences, a position that was based both onshore and offshore. For the past 10 months, however, she worked as a freelance offshore geotechnical engineer for Benthic, an Australia-based company that provides offshore marine geotechnical investigation, survey, analysis and design.
Rigzone took some time to get to know Mummery as she shared her journey into the oil and gas industry, her experiences abroad and why she loves her job.
Rigzone: How did you become introduced to the world of oil and gas?
Mummery: In the area I live, a large majority of the men work offshore, so I’ve always been exposed to the oil and gas industry. My mother used to own a restaurant located at the marina close to where I lived. One evening, she spoke to a young gentleman who was visiting the area on business and he explained to her his role on the survey vessels and the lifestyle he leads. My mother told me about the guy’s job, how he only worked half the year and how he gets to travel the world and work in so many different locations. I was completely sold on the idea and I knew from that point on I wanted to pursue a career offshore. This was perfect timing, as I was 17 at the time deciding which degree to pursue.
Rigzone: How did you land your first gig?
Mummery: It was on a bit of a whim. I was researching relevant companies to apply for once completing my degree as part of a careers development program the university offered. I came across Fugro Alluvial Offshore Ltd., which was only a 20-minute drive from my home. I asked about potential work placements they offered in the summer. Fortunately enough, they were extremely busy within their laboratory so they took me on, offered me a paid placement and I gained my first bit of industry exposure. At Fugro Alluvial, I cut, logged and tested offshore samples. This opportunity confirmed my desire to pursue this career path.
Rigzone: Describe your duties as an offshore geotechnical engineer.
Mummery: I am involved with the site investigation phase of an offshore project development. My office is located within the laboratory container and I work closely with an offshore geotechnical technician. I am involved with all in-situ testing, including CPT, BPT, seismic CPT and soil sampling. I am involved from the very beginning with the calibration and maintenance of our tools and equipment to the processing of data and creating deliverables for the client. I have a very close relationship with the OPS department and the drillers, with a significant amount of time spent within the drill container monitoring the drilling and testing during Portable Remotely Operated Drill (PROD) operations. I generate soil descriptions and conduct testing on the core samples we retrieve and bring back on deck.
Rigzone: How is the environment working offshore, particularly the demographics of your colleagues?
Mummery: The offshore environment is certainly not for everyone. It’s a male-dominated environment and, depending on the boat, can lack a lot of home comforts. The ages of people I currently work with falls mostly between 30 and 45. I have yet to work with anyone younger than myself. One of the things I love most about my job is the variety of nationalities and cultures you encounter. During my last swing offshore, I was actually the minority within the geosciences team, which was made up of Malaysians and Singaporeans. It’s fascinating to hear about different individuals’ culture and religion and learn how greatly we all differ. The element of travel also offers great opportunity to experience other areas and cultures of the world.
Rigzone: How comfortable are you on the boat?
Mummery: I may just be very fortunate to have worked for companies where being a female is not discriminated against at all. Of course, comments are made during the project about me being a female, but that is natural and I’m sure women get that in all roles and walks of life, no matter the industry. One of my colleagues pointed out to me previously that I stick out like a sore thumb – a little blonde girl amongst a group of drillers – which makes me highly memorable. I believe this has allowed me to build great working relationships with team members and clients because they are always intrigued and question why and how I entered the industry.
I started my blog to offer individuals an insight into my role offshore and to highlight the importance of women within the industry. I wanted to try and spark an interest within younger individuals toward a vocation they might not have thought about entering initially. My job takes me to some fantastic places all over the world and through my blog I can document my offshore career and journey. I love my job and I am proud of my role within the oil and gas industry and I want to share this with others.
Rigzone: Have you encountered any obstacles working offshore?
Mummery: (laughs) I do have a problem sharing a room. It is just a personal comfort thing and unfortunately I have learned on a couple of occasions offshore that male hygiene is not always the highest level. I am very upfront about my desire to not share a room and it has always been facilitated when possible. The biggest obstacle when you get offshore with a new crew is you have to prove yourself. At first, I’m sure they’re thinking, “skinny little blonde girl, she’s going to be worthless,” but I am not embarrassed to ask for help when I’m struggling and there is definitely enough employed muscle onboard. I work extremely hard to ensure I perform my role to the very best of my ability.
Rigzone: What’s the most memorable destination you’ve traveled to?
Mummery: My most memorable experience so far has to be the Chevron Kitimat Project in Clio Bay, Canada. We were fortunate enough to be mobilizing the vessel in Seattle during the height of summer. I was working with an amazing group of guys and we had a lot of fun in Seattle. We paddle boarded, hiked up Mount Rainier and took a boat trip to Seattle Island. The project site itself was in such a beautiful location, situated within the stunning Clio Bay. It was a privilege to wake up every morning and work in such an incredible environment.
Rigzone: What’s the biggest misconception of working offshore?
Mummery: I believe the biggest misconception of working offshore is that it’s easy money. Often people outside of the industry only identify the money that individuals are earning and fail to appreciate what they are sacrificing in order to do so. We are away from home for great lengths at a time, generally four weeks minimum, and within that time, it is surprising how many occasions you miss back home. So many of my colleagues have families, so the sacrifice they make is often greater than mine currently. It’s also hard sometimes, being a woman, because eventually I will want children and a family. One of my closest friends missed the birth of his most recent daughter – a moment and memory he will never get back – due to being offshore.
Rigzone: How has the industry downturn affected you? How have you adjusted?
Mummery: During the industry downturn, I believe you have to stay motivated and be proactive. I recently signed a contract with Mott MacDonald as an engineering geologist. This role is based onshore and offers me the opportunity to develop a new skill set that my CV is currently lacking. I will also be collaborating with The Prospector Magazine as a freelance content writer. I will be busy generating content to publish on my blog and I now have my own personal column within the magazine. Although the industry is struggling, I am so excited for the future. I love a new challenge and you have to embrace change. This downturn, after all, is only temporary.
Rigzone: In the future, do you see yourself continuing to work offshore?
Mummery: I definitely see myself working offshore again in the future. I love the lifestyle and while I am young, it is a fantastic experience that I want to continue. I love my role as a geotechnical engineer and I do have ambitions to progress further down the offshore management route.
Rigzone: What’s the best piece of advice you would offer a young woman considering offshore work?
Mummery: If you’re a woman who will get easily offended by jokes guys may say, this isn’t the job for you. But if you’re prepared to get your hands dirty, make sacrifices and travel around the world, then go for it! I have no regrets at all when it comes to my career choice. Do not be put off by the fact that it’s a male-dominated industry. If you are a confident and hard-working individual, then gender doesn’t come into the equation. Working offshore has given me the opportunity to create some of the best memories that I will keep forever.
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