Tashka Goswell, Hydrographic and Mining Surveyor, describes some of her experiences of life after graduating in Surveying and Mapping Sciences.
I really had no idea what I was getting into when I picked what to study at university, I mostly picked my course on a whim. I studied Geospatial Surveying and Mapping Science at Newcastle University because it sounded like a mix of something I was already very good at - Geography - and something I wished I was good at - Maths - as well as a dash of computer science (you can’t go wrong with that right?). I also had vague notions of working with tech and with big machines. Turns out, my half-researched whim paid off and so far, I’ve lucked out with my career following graduation.
The Early Days
Immediately after graduating in 2009, I went to work as a hydrographic surveyor for Gardline (a UK-based hydrographic survey company). As a hydro surveyor I worked on survey boats around the world conducting surveys of the seabed and geology below the seabed with a team of other professionals.
You really do have to be a certain type of person to enjoy the work. We would be at sea from four to eight weeks with terrible internet, no phone signal and uninspiring food; working together for 12hrs a day, every day. The work could be stressful, fast paced, or slow to the point of fighting to keep your eyes open from boredom. The up-sides of the job included a seriously good graduate salary, equal time at home to do whatever you wanted and freedom to live wherever you wanted. Port calls were also good fun when there was free time, ranging from days on the beach in Chaguaramas, Trinidad, to all day hikes in Trondheim, Norway, and playing laser quest in Sunderland all with a super awesome crew, some of which have become my friends for life.
The work itself was interesting and a mix of office (on the ship) and the occasional physical deck work. It included geotechnical (mud and rock coring sampling), geophysical (determining the structure of seabed beneath the surface by using various equipment to produce noise and detect it’s return), bathymetric (determining the shape of the seabed using sound) and environmental surveys (taking seabed samples and photographs of marine flora and fauna).
Work Hard Play Hard
Hoping to get to work with Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) to improve my pool of experience I moved on to work for a Dutch dredging company, Boskalis in 2013. Initially at Boskalis I worked on a rock dumper, laying rocks onto newly installed pipelines to stop trawlers from taking them out. This involved using sounding techniques to create models of how much rock should be dumped to match the design and using cut and fill volume calculations to determine progress. Not the most exciting work, but the ship was comfortable and enormous with a full badminton court and half basketball court to play in during off time.
After complaining of boredom, I moved onto a new section of the company, unexploded ordinance (UXO) detection and demolition. Definitely more my thing. Here we would use ROVs to do metal detection surveys where future structures (like wind turbines or pipelines) were to be installed. If we had a positive result the ROV would dredge the site to check if it was a UXO. By the end of the job all the UXOs would be placed in a pile on the seabed and detonated.
While working at Boskalis in my home time I started taking an interest in adventure training and became a standup paddle board (SUP) instructor and a coasteering guide along the Northumberland coastline, I also spent a lot of time surfing and got into SUP racing. Work hard and play hard was becoming my ethos.
The First Life Reset
With my growing love of adventure training, surfing and the outdoors I’d decided that I wanted to move to Australia so got to working on getting a visa and a job over there. In 2018 I started working at Fugro in Perth, Western Australia. The hydrographic survey industry is a very different beast to the European industry. In Australia, generally you are expected to work away offshore and return to work in the office when you come back. The Australian survey companies also tend to keep costs down by renting ships for projects (rather than owning them) which means as a surveyor, prior starting a job survey equipment needs to be installed on that ship and then calibrated. I learnt an awful lot of new skills a lot at Fugro and became a much better surveyor from of it.
Some of the projects I worked on at Fugro included:
Installing fiber optic cables to the Tiwi Islands (a series of islands off the coast of Darwin home to the Tiwi peoples)
Various surveys of a tailings pit at a mine in Kakadu National Park
An environmental survey off New Zealand’s South Island on a New Zealand’s Antarctic research vessel and constructing gas fields off the North West Shelf of Australia
I have thoroughly enjoyed all these projects and the experiences and opportunities they have given me, which include visiting some incredible places not many people get to see, meeting traditional owners and custodians of the land and waters, seeing some very cool marine fauna, and working with new and innovate technology.
During the limited time I had not working while working at Fugro, I intensified my fun time. I competed in various SUP races including the Australian nationals where I came forth in the women. I also started competing in surf competitions, coming third in the State SUP surf qualifiers in 2022. I started mountain biking, wind surfing and white water kayaking too. Eventually, with the extended work hours and my ever-increasing hobby list, I was burning out.
Into the Future
In 2022 I quit my job at Fugro and started re-training as a mine surveyor. Mining work in Australia, like hydrographic work in Europe is rostered giving you free time after working away for a period. I have only done one job so far and have found I have so much to learn. Much of the work goes back to my original land survey roots from my university degree. My first project was at an exploration mine in the middle of the outback and was probably the furthest I’ve ever been from the ocean in my life. It took two days to drive to site, one day entirely on dirt roads. Once there we established new survey control for the area using total stations, digital levels and GPS, positioned exploration drill holes with RTK and conducted several drone surveys.
I am expecting after further training to start working on a roster underground conducting laser surveys by drone, general production surveys and verticality surveys of new and existing shafts. It will be very interesting to learn these techniques and pick up some new skills. I am curious to see where my life post hydro will lead, but if my prior experience has taught me anything, having that surveying and mapping sciences degree opens an awful lot of exciting doors and introduces you to many interesting people.