When Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote the words, “Water, water everywhere,” he wasn’t messing around. The romantic poet was absolutely spot on: over 70% of our planet is made up of water. Oceanographers are the scientific professionals that study these bodies of water and their development cycles.
If you stick the words ‘ocean’ and ‘geographer’ together, you might have a good idea of what these scientists do. However, oceanographers don’t just sail the seven seas to conduct research and scientific investigations – they also focus their efforts on freshwater, snow melts and ice formations.
These guys also monitor the effects of atmospheric, environmental, geological and hydrological changes on marine environments.
Oceanography is a wide-ranging scientific field, and oceanographers usually specialise in one of the following subcategories: marine biology, marine chemistry, marine geology or marine physics.
Oceanographers are employed in a variety of industry sectors, including fisheries management, exploration for minerals and energy resources, mining and drilling, meteorology, climate change, sustainable development and coastal development and construction.
If you enter this profession, you may be accumulating samples of the sea bed, the water itself and organisms living in the marine environment using state-of-the-art equipment.
Alternatively, you may be using digital scanning devices to collect statistical information about the composition of the ocean floor.
You’ll then be analysing your findings in a laboratory, conducting extra research, interpreting information, writing reports and presenting your findings using data modelling tools and other computer software.
Some oceanographers may lecture students within higher education institutions, write academic journals and attend conferences with other scientific professionals to discuss advances in their research.
Salary & benefits
Entry-level candidates with graduates or postgraduate degrees can earn annual salaries between £15,000 and £20,000. As you progress into more senior positions and gain more experience, you may earn between £20,000 and £30,000 per annum.
Salaries for experienced or specialist personnel range between £30,000 and £60,000. Consulting professionals with more than ten years’ experience can earn up to £80,000 a year.
Your working hours are likely to be irregular and may involve long stints out in the field, where you’ll be working on research ships or floating laboratories. Sometimes you might be out on the high seas for long periods, generally between one and six months.
Onshore work involves conducting lab-based investigations and attending professional conferences and industry events.
Graduate or postgraduate degrees in subjects combining marine science, quantitative research, analytical reasoning and information technology are ideal academic qualifications for aspiring oceanographers.
Candidates with a consistent record of high academic achievement with a solid foundation in scientific, mathematical and technical principles are preferred by the majority of employers.
The most advantageous subjects for you to study include oceanography, marine biology, geology, environmental geoscience, environmental engineering, ecology, environmental science, computer science, maths, physics or I.T.
Training & progression
Training is mainly facilitated through ‘on-the-job’ experience, shadowing senior professionals and conducting independent research. However, professional bodies, such as the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (ImarEST) and the Society for Underwater Technology (SUT), offer opportunities for their members to collaborate with each other and share their research findings during events and conferences.
Career progression opportunities include: taking on team management and senior leadership roles, moving from academia into commercial employment and vice versa, and moving into scientific consultancy roles on a freelance basis.