How to Become an Oceanographer

Oceanographers are scientists who specialise in marine life, ecosystems and geology. If you have a keen interest in maths, biology and chemistry as well as a fascination with the ocean or environment then this may be the right career choice for you.

What do oceanographers do?

In essence Oceanographers study and maintain the ocean, but it is actually a much more diverse role. They study, maintain and try to preserve the different oceans around the world. As an Oceanographer you would have to specialize in one of the following areas:

  • Marine Biology - Marine life and ecosystems
  • Marine Chemistry – Effects of pollutants on sea water and the chemical composition of sea water
  • Marine Geology - Plate tectonics and the geology of the sea floor
  • Marine Physics – Ocean circulation , tides and currents

Typical daily activities could include:

  • Advising on and enforcing legal regulations, with regards to the Ocean
  • Checking the effect that pollution is having organisms, plant life, sea water and the whole ecosystem by testing samples
  • Using information gathered from satellites
  • Using mini-subs to conduct research
  • Drilling into the seabed to explore the seabed and acoustics
  • Conducting research or teaching at universities
  • Giving presentations at academic conferences
  • Using advanced computer programs to build models to show simulations from your research
  • Supervising junior, trainee or volunteers when managing projects


Oceanography is not the best paid job in the world, however, it is reasonably well paid.

Entry Level

£18,000 - £25,000


£38,000 - £44,000

University Lecturers


National Careers Service

Skills required

  • Natural ability in maths and science subjects
  • To be a logical and methodical thinker
  • Great communication and teamwork skills
  • Excellent problem solving skills
  • A keen attention to detail
  • Research Skills
  • An interest in the environment and ecosystems
  • Excellent IT Skills
  • To be Physically Fit and Healthy for field work
  • To be a good swimmer

Qualifications required

The bare minimum requirement is usually a first or upper second class bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject such as:

  • Maths
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Biology
  • Geology

You will then be required to complete a Master’s degree in Oceanography. You should note also that certain employers such as universities may require you to work towards, or have a PhD.

As it can be extremely hard to secure your first job many of the undergraduate courses have some sort of field work and or work experience. However, if your course does not contain any work experience you can arrange it independently through a marine laboratory.

Career prospects and development

As with any science related career, continual professional development is vital to your career progression. You need to keep up to date on recent developments throughout your career. Most Oceanographer employers will provide on the job and some continual development training. However, it is also possible to supplement this with an additional continual professional development programme offered by the Marine Technology Education Consortium. Joining professional organisations such as The Challenger Society for Marine Science & the Society for Underwater Technology can help you network more effectively.

Career prospects for Oceanographers in the UK are relatively good. It is a very niche area of science, so the number of applicants is limited. However, this also means that there are not a huge amount of jobs in the field. A lot of the jobs in this field are funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). These jobs may be with the National Oceanography Centre (Southampton), the Sea Mammal Research Institute and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. It is also possible to work directly for the government by working for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Other than these opportunities many of the jobs will be at universities or for private oil and gas companies.

This is most definitely not a job for everyone. But if you feel that you have the right attributes and a real love for the ocean then this could be the career for you.