Celene Burnell - Msc Hydrography Graduate

Current employer: N-Sea

Current job title: Offshore Surveyor

Current location: Zierikzee, Netherlands

''I’m never surprised when I meet another surveyor to find out they went to Plymouth University...It has one of the best reputations for hydrography and ocean exploration in the industry.''


Tell us about your career path since graduation.

I began working for N-Sea, a survey, inspection, maintenance and repair company immediately after graduation. N-Sea has deep roots in the Netherlands and has spent decades expanding its foundation from a family-owned company to encompass operations internationally. I’ve mostly been involved with conducting geophysical and unexploded ordnance (UXO) surveys prior to the construction of offshore windfarms. The geophysical component typically includes conducting a vessel-based survey while simultaneously collecting multibeam, sidescan sonar, and magnetometer data. The UXO survey is executed using an ROV to investigate targets with equipment that can detect the presence of ferrous materials.

Has your career path changed since graduation?

I initially graduated with a BSc in Marine Biology and Statistics from Dalhousie University in Canada and worked offshore for four years prior to the MSc. I wanted to maintain the lifestyle of working offshore, however change careers to something that better aligned with my interests and to something I considered more challenging. I began working in the hydrographic industry directly after receiving my degree from Plymouth and even though it has only been a year, I can already see how I want to continue growing and expanding my career in this sector.

What is the most difficult thing which you have faced in your career?

Anything can happen when you’re at sea, and time is money in the offshore industry. When problems arise, it’s imperative that they are dealt with quickly and efficiently. It’s not a straightforward and simple job. I’ve learned that surveyors have to be a jack of all trades and a master of many. Thankfully, the support that I’ve received both on and off the vessel has turned difficult or stressful times into valuable learning experiences.

What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?

It’s hard to isolate a specific memory that I find most exciting. Not only is working with new equipment and technology exciting, every project can be different: uncovering UXOs, mapping ship wrecks and discovering ancient, archaeological canons have all happened on different projects and have been equally memorable.

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could?

There’s nothing I would have done differently. When I was working offshore after my BSc. I knew something was missing, although I didn’t really know what until I began looking at the other jobs of fellow crew members onboard. Most people I know that work as a surveyor is through word-of-mouth; you don’t really know this job exists until you meet someone in this role. I think if I did anything differently in my life I never would have landed where I am now.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get in to the same line of work?

Working at sea definitely isn’t for everyone. On paper, it’s an exciting job where you get to travel and live an exotic lifestyle, work half the year, and earn a good wage. It’s still a challenging environment, whether the equipment, the weather, or the people aren’t cooperating. You have to be flexible and learn to sacrifice life events that you wouldn’t otherwise be asked to sacrifice. I would also advise other women that they should be prepared for a gender gap, and for some women I know it can feel a bit isolating not having other females onboard.

How did studying at Plymouth help you?

Plymouth University offered plenty of modern facilities to take advantage of, especially on the main campus like the Marine Building and the library. There were many opportunities to develop skills learned in lectures and apply in situ at the Marine Station. Everything was always really accessible, from the advanced equipment offered to the availability of the lecturers for guidance. I’m constantly referring back to concepts I’ve learned at Plymouth and applying to real situations at work.

What is your favourite memory of studying at Plymouth?

The location! The city has a great waterfront, from the Barbican to Plymouth Hoe. There’s definitely a lot to discover about the city. It’s rich in naval history and the city is surrounded by beautiful coastlines and incredible nature to take advantage of. The people that I spent time with in Plymouth will always bring back good memories.

Do you stay in touch with other Plymouth University alumni or lecturers?

Definitely, as a class we were a pretty tight knit group of students and we still keep in touch. We also shared a space with the BSc. Ocean Exploration students in the Marine Building, and a few of us became friends and started working offshore together. I still keep in touch with students in the other marine MSc. programmes that I met during shared modules. The hydrography programme draws people from around the globe, yet it’s a small world and I’m never surprised when I meet another surveyor to find out they went to Plymouth University.

Would you recommend undertaking a course with Plymouth University, and why?

Yes, I would. If you want a hands-on, intensive learning experience, then Plymouth University is right for you. It has one of the best reputations for hydrography and ocean exploration in the industry. After graduation there are so many different sectors and ways to specialise depending on your interest.

Is there anything else which you would like to share with our current students?

Get involved! Pay attention in lectures, take notes, ask questions, and get your hands dirty during days on the water. Put yourself out there by attending conferences and getting involved in the hydrographic community.