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Education and Training: College

Salary: Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Oceanographers are scientists who study the sea. Oceanography incorporates features of many sciences, including biology, chemistry, geology, and meteorology. For this reason, oceanographers have varied backgrounds and do many kinds of work. Oceanographers may work on ships or in laboratories on land. Some work for private companies. Most work for research institutes or government agencies, or hold teaching and research jobs in colleges and universities.

Oceanographers who conduct research study many aspects of the sea. Their findings provide valuable information for industry and government. The fishing industry, for example, is interested in the life cycles and food chain of marine life. The federal government and the shipbuilding industry use information about the sea to design new ships. Oil and mining companies are looking to the sea for new sources of fuel and minerals. Plants and animals found in the ocean are used for medical research. Researchers are also trying to find new sources of food made from marine animals and plants.

Marine biologists study plants and animals that live in the sea. They evaluate information and marine life samples. Chemical oceanographers study the chemical composition of the water and floors of the oceans. Marine geologists are concerned with the minerals found in sea beds. Marine geophysicists also study the structure of ocean floors and the layers of rock found beneath the floors. Other branches of oceanography are concerned with the oceans' tides, weather, waves, and currents.

Education and Training Requirements

A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for beginning positions. Students can earn a degree in oceanography or take courses in oceanography and major in a related field such as biology, physics, chemistry, or engineering. Graduate training is usually required for advancement. A doctoral degree is required for college teaching and for many research positions.

Getting the Job

Many oceanographers get their first jobs as a result of contacts made during their schooling. The school placement office or professors at colleges and universities may be able to help prospective candidates find a job. It is also possible to apply directly to schools and research institutes where work is desirable. To get a job with a government agency, apply to take the necessary civil service test.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Oceanographers who have a doctoral degree may advance to top research and administrative positions. Advancement is usually slow, however, because there are few administrative jobs in oceanography.

Opportunities for oceanographers are expected to grow as fast as the average through the year 2012. Many job openings will result from workers in the field who retire. However, a lack of funding for work in the federal and state governments and other organizations will likely affect oceanographers.

Working Conditions

Most oceanographers are involved in both teaching and research. They may spend long periods of time at sea collecting samples and gathering information. Living and working space on some ships may be cramped. Oceanographers generally endure some physical hardship. Depending on their specialties, oceanographers may use scuba diving equipment or specially designed submarines. Because the field is competitive, oceanographers may work long hours preparing papers for publication in scientific journals.

Where to Go for More Information

American Society of Limnology and Oceanography
5400 Bosque Blvd., Ste. 680
Waco, TX 76710
(800) 929-2756

Marine Technology Society
5565 Sterrett Place, Ste. 108
Columbia, MD 21044
(418) 884-5330

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary with education, experience, level of responsibility, and employer. Oceanographers with a bachelor's degree earn a starting salary in the range of $32,000 to $40,000 per year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2005 oceanographers working in managerial, supervisory, and nonsupervisory positions for the federal government earned an average of $87,007 per year. Workers in private industry may earn much more. Benefits generally include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.

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