Case Study: Gordon Meadow, Associate Professor, University of Southampton

Meet Gordon Meadow, from sea cadet to now completing a PhD, examining the impact of autonomous vessels on seafarer competency.

Gordon Meadow is an Associate Professor at Solent University, home of the UK’s leading maritime training institution Warsash Academy, where alongside his teaching, he’s working with industry to examine how the world’s latest technology could change a sector that’s worth £47 billion to the UK alone.

The sea has been part of Gordon’s life for many years.  He comes from a family of keen sailors and as a young sea cadet, he had ambitions to join the Royal Navy.  In the end however, he decided it wasn’t for him and leaving school at 16 he began an apprenticeship in textile engineering, building and maintaining the machinery. But when he was 19, he decided to make his passion for the sea into a career and took a job in the commercial yachting industry.

After a number of years working at sea, he felt it was time to come ashore for a better work-life balance and he moved into maritime education and academia, specialising in electronic navigation.  The next few years saw him study for his Masters degree in International Ship and Shipping Management, alongside other postgraduate qualifications in teaching and educational research methods.  He is now completing a PhD, examining the impact of autonomous vessels on seafarer competency.

Autonomous ships won’t mean no seafarers, people are still needed, just differently, in different ways and more importantly, with very different skills

Today, half of Gordon’s time is spent teaching, and half is spent doing research into autonomous shipping, specifically how the industry should integrate human performance into autonomous shipping design, and how seafarers’ skills and training should be upgraded for this new technology.  In this respect, Gordon is chairing an Institute Marine Engineering and Science and Technology (IMarEST) Special Interest Group, which brings experts from across the industry together to look at the skills and training needed for autonomous shipping.

As he says; “Autonomous ships won’t mean no seafarers, people are still needed, just differently, in different ways and more importantly, with very different skills.”

At the moment, Gordon is working on two ‘virtual reality’ projects, he’s the Principal Investigator for the Rolls Royce collaborative autonomous ship engineering project, IMAGINE.  This project uses immersive technologies (virtual reality) to allow the crew to perform the typical duties in the engine room required for continuous ship operation at a remote location, instead of in situ.

He’s also the principal Investigator on project WAVE, where he and his team located across four countries are developing a best practice toolkit and smart phone application for synthetic teaching and learning activities for marine education and training.  He explains that this second project is more about changing the way millennials are educated.  They prefer their learning to be more self-directed, to be more experiential, and to be coached rather than taught.  So, he and his colleagues are working on blending virtual reality experiences into the maritime curriculum, using virtual reality to recreate a ship environment, where students around the world simply use $5 cardboard headsets and their smartphone to learn about life onboard ship during their training.

Gordon says: “If someone had told me when I was 16 years old that I would be an associate professor by the time I was 40, I would never have believed it, not in the slightest.  But it just shows, at 16 I wasn’t ready to study, but ten years later, being older with a totally different mindset and motivations, I was able to set to and apply myself in a totally different way.

“My overarching motto has always been to do a job you love but to try and always earn more than your age!”

He says it’s important that the industry thinks about the skills people will need in the future, to ensure that they are able to do the jobs that will be around in 20 years time.  He adds that generally, we train someone based on the skills and jobs that existed twenty years previously.  Human adaptability lags a long way behind technology and the maritime industry has not handled the growing skills gap well, and this will be key for ships with growing automation in the future.

Concluding, Gordon says that he really enjoys his job, but he also works very hard.  He now delivers lectures all over the world, four weeks ago he was working with IMarEST in Singapore, chairing a roundtable discussion on seafarer future skills and training.  Three weeks ago he was in Odessa in the Ukraine, carrying out research for project WAVE and promoting the maritime research being done at Solent University, and presenting alongside the International Maritime Employers Council (IMEC).  Two weeks ago, he was in Durban, South Africa conducting research for Project Wave, as well as presenting.  And finally, last week he was at the International Maritime Organisation – the United Nations maritime organization – working on document alongside the Danish Maritime Authority, and then back at Solent helping with the research trails for IMAGINE.  He adds that this week he’s back teaching all week, in the classroom 0900 – 18.00, every day!

Gordon says that his passion for research into the future of shipping drives his career.  He explains that, when he was at university first he was disappointed to find that he was not learning about ‘tomorrow’ today, it wasn’t the cutting-edge research that he longed for.  But now he feels that the research he’s involved in, really is making new discoveries, pushing boundaries as he works collaboratively with colleagues around the world, and what he really loves is that this informs his teaching, enabling him to excite his students with real glimpses of what the future might hold.

So, what would he say to a 16 year old considering a career in the maritime sector now? He would say – go to sea there are endless opportunities – even if you don’t stay at sea, there are new markets, commercial opportunities, and the maritime industry really does offer a great career.  It’s not ‘nine ‘til five’ but there are many other benefits, you will have to work hard but if you put a lot in, you’ll get a lot out.  Most of all he says; the only person who can limit your horizons is you, so don’t limit yourself, shoot for the stars.  He had no notion of what he would be doing when he was 40, but there are lots of opportunities in different fields, with new ones opening up all the time.


Click here to download details about a career in the UK maritime sector.