How to become an Oceanographer

If you are captivated by the mysteries of the ocean, then you might find a place as an oceanographer. Growing up in Southern California next to the ocean provided me and my classmates with opportunities to take field trips aboard oceanographic research ships and do experiments alongside scientists who studied the oceans and the plants and animals it contained. We took core samples from the floor of the ocean and investigated the contents of the layers of the sea floor. We measured the turbidity of the water and ran chemical tests on the water at different locations. I dreamed of being an oceanographer during those sunny days on the Pacific Ocean.

The path to becoming an oceanographer is not an easy one, but then worthwhile goals are never easy. It is important to get the right academic and extra-curricular activities experiences to help you when you apply to graduate school programs.

Middle school/High school

People will tell you that science and math are important. Listen to them. Take classes in oceanography if your school offers them, but get all the math classes you can as well. Don’t just skate through them, but work to understand the principles. The formulas you learn in Calculus and Statistics will be useful as an Oceanographer. Even though you can’t imagine that they will ever be interesting or useful, stick with it. When you are working in a research lab, you will be glad you learned them early.

Oceanography is an inter-disciplinary science. While oceanographers don’t have to be experts in chemistry, biology, and physics, it helps their position to have a good groundwork of knowledge in those areas.

Do your best because someone eventually will be looking at your Grade Point Average and test scores. Don’t let that make you avoid the harder classes. The scores are only one part of the application. Also important is seeing that you took some of the more challenging science classes.

The actual hands-on process of science is much different than learning in a classroom. In addition to school work, look for opportunities to work in research. Get a summer job in a lab, volunteer to assist a professor, or sign up for a summer field study program. Experience in a related field is going to be much more valuable than working at a fast-food joint.

Letters of recommendation will be important as you apply to the Oceanography programs. Your summer work and study programs will put you in touch with the people who can write you a letter of recommendation later. Keep in touch with them after your courses are completed.


Select a college that offers degree programs in marine biology, marine science, or oceanography. At some point, you will select an area of focus in your degree program in one of the four main areas of oceanography-physical, biological, chemical, or geological. Focus your research and studies in the area that interests you.

Schools located near an ocean coast will provide more opportunities for research labs and oceanographic institutes than inland schools with access only to theoretical knowledge.

Writing and public speaking skills are very important to anyone in graduate studies. Good grades in composition and rhetoric are vital, according to one professor of oceanography. Find a subject you enjoy, whether it is science, English, or philosophy and learn to write well in it.

Computer, mechanical and electronics experience is also helpful. Oceanographers work with complex equipment and machinery in their explorations. Being adept at handling the equipment can mean the difference between sending sampling equipment to the sea floor and obtaining a soil sample successfully, or sending sampling equipment to the sea floor permanently.

Graduate School

Once you earn your Bachelor’s degree, plan on enrolling in graduate school. While there are a few jobs available to those with Bachelor degrees the majority of research is done by graduate and doctoral level oceanographers.

Continue maintaining relationships with oceanographers through summer study and research programs. Take every opportunity to make yourself known in the field.

My life path did not lead to me being an oceanographer, so I did the next best thing. I became a SCUBA dive master. If you love the ocean, you’ll find a way to make it part of your life. Good luck on your adventure!