To celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we sat down with Maelle Giraud, the polyvalent officer of RV Belgica, to hear about her career path and her experience in a job that has historically been male dominated. Maelle joined the JPI Oceans Science for Good Environmental Status (S4GES) oceanographic cruise in the North Sea in July 2022. During the week-long cruise, JPI Oceans had the opportunity to follow her work.
Maelle Giraud was the Polyvalent Officer on RV Belgica back in July 2022. She was working half of her time deep in the hull of the ship. In the engine room, she was surrounded by two electric engines, three diesel engines, four thrusters and other big and noisy things that make protective earmuffs imperative. In contrast, Maelle spent the other part of her shift on the bridge, in an almost lounge-like spacious setting overseeing navigation and operations, checking monitors and steering the ship to its next station of our S4GES expedition.
Asked about the ‘why’, Maelle basically responded with a shoulder-shrugging ‘why not’? She loved the sea and pursued going to sea professionally, enrolling at the École Nationale Supérieure Maritime, the French National Maritime Academy in Le Havre. This marked her entry into what was then a radically gender-imbalanced domain. Maelle recalled that among all students, maybe just one out of ten was a woman.
Maelle confirmed that she enjoyed the work and company with the Belgica crew colleagues and that she had experienced a respectful and inclusive workspace culture. The same week of the S4GES cruise, the UK Natural Environment Research Council, in partnership with the European Marine Board and other international partners, launched a UN Ocean Decade endorsed and thought-provoking training video, designed to empower ocean researchers and remind them of their responsibility to respect colleagues and promote inclusion. The video is available here. While happy in her job, Maelle would love to see more women join the seafaring domain and ultimately the RV Belgica.
Today, professional seafaring remains male-dominated also on research vessels. However, the future of this industry will change as people like Maelle encourage girls and women to dream of sailing the seas and consider it a career path.