If you are wondering how to become an oceanographer, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of the environmental sciences, as well as job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Oceanographers use their knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics and geology to study the seas and oceans. Examples of their work include conducting research into the effects of climate change, and exploring the impact of pollution and offshore engineering on marine ecosystems.

    As an oceanographer, you could specialise in one of four areas:

    marine biology – studying marine plants and animals
    marine chemistry – anaylysing the chemical composition of seawater and the behaviour of pollutants
    marine geology – studying the structure and make-up of the ocean floor
    marine physics – as a marine physicist you would study water temperature and density, wave motion, tides and currents.
    You would use a variety of techniques to collect data, including:

    remote sensors on satellites
    instruments on towed or self-powered submersibles
    apparatus on moored or drifting buoys
    probes lowered into the sea
    drills to explore the seabed and acoustics.
    Your work would vary depending on the area you specialise in, but will often include:

    research and writing reports
    presenting and publishing your findings
    working with computer modellers to produce graphical simulations of your research
    managing a project
    leading a team of technical support staff.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good oceanographers include:

    strong mathematical and scientific skills
    good powers of observation
    practical skills
    good research and problem solving skills
    a flexible approach to work
    accuracy and attention to detail
    good physical health and fitness for research work
    the ability to work alone and as part of a team
    excellent spoken and written communication skills.

    How to become an oceanographer
    To become an oceanographer you need a degree in a science-based subject (such as maths, physics or chemistry). As an alternative, you could do a joint honours degree, studying oceanography with either maths, physics or chemistry. Many employers also prefer you to have a relevant postgraduate qualification. For example, a good preparation for work in marine physics would be a physics degree followed by an MSc in Oceanography.

    Many degree courses in this area include fieldwork and take around four years to complete. At postgraduate-level, there are taught Masters degrees, research degrees and PhD programmes. The Society for Underwater Technology (SUT) has details of relevant courses and possible funding options; see Further Information.

    To get onto a relevant science-based degree you will usually need:

    five or more GCSEs (A-C) including English, maths and three science subjects
    two or three A levels, including maths, physics and one other science or computing
    However, please check with course providers because alternative qualifications may also be accepted.

    Training and Development
    As an oceanographer you will usually receive on-the-job training from your employer, which will often be combined with short courses, self-managed learning, seminars and conferences.

    To help keep you up-to-date, the SUT has details of courses including a Continuing Professional Development programme offered by a group of universities known as MTEC (Marine Technology Education Consortium).

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Starting salaries can be between £19,000 and £22,000 a year
    With experience this can rise to around £36,000.

    Job Prospects
    In the UK, many jobs in oceanography are created and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. You will find job opportunities with organisations, such as the National Oceanography Centre (Southampton), Sea Mammal Research Institute and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

    You could also work within teaching and research at a university, with the Royal Navy, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Environment Agency, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

    There may also be opportunities within industries involved with the extraction of offshore oil and gas, offshore and coastal construction and marine instrumentation. Working overseas is also an option.

    To gain promotion, you are likely to need between one and five years’ experience. In smaller companies your prospects for career progression may be limited. Short-term contracts are common in this area of work.

    Useful environmental resources:
    Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
    Polaris House
    North Star Avenue
    SN2 1EU
    Tel: 01793 411500

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