02 February 2009

Oceanography as a job

While it's true that I sometimes whine about parts of my job (mostly, not being able to go do it because I have to do something else instead ... still ...), there's no way I agree with what Popular Science apparently said:
making oceanography one of the worst jobs in science. I did respond over there, and this isn't entirely different from my comments there. But, it's perhaps more germane than a number of things I've commented on lately. So, onward.

I think science is one of the best fields of all to enter for a career. It happens that my main science is oceanography, particularly physical oceanography. But if someone told me that I had to be an astrophysicist instead, I'd be quite happy still. (Ditto quite a number of other fields.) Getting a job can be quite difficult. But if you do get one ... well, here's what I look at in going to work each day:

I get to work with a bunch of very bright people (easy to talk with, whether about the oncoming weather (which isn't as casual for my crowd as for most), or about the Cubs (ok, not so many here are Cubs fans)).

I get paid a comfortable salary. I'm no threat to a pro sports player, particularly not a star. But I can afford to live ok (by my standards) in the Washington DC area.

I don't have to do any heavy lifting or work with obnoxious chemicals. Some scientists do, and those aren't my fields. (But, for those who like it, hey, there's a field of sixteen where it'll be needed.)

I get to find out about what happening in the world before almost anybody. At least for the sorts of the things that I work with. And that means almost anybody. For the sorts of things I work on, we're down to an easily counted number of places. Probably won't need to take off your shoes to do the counting.

When I'm doing science at my work (which isn't always, but does happen) it means that I help make a contribution to what it is that anybody in the world knows about the universe. How cool is that?! Nobody understood or thought that idea before me.

When I'm doing engineering at my job (which is more common), it means that I've succeeded in taking some of our understanding of the universe (anybody, anywhere, any time) and managed, for the first time, to make it possible for someone else to get a practical benefit from it. In my area, 'practical benefit' has included "They Don't Die."

I'll probably add to this list, and invite other scientists to do so. The main thing is, science is a wonderful area to work in. At base, and not already listed: You get paid to do something that you like to be doing.


Scruffy Dan said...

"Getting a job can be quite difficult. But if you do get one ..."

Thats the rub, its exactly where I am getting stuck, there are not enough entry level positions.

Oh well I'll get one eventually.

Penguindreams said...

There are really very, very few areas where it's easy to get a job. And that includes most or almost all the areas where media coverage says there's 'a terrible shortage'. My own notion of shortage is that the number of qualified applicants is smaller than the number of job openings. The stories (including an infamous 1980s NSF report) usually define it as 'enough more applicants than jobs so that ...'. The reason varies, but it always involves more applicants than jobs. It doesn't improve above the entry level either.

The chances improve if you've done good work in the past, know and are known by good people in the area, are prepared to move to wherever the job might be (I'm a midwesterner but am here in Washington DC), are prepared to change the type of work you do significantly (I wanted to be a teacher/researcher rather than what I am, which is engineer/researcher), and change areas significantly (I've largely been doing remote sensing, but I was 'supposed' to be mainly a modeller who was not entirely ignorant about how data were collected.

Once when I visited my sister's science class I mentioned that scientists are persistent. My sister, ever so gently :-), based on knowing me, observed that stubborn was a better word.

So good luck on your eventually! Persistence (ok, stubbornness) does pay off.

Philip H. said...

And, as a fisheries oceanographer, I have to concur that it's one of the best fields in the world. Of course, my cats were much happier when I came home smelling of dead fish . . . .