Employment Prospects


Many of those working in oceanography and marine-related fields work for federal or state governments. Federal employers of oceanographers, ocean engineers, marine technicians, and those interested in marine policy include the Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency, Naval Oceanographic Office, and the U.S. Geological Survey, among others. State governments often employ oceanographers in environmental agencies or state-funded research projects.

Oceanographers are also employed by colleges or universities, where they teach, conduct research, write, and consult. It is not surprising that most jobs in oceanography are found on or near bodies of water, whether saltwater or freshwater. Yet some educational institutions with oceanography programs are not located very near oceans or rivers—for example, Texas A&M University in College Station. The best known institutions in this field include Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in Miami, Florida, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego in La Jolla, California.

Some oceanographers work for private industries such as oil companies and nonprofit organizations, including environmental societies. An increasing number of oceanographers are employed by industrial firms, particularly those involved in oceanographic instrument and equipment manufacturing, shipbuilding, and chemistry.

Starting Out

Most college career services offices are staffed to help you find positions in business and industry after you graduate. Often positions can be found through friends, relatives, or college professors or through the college's career service's office by application and interview. College and university assistantships, instructorships, and professorships are usually obtained by recommendation of your major professor or department chairperson. In addition, internships with the government or private industry during college can often lead to permanent employment after graduation. The American Institute of Biological Sciences maintains an employment service and lists both employers and job seekers.

Advancement Prospects

Starting oceanography positions usually involve working as a laboratory or research assistant, with on-the-job training in applying oceanographic principles to the problems at hand. Some beginning oceanographers with Ph.D.'s may qualify for college teaching or research positions. Experienced personnel, particularly those with advanced graduate work or doctorates, can become supervisors or administrators. Such positions involve considerable responsibility in planning and policymaking or policy interpretation. Those who achieve top-level oceanographer positions may plan and supervise research projects involving a number of workers, or they may be in charge of an oceanographic laboratory or aquarium.

Tips for Entry

As a student, keep a journal of your observations of wildlife or sea life with information on date, time, and duration of observation; description of physical appearance and behavior of wildlife; etc. This exercise will help develop your powers of scientific observation.

Join a professional association in your field of oceanography (such as the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography) to learn more about career options, participate in networking events, and access other resources. 

Seek out internships and short-term jobs that will widen your area of experience. They will increase your likelihood of employment once you earn your degree(s). 

Check out the resources listed at this Web site dedicated to Careers in Oceanography, Marine Science, and Marine Biology: http://www.peterbrueggeman.com/ocean/career.html.