Scientists Study the Seas
Does your passion for science inspire curiosity about the world’s oceans? Oceanography, a broad field with many subspecialties, explores the oceans’ impact on human and animal life, the atmosphere, weather and climate. Oceanographers typically live on or near the water and may be required to travel for fieldwork. Because travel is involved and since most oceanographers work full-time, reliable child care is a must.
Oceanographers usually have advanced degrees and choose an area of specialization. Geological oceanographers, for example, study the ocean floor, examining structures, volcanic processes and oceanic circulation. Biological oceanographers focus on the plant and animal life of the sea. Chemical oceanographers study the composition of the water and its movements. Oceanographers collect and analyze data through observation, experimentation and fieldwork.
To become an oceanographer, you need a strong background in biology, chemistry, geology, physics and mathematics. Although some universities offer undergraduate programs in oceanography and marine sciences, most scientists working in the field have a master’s degree or doctorate in a specialty area. Students who earn a bachelor’s degree can serve an internship or take an entry-level position as an assistant to gain work experience before getting an advanced degree.
About the Industry
Oceanographers are employed by governments, private industry and academic institutions. Oceanographers spend part of their time in laboratories and may conduct experiments, analyze data and run computer models. Depending on their specialty, they conduct fieldwork on, near or in the ocean. Some oceanographers collect data aboard boats, while others learn to scuba dive for research that requires them to be under the sea. Since the oceans comprise 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, oceanographers work all over the world. Some oceanographers travel extensively to conduct their fieldwork. Oceanographers with advanced degrees manage large-scale projects, oversee scientific teams and may work in academia, training the next generation of oceanographers.
Years of Experience
The average salary for an oceanographer is $58,971 per year. Education, geographic location and subspecialty all impact pay, as do other factors. Few oceanographers have more than 20 years of experience. Some typical salaries, based on years of experience, include:
- Entry-level: $56,700
- Mid-level: $74,340
- Experienced: $60,480
Job Growth Trends
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies oceanography among the geosciences, which are the sciences that explore the physical aspects of the Earth. The job outlook for geoscientists, including oceanographers, is expected to be stronger than average over the next decade. Concerns about responsible resource management, pollution and climate change, along with the need for new sources of energy, will contribute to the demand for geoscientists.
Denise Dayton, M.Ed., M.S. teaches career readiness and workplace success, along with other business courses, at a small college in New England.