Case study

Oceanographic research technician — Claire Medley

Studying ocean sciences at postgraduate level helped Claire change career and become an oceanographer. Find out more about her work both at sea and onshore

What degree did you study?

I graduated with an integrated Masters in chemistry from the University of Bath in 2015. After deciding I wanted to change career and work in ocean science, I completed an MSc Physical Oceanography at Bangor University, graduating in 2019.

How did you get your job?

I knew I wanted to work in ocean science so I kept an eye on the major oceanographic institutes' career pages and signed up for email alerts from relevant job boards. I applied after seeing the advert on the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) website, and after a phone interview got the job.

What's a typical working day like?

It varies massively depending on whether I am at sea or not. I work on the Bermuda Atlantic Time-Series Study (BATS) so participate in monthly research cruises in the North Atlantic. At sea, I help with taking seawater samples, collected using bottles on a CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth) carousel, a major piece of oceanographic equipment.

Back on shore I am mainly responsible for analysing phytoplankton pigments using a technique called high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), but I also assist with measuring zooplankton biomass, sediment trap sample processing, and measuring primary production rates using 14C methodologies.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I like going to sea, and working with the rest of the team out on the ocean can be lots of fun.

What are the challenges?

Days spent at sea can be long and tiring. Schedules can always change last minute due to weather conditions, which can make it hard to maintain a routine. This is why being flexible is such an important part of the role. I also struggle with sea sickness, but lots of oceanographers do and there are a range of remedies available.  

How is your degree relevant?

Studying oceanography at Bangor University definitely gave me a better understanding of how the ocean works, which provides context for the samples I analyse. My Masters degree also included practical experience aboard the research vessel Prince Madog, which was certainly helpful in getting the job.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I haven't been in the role that long yet, so I am currently still just enjoying learning all the different aspects of it. I love my job so haven't thought that much about what I want to do next, but I know I want to keep contributing to ocean science research. 

What are your top tips for choosing a Masters?

Don't be put off if the Masters degree you are interested in is different from your undergraduate degree. Most courses accept candidates from a range of academic backgrounds, so speak to the admission tutors to see if you have the relevant experience.

What's your advice to others wanting to get into oceanography?

  • Be a good team player - Ocean science is interdisciplinary so being able to work well and communicate with others is a major part of the role, especially when you are out at sea.
  • Get as much experience as possible - Many universities and research institutes run internships, placements and volunteering programmes you can take advantage of while studying.
  • Be prepared to travel - This is important both for research cruises and to find your ideal job.

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