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Profile: Katherine Gideon, RPS Protected Species Observer team

Katie is a Senior Environmental Project Manager with our US-based marine life mitigation service. In this  interview, written for International Women's Day 2022, she tells us about her fascinating career path and discusses striking a balance between using and conserving our natural resources. Find out what she had to say below.

08 March 2022 | 1 min read
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Katie has been with RPS since 2019. She works in our Energy group as a marine environmental project manager with the Protected Species Observer (PSO) and Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) team. The team support the offshore wind and oil and gas industries by providing degreed biologists to monitor protected species, working on the environmental monitoring plan and environmental data collection for any sound-producing surveys being conducted in the offshore environment.

Q What was your career path?

I graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in oceanography. I then went on active duty in the U.S. Navy, completing two deployments on board U.S. Navy vessels in the Western Pacific and Japan. After my sea tours, I worked for the Admiral’s staff in charge of all amphibious ships in the Pacific. I also worked at the Afloat Training Group San Diego, which handles training requirements and certification processes for all vessels.

After 10 years, I went on to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where I got my Masters in marine biodiversity and conservation. It melded my science and environmental passions with my government policy and project management skills. My role at RPS blends those two sides together – looking at government federal regulations and international guidelines, but also science collection to protect our natural world. A lot of science backgrounds can stay very specialized, but I ended up going down different paths!

Q What are some of your career highlights?

In my life in the military, I absolutely loved the people that I worked with and seeing them progress through their careers. Some of the peer groups I was with are now on track to becoming commanding officers of their own vessels. If I had to narrow it down to a specific thing that happened, I was very lucky in that my vessel participated in the rescue of Captain Phillips from the Maersk Alabama. I had been in the Navy barely a year, and this was just special. Really not something that happens every day!

Q Why is the work you do important and what does it mean to you personally?

I work in the environmental side of energy. We can’t do without energy, but there are different, newer and better forms, and a need to adapt and change, which our industry has the flexibility to do. The little girl in me that fell in love with the ocean also wants to protect it and keep it beautiful. We need to strike that balance between using our resources and conserving them.

We can always do things better, more safely and responsibly. I think it just takes understanding and practical application of where we can direct change, who needs to hear about it, what data we can continue to collect. Something I applaud the energy industry for is that they do things based on best science. That’s why it’s important to continue to promote science and research in high schools, colleges and to postgrads. To say, "this is something you can do. This is something you can change, even on a smaller scale".

Q What career advice would you give to your younger self?

Absolutely never say no! My attitude has become, “Try it. If it doesn't work, I can go do something else.” You don't know what opportunities it will give you, or who you might meet. Sometimes you make unexpected connections – even if that particular project doesn’t go well, you might meet someone you just click with, who becomes a sounding board. So never say no!

PSO Karen Villegas using “Big-eye” binoculars

Q The theme of International Women's Day 2022 is ‘Break the bias’. Are there barriers for women in ecology? What could we improve?

When I was interested in STEM as a kid, people would make a big deal about that, but it was just my plan – be a marine biologist, live in my dive suit every day, live on houseboat! My mother was also in the sciences, as a medical technologist. For Career Day, I’d go with her and there were lab coats and microscopes. For me, that was just what people did! I had female advisors in high school, college and my Masters too, so it was never an issue for me to go into science.

I think breaking the bias is about always telling your story. Talking to kids, participating in panels, even when you’re sitting on a flight next to someone chatty. The opportunity to say, “Yes, I work in the science world. Yes, I’m a Navy veteran. Yes, I was an officer. Yes, I now work in the energy/oil and gas field.” Being able to personalize those roles too – hardly anybody would believe that I was in the military because I'm, you know, blonde, big smile, laugh at myself – not intimidating in any way shape or form!

Q What are you most proud of outside of work?

Hitting those goals I had as a child. I didn’t realize that it just became embedded in my-decision making, but I’ve been doing the things I always wanted – ocean science, environmental work, a masters.

I’m also proud of the military service that I did. When you sign up at 17, it sounds great but you don’t really realize what it’ll be like! You go through four years of preparation, then after you graduate, you’re 22 and standing in front of a group of 40 other people, aged from about 18 to 45. And someone says, “OK, lead them, accomplish your great things with them…” And you're thinking, “Oh boy, this is terrifying!” I’m proud of that real-world learning that I had. It gives you an interesting perspective.

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