5 Key Takeaways From Our Oceanography Career Panel
17 March 2023
By Stella Min
The ADSA Career Development Network facilitated a discussion with three oceanographers who shared tips for navigating a career in marine science. The panel included Dr. Winnie Lau – Project Director with the Pew Charitable Trust’s preventing ocean plastics project, Dr. Adrienne Oakley – Assistant Professor of Geology and Marine Science at Kutztown University, and Dr. Kenia Whitehead – Senior Aquatic Scientist at GSI Environmental. Although the panel was organized around oceanography, the panelists’ advice was useful for early-career folks in any discipline. Below are 5 takeaways from the conversation.
Don’t forget to check out our previous panels to learn more about career paths for data scientists.
1. Explore Your Options ASAP
The sooner you identify your interests, the sooner you’ll be on your way toward a meaningful career. Explore your options by:
- Seeking informational interviews, even if it means sending cold emails to people on LinkedIn.
- Tapping into alumni networks.
- Joining professional societies (like ADSA’s Career Development Network - which is free!)
- Attending conferences. Be sure to keep an open mind and talk to people in different sectors.
- Signing up for workshops. Workshops will help you build important technical skills while deepening your understanding of what certain roles in your field will require of you.
- Tuning into career panels like these. Learn how others got where they are and then work your way backwards to chart a path for yourself.
2. Don't Treat a PhD as the End Goal
Unless you want to become a college professor, you can work in the marine sciences without a PhD. The same sentiment was expressed during our Climate Science Career Panel.
Both Winnie, who specializes in public policy, and Kenia, who is an environmental consultant, regularly work with folks with diverse backgrounds and degrees. Adrienne advises her students who want to work in the field to aim for a Master’s degree, which can provide more credibility than a Bachelor’s without the time-commitment.
If you’re already in a PhD program and want to work in an applied field rather than academia, Adrienne recommended searching for postdoctoral positions that will provide specialized training for the field that you're interested in. If you want to work on affecting policies, you can apply to programs that aim to help scientists move into this space, like the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship or the Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship.
If you’re interested in an academic career, Adrienne recommended this resource shared by The Geological Society of America.
For jobs, Winnie recommended subscribing to SEVENSEAS Media, which shares the latest news about ocean science and the policy world, as well as jobs. Also keep an eye on ADSA’s job board and subscribe to the Career Development Network’s monthly newsletter, which shares academic and nonacademic positions.
3. Learn to Effectively Communicate
Effective communication is a foundational skill for all oceanographers, whether you want to be an educator, policy evaluator, or consultant. To become an effective communicator, you need to understand your audience. For example, if your audience is non-technical, you can make your research more accessible by avoiding scientific jargon and acronyms. Additionally, when presenting your research in front of a broad audience with various backgrounds, lead with the primary takeaway. Kenia recommended using the mnemonic BLUF – Bottom Line Up Front – to remind yourself to concisely lead with the most important conclusion from your research.
4. Find Partners Who Will Complement Your Skill Set
It’s common to feel pressured to learn everything, but that’s simply impossible. All three panelists said that they regularly rely on collaborators with different skill sets. Most importantly, none of the panelists encountered barriers due their lack of a particular technical skill.
The takeaway is to simply focus on your key areas of interest. Don’t worry too much about trying to learn it all. You can eventually form partnerships with others who possess the skills that you lack.
5. Trust the Process
None of the panelists had a career plan and yet, they all landed jobs that they love. Though there’s a lot of uncertainty in the job market, try to trust your instincts and follow your interests. Your interests will eventually lead you to a fulfilling career as long as you don’t give up when you experience setbacks. Adrienne said it best:
“Don’t panic! There are so many different paths. Even if your dream job or grad school position didn’t come through, that does not mean you’re not going to find your way through a different path. If you know what you want to do and you’re working through it (and you’re here already making that effort), there’s so many ways to get there.”
Basically, when you encounter setbacks, try not to be disheartened. If you’re following your interests, you will eventually land the right career for you. Also note that, if you’re attending career panels like ours and/or reading blog posts like this, you’re off to a great start – it shows that you’re curious and proactively seeking information.
During the panel, audience members asked about resources for keeping your science open and reproducible. If you’re interested in this too, check out organizations like rOpenSci, The Carpentries, and 2i2c. You’re also welcome (and highly encouraged) to post specific questions or ask for suggestions in our Slack.
The oceanography career panel offered practical tips for people navigating their options in oceanography. The panelists offered advice on where and how to seek information on careers and options for supplementing your training.
The panelists also offered reassurance. They acknowledged that it's impossible to plan out every aspect of your career journey, along with the pressure that comes with the uncertainty. The panelists encouraged everyone to trust the process. If you're following your interests, you're heading in the right direction.