Oceanographers study our oceans and seas and are interested in a wide range of topics, including marine life, ocean circulation, plate tectonics and the geology of the sea floor, and the chemical and physical properties of the ocean. Oceanographers work in government agencies, private firms, academic institutions and museums.
The minimum education required for a career in oceanography is a bachelor's degree in oceanography or basic sciences. A bachelor's degree can be completed in three to five years in most cases. You will be able to get an entry-level-type position with this degree, but to specialize, an advanced degree is required.
There are many specialties within the field of oceanography. They are divided between geological and physical studies. A two- or three-year master's degree in a specialized field will qualify you to work in the field and participate in real research.
A Ph.D. in a specialized branch of oceanography will be required if you plan to teach oceanography at the college level. Plan on another two to four years of graduate study after completing a master's degree. Oceanographers with Ph.D.s will be able to perform their own research and have access to the highest-level research positions. Some Ph.D. oceanographers combine research with teaching. They are hired to teach a certain number of classes at the college level, but they can perform their own research outside of class in the school's research facilities.
Physical oceanography studies the biological marine life, the chemical composition of seawater and chemical pollutants, and the waves, tides, and currents of the ocean. A background in any physical science will assist with specialization in physical oceanography, but a background in biology will be more helpful to the study of marine life, while a background in chemistry will help with a specialization in chemical oceanography.
Geological oceanographers study the ocean floor and the processes that formed its physical properties. They study plate tectonics, oceanic circulation, climates and volcanic processes. A strong background in geological science will obviously assist in this specialization.