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Lawyer Chaynee Hodgetts rates her transition from ship to shore for a life of maritime academia
6 March 2020
Lawyer Chaynee Hodgetts was a former deck rating before coming ashore to study law. She now lectures in criminal and media law at Bangor Law School in Wales, and specialises in research on maritime crime, fatalities and preservation of criminal evidence at sea
What is a typical day in your job?
I have been lecturing law for almost 10 years now. I teach at Bangor Law School (North Wales), in criminal law, evidence, media law (and inquests), and I am also a visiting law lecturer on QMUL's MSc Emergency and Resuscitation Medicine for A&E doctors, helicopter doctors, nurses, and paramedics.
My research specialisms are maritime crime, the investigation of maritime fatalities, and the collation and preservation of criminal evidence at sea.
In a typical day in my job, I give lectures and tutorials in my subjects for undergraduate law students. My post includes the Admissions Tutor role, and I provide pastoral and welfare support as a personal tutor. As well as my research responsibilities, I lead on pro bono casework within the law school, so there will often be cases requiring attention.
Why did you choose a career at sea?
Before coming ashore, I was a deck rating on various vessels, principally in domestic and sometimes European waters. My original interest was to provide lectures for passengers on dolphins and porpoises, as I started out on a BSc in Marine Vertebrate Zoology. However, before long, change beckoned on both fronts. I switched to an LLB in law and took an interest in steering and deck work as a Rating. Both before and during my LLB, I spent any free time I could aboard ship, completing my Merchant Navy (MN) Steering Certificate, Basic Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), and logging up sea time during these years.
Immediately upon graduating, I took a full time seagoing rating post and completed advanced STCWs. During this post, I simultaneously completed my LLM (Res) Masters by Research with Bangor University (on crime at sea and criminalisation of seafarers), while aboard ship – sometimes even typing up sections on the ship's laptop in between watches or between logging stores orders!
In 2011, I had a year of change again – and accepted a part time lecturer post at Portsmouth University and began supervised research towards my PhD. In 2012, I applied for my current post.
Tell us some of your career highlights so far – and challenges
At sea, both a highlight and challenge combined was making ample use of my Merchant Navy Steering Certificate, during my time as a deck rating. At various times I helmed three different vessels, all three lacking autopilot, through the Menai Strait which runs beside where I now teach at Bangor University.
A challenge on coming ashore was how very different it was – from missing the collective atmosphere of being part of a ship's crew, to how unexpectedly strange it felt to be wearing a dress on the train to work on my first day of lecturing, instead of a boiler suit on a ship's maintenance day.
Ashore, an important challenge and highlight combined was working on an academic article which builds on IMO Resolution A1091(28) to propose a new shipboard approach to collation and preservation of criminal evidence at sea – and having the journal Criminal Law Review accepting it for publication (due out in 2020).
Other highlights have included being called to the bar by The Honourable Society of Middle Temple in 2019, being invited to co-author a leading criminal law textbook in 2020, joining the Peer Review Panel for the International Journal of Emergency Services (IJES), and becoming a Fast-Track Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA).
I don't recall I ever met another female deck rating – but I did meet some fantastic female Cadets and Officers – and Nautilus Council member Captain Jessica Tyson was (and is) instrumental in flying the flag for female seafarers.
The best thing about my job is being able to change things for the better, and for good – and sometimes, change people's minds in the process Chaynee Hodgetts, lawyer
How can women can be made to feel welcome and retained once in a career at sea?
Welcoming crew colleagues with combined camaraderie and respect can make a massive difference. But is often dependent on the ship, type of work, and crew aboard at any given time. Female colleagues will all have had their own experiences of this.
In terms of retention of women in seagoing careers, this is a general and challenging question, and one on which the Nautilus Women's Forum has made excellent progress. Ensuring equality of access to career progression and promotion opportunities and raising awareness of statutory provisions on flexible working (and also parental and/or familial leave) can only assist matters, going forward.
What are the best things about your job?
The best thing about my job is being able to change things for the better, and for good – and sometimes, change people's minds in the process. In lecturing, it is lovely to see students taking their knowledge, exceeding their own expectations to go beyond what they thought they were capable of, and then taking that out into the workplace to make practical use of their skills and potential. In casework, it is an honour to be able to assist people, from all walks of life, with matters their cases present, and, in doing so, hopefully buoy them through a low ebb, to achieve a helpful outcome.
Would you recommend seafaring as a career?
Although I am ashore now, I would recommend seafaring as a career. More young people should be encouraged to consider seafaring (and the maritime sector in its broadest sense, including safety and Coastguard work) as a career path. Crucially they need to be provided with opportunities to experience aspects of it, in order to see whether it might be for them. Even now I take every opportunity to get back aboard ships and boats.
I hope to be able to continue both my career ashore and the strong links I have with the maritime and shipping sector (and Nautilus International). The reason for continuing the shore-based work is I hope that, by combining the seagoing experience I had, with the legal work and academic publishing, I will be able to improve things for people in the sector, and best assist those in need.
Tell us one thing that people may not know about your job?
That, on coming ashore, you do not necessarily need to already have PhD to become a lecturer in many subject areas – an MSc or LLM is often more than enough to get a foot in the door and begin your first steps towards research. Similarly, it is more than possible to retrain as a lawyer as a second career.