IN MARINE SCIENCE
September 30, 2005 — Today, several thousand marine scientists are busy at work in the United States dealing with a diversity of important issues — from climate change, declining fisheries and eroding coastlines to the development of new drugs from marine resources and the invention of new technologies to explore the sea. Approximately 40 percent of these scientists are employed by state and federal governments, 30 percent by universities and colleges, and 30 percent by private industry.
is the outlook for future marine science careers?
Many people associate marine science only with marine biology, yet marine biology is far from being the only science associated with the ocean. Marine scientists or oceanographers can be physicists, chemists, geologists, engineers, computer scientists and biologists who have applied their trade to the world’s oceans. And like any trade, there is an apprenticeship that begins with a curiosity and perseverance to learn more about the nature of the vast ocean that covers more than 70 percent of the Earth.
a Career in Marine Science
To gain useful experience, consider volunteering with state agencies or private organizations that work with marine or aquatic systems. You will get the opportunity to not only work and form relationships with marine science professionals, but also develop interests that you may wish to pursue in college.
Educational programs also are helpful for aspiring marine scientists. Organizations such as the National Audubon Society, Outward Bound, Sea Explorers (a co-ed branch of the Boy Scouts), and various universities and regional environmental centers may offer summer programs that can provide valuable marine experiences. And never pass up a chance to talk to people who are involved in marine science, such as at a school career day presentation or at a local aquarium or science museum.
choosing a college or university, select a school based on the merits
of its science and math curricula and not on whether there is an undergraduate
program in marine science. Strong undergraduate programs provide students
with the solid foundation needed to advance to graduate study.
When you are ready to apply to graduate school, it will be helpful if you have an idea of the particular area in marine science that you wish to specialize in. Choose a graduate school that has one or more faculty who conduct research in your area of interest. These faculty are as important as the school you choose because their guidance is critical to your career. In addition, one of these faculty members most likely will serve as your adviser while you are in graduate school. Look for someone whose interests match yours, whom you feel comfortable with, who has a good reputation among scientists, and a demonstrated ability to garner research funding and produce results.
Your first goal in graduate school will be to obtain a solid foundation in marine science. But then you will shift from studying what others have already learned to finding out what no one else has yet learned. You will conduct experiments to gain new knowledge and write up your results in the form of research papers and a master’s thesis or a doctoral dissertation depending on the degree you are seeking (so don’t ignore your English classes!).
Most master’s programs in marine science take two years of study, while a Ph.D. ranges from four to five years. Thus, you should be prepared to study for several years to achieve your goal of becoming a marine scientist.
in Marine Science
Opportunities for marine biologists are as varied as life in the sea and also as specialized. This field also is the most competitive and the most difficult in which to secure a job. For example, only a handful of positions are available for those who want to study dolphins and whales. Don’t let that stop you if it’s your dream — just maintain a realistic view and a backup plan.
Using the natural chemistry of the sea as a basis, these marine scientists also conduct research to understand how humans affect the chemistry of the environment, including climate change and pollution studies. Some marine chemists and biochemists search for natural products from the sea, marine drugs or industrial applications. Opportunities for chemical oceanographers are good and probably will improve as researchers try to ascertain human impact on the ocean and as the search for natural products continues.
Marine sedimentologists, paleontologists and geophysicists can interpret sedimentary records to unravel the history of Earth’s evolution and related changes in the global environment. Their work can provide valuable information on past climate changes and how global warming will affect sea level and coastal erosion. The career outlook in this field is good, particularly in the area of coastal studies.
Often, the physical oceanographer is part of a team composed of other specialists (including marine biologists or chemists). These scientists may work together on a project involving circulation and how it influences the distribution of certain species of fish or pollution of an estuary.
A major research area is the development of instruments for gathering information from the sea, including underwater vehicles and sensors. In this regard, the work of the ocean engineer is invaluable to other marine scientists who depend on these methods for gathering the data they need. Some ocean engineers work with satellite systems that collect information about the oceans from the vantage point of space, a process called remote sensing. Others create models that predict the effects of wave action on the beach or devise ways of harnessing wave and tidal energy. Ocean engineers form a relatively new branch of marine science, but they will always be needed as long as there are problems to be solved in working in the ocean.
Marine policy specialists analyze public issues relating to the law of the sea, ports and shipping, marine minerals, ocean and coastal zone management, fisheries and aquaculture, naval affairs, marine biotechnology, ocean energy resources and many other areas — frequently making recommendations for policy at the regional, national and international level. Their job is to analyze the implications of development, conflicting uses and interrelationships between physical processes (such as sea-level rise and human activities).
article drafted by Dr. William Hall, Marine Education Specialist with
the University of Delaware
Sea Grant College Program. This program is part of a national network
of universities committed to research, education and technology transfer
designed to meet the changing needs of U.S. ocean, coastal and Great Lakes
regions. The program is financially supported by NOAA;
the State of Delaware; and the University of Delaware.