Meet Elyse Knudsen from Missoula, Montana. Elyse has a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety and Health and works as a Safety Advisor in the oilfields of Angola, Africa. Before Elyse pursued a career offshore, she was a skater for Disney On Ice. WomenOffshore connected with Elyse to find out more about her drastic career change:
Elyse, what inspired you to work on the water?
“The water called and I answered! This was an old cruise ship ad campaign but it defines my career on the water quite swimmingly. In 2007, while skating for Disney On Ice, my skating partner and I got a call to join cruise ships as performers. We accepted and had the pleasure of performing in front of thousands of guests every week.
Two years in, I experienced a severe shoulder injury and made the decision to leave the water and go back to school. After graduation, I received an offer from an energy company in Pittsburgh, PA. After two years on land, I was asked to work on a drillship in the Gulf of Mexico. After leaving cruise ships, I never thought I would return to the water. I couldn’t believe the water offer was back! Without hesitation, I accepted!
Although this was “…no cruise ship…” (a favorite saying from my senior Toolpusher), I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to learn the workings of the ship. As a night Safety Advisor, I had the opportunity to spend most of my time getting hands on experience troubleshooting issues in the engine room, changing out equipment on the iron roughneck, conducting isolations with electricians and performing inspections in confined spaces with the marine crew. For me, this work was essential experience on the path to becoming a credible safety professional.
I am blessed with the opportunity to continue in the field as I now work offshore in Angola, Africa, for a production platform installation campaign. The work pace offshore is FAST and challenging but extremely rewarding”.
What challenges have you faced in your career?
“As many of my fellow offshore women may mention (and it may well be obvious), we are the minority. And specifically, where I work now, I am 1 of 6 women in a work force of around 600 people.”
What is your most memorable moment?
“I apologize for being cliché, but there are so many moments that have been memorable. Like the time I found myself stuck in a corner of the ship with this very exotic long legged bird that was giving me ‘these eyes’. I couldn’t move. I was afraid that it would attack! I made a run for it and am still alive today.
Or, the time I was taking the elevator up to the top of the derrick to perform a drops inspection with a floor hand and as a pretty large roughneck opened the doors to the elevator, he belted out, “Let it go! Let it Go!” He explained later that the Disney movie, Frozen, was his 3 year-old daughter’s favorite song.
One of the most valuable turning points for me was the evolution of the crew truly trusting and talking to this ‘safety girl.’ When I first visited the drill shack, no one spoke to me, more specifically everyone ignored me. I didn’t give up or get mad, I just put in my time. I showed up every day. A few months later, I was on the rig floor painting lines on pup joints, changing out equipment on the roughneck and even sat in the drillers chair to use the windshield wipers. Okay, yes, that may not seem impressive but it is a huge deal to sit in a drillers chair. Similarly for experiences on my current project, when I am called by operators or commissioning engineers to support a job – this is very rewarding!”
What do you think can be done by your industry to encourage more women to pursue similar careers?
“The industry should not be afraid of how women would change the industry’s past. One of my offshore co-workers once told me that just a few years back, if a woman would come offshore, they would have PA announcements reminders to ‘prepare the place’ (you can imagine?), and to ‘prepare the people.’ Instead, the industry should embrace what we all can bring to the table. As offshore workers, we are tough, we are resilient, and well, most of us are quite outspoken. The men or women who are not, don’t work offshore.”
What words of advice would you give someone starting out in your industry?
1. Offshore; don’t wear makeup. Best advice ever given to me. Just don’t do it.
2. Speak up when you feel you need to, but remember to always have your facts straight first. Never pretend to know something you don’t. Never hesitate to ask questions, more than likely your co-workers will be happy to answer.
3. And finally, as my mentor and favorite female offshore supervisor once told me, “Know when your line is crossed.” We are tough chicks offshore; that is a fact. We wouldn’t be offshore if we weren’t. But know, personally, when you feel that something or someone has crossed the line. Know when you need to talk to someone and find out early on who that someone is.”
Is there anything else you would like to share with WomenOffshore?
“Don’t feel like you must be friends with all the other girls that work offshore with you. Also, don’t assume that every girl will instantly like you. That is something funny a guy once asked me, he said, “Don’t you girls have, like, a little club?” Remember, just like back on land, relationships and trust take time. It will come naturally. Of course, it never hurts to have a little lady chat once and awhile. So, if you can find some cool girls, do that. I was fortunate enough to meet some great women offshore, one whom is the founder of this site!!”
Thank you, Elyse! We are grateful for the stories you shared with us! We wish you the best in your career and hope you don’t come across any more angry birds.