How to become an Oceanographer

Oceanography is the science of the oceans, including marine life and ecology, sea waves and currents, sea-floor geology, and ocean chemistry. Oceanographers study a wide variety of issues within these general subject areas.

– About Oceanography –

Human societies have a long history of interactions with and knowledge of the Earth’s oceans, although the first systematic studies of the seas and the tides in the Western intellectual tradition were made by Ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle. Interest in the scientific study of the oceans picked up again during the Renaissance, a period of general rediscovery of ancient knowledge of the natural world, and then especially in the age of exploration and imperialism, as European ships swept over the entire globe. For more than a century, government organizations such as the Royal Society in Britain and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been leading oceanographic studies.

Oceanographers tend to work in one of several fields of research, which can be viewed as disciplines within their own right and which approach the oceans from different perspectives. These include marine biology or biological oceanography, which studies marine life; marine chemistry or chemical oceanography, which studies the chemical composition of the ocean as well as the dynamics between the ocean and the air above it; physical oceanography, the study of waves, currents, and other motions which are interesting from the perspective of physics; and marine geology, the study of geological issues as they relate to the ocean, like plate tectonics beneath ocean areas and the composition of the sea-floor – an area which remains one of the least explored and understood places on the planet. Applied oceanographic knowledge, or marine engineering, also plays an important role in shipbuilding, harbour design, and offshore oil drilling.

– How to Become an Oceanographer –

Oceanographers pursue a wide variety of research and teaching tasks in several different work environments, ranging from field research at sea, to statistical and laboratory work on land, to teaching and researching in an academic (university) setting. Government and military (defense) research organizations employ oceanographers.

Usually, to be considered an oceanographer, a person will have a PhD (doctoral) degree in oceanography or one of its subfields, or at least a Master of Science. To get into a solid graduate program, students should study engineering or science at the undergraduate (B.Sc.) level, taking as much coursework as possible in related areas, especially including the physical, geological, and/or life sciences, as well as math.

There are a number of schools in North America with particularly strong reputations for advanced study in oceanography. These include the PhD program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and the joint program of MIT and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the United States, and the University of British Columbia and Dalhousie University, in Canada.