With laboratories, offices and the sea being your places of work, a job as an oceanographer will be varied and research intensive
As an oceanographer, you'll use science and mathematics to study and explain the complex interactions between seawater, fresh water, polar ice caps, the atmosphere and the biosphere.
Your aim will be to understand and predict how the oceans work, as well as working out how to make the most efficient and sustainable use of its resources.
You can choose to specialise in one area of oceanography, such as:
Being an oceanographer could see you involved in areas such as mineral exploitation, shipping, fisheries, coastal construction, pollution, weather prediction, climate change and renewable energy.
Tasks vary depending on whether you're undertaking lab or office-based work, which involves computer modelling, or whether you're at sea on a research vessel, gathering data from subsurface instruments.
Your work will also depend on your employer and your level of training and experience, but may include:
If you work in private industry you may be on a similar or slightly higher scale.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours vary depending on the project and organisation. Extra hours may be required to meet project deadlines, although weekend or shift work is rare on land.
Hours at sea are less regular. Time at sea can vary between several days to months.
It's typical to have a degree in physics, chemistry, maths or biology as well as a postgraduate qualification in oceanography. Degree courses in oceanography, ocean science and marine science, often combined with other earth sciences or computing, are also available.
Most oceanographers have a postgraduate qualification at Masters or PhD level. It's likely that you'll specialise and develop your research interests while undertaking your postgraduate qualification.
There is a range of postgraduate courses available covering physical, chemical and biological oceanography as well as areas such as computing, mathematical modelling and remote sensing. You will typically be required to have studied science or maths at A-level, or as your first degree for these qualifications. Search for postgraduate courses in oceanography.
Entry with an HND or foundation degree is possible, but this will usually be to posts such as support and technical roles, which are rare. Study at a higher level may be expected and encouraged.
Entry is rarely possible without a degree or HND in a science-related subject. The bulk of jobs are in the mid-range at postdoctoral and higher-scientific officer level.
You will need to show:
Related experience in marine science or oceanography research is an advantage. This can be through a sandwich year during your degree, overseas study, undergraduate collaborative projects or employment.
Contacts in marine centres or laboratories are useful. You may want to consider student membership with relevant organisations such as:
Typical employers include private industry, universities, government research laboratories, the armed services, charities and pressure groups.
Many research positions are funded through the two main government funding bodies for oceanographers in the UK, which are the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Other major employers include a small number of university research departments, as well as government departments and agencies such as the Environment Agency, Marine Scotland and the Met Office.
You could also find work with:
There are also opportunities to work abroad in countries across Europe and further afield including Saudi Arabia, China and America.
Look for job vacancies at:
You may see jobs advertised on notice boards at conferences or come across vacancies by networking.
Employers will usually provide initial training relevant to the post in areas such as report writing, writing and presenting papers and presentation skills. You're also likely to develop while in the role by working with other oceanographers, including those from different specialist areas, as well as with scientists from other disciplines such as physicists, environmentalists and engineers.
If you choose an academic career, you may be expected to undertake original research, secondments, collaborative work, self-managed learning and professional seminars. Many employers encourage study towards a PhD if you don't already have one. There may be opportunities to study abroad.
There are several research organisations, some of which have particular specialisms, which may provide training, including:
There are also professional organisations that provide an opportunity for development and networking, such as the:
You may be able to undertake short study periods at an overseas marine institute or work on short projects at sea. However, it's likely you'll have to fund this yourself - either at your own expense or by securing a grant.
Your career development is largely self-directed and may involve you having to move to other jobs around the UK and abroad. You could progress to lead a team where you'll take on more responsibility for contract and project management. Seniority depends on the publication of research papers and having a range of experience.
If working in academia, you may combine departmental responsibilities with your own research. In a small profession like this, you need to network and build a reputation. You also need to acquire new skills and assimilate new knowledge quickly. It may be necessary to get involved in fields other than your own specialism, especially as many contracts and projects are fixed term. The key is your ability to adjust to changes of emphasis in scientific focus and funding.
If you are based in private industry and consultancy, your career prospects will often be dependent on wider economic and political factors in the energy sector, particularly oil.
Further studies at Masters or Doctorate level are often vital for career progression. Within government organisations, you need to get involved with decision-making committees and internal working groups in order to progress.
As an experienced oceanographer, you can apply for chartered status via a relevant professional body such as the IMarEST, which offers Chartered Scientist, Chartered Marine Scientist and Chartered Marine Technologist status.