How to become a freelance oceanographer

Oceans are mysterious, and even science has been unable to completely unravel its cryptic nature. But, there are people—oceanographers—who endlessly struggle with the moody oceans, and attempt to understand them with the help of utmost scientific temperament.  We are talking about one of the most popular fields of geo-scientific study, and this makes the discussion all the more exciting.

Oceanography is essentially the study of the biological and physical characteristics of the ocean and is a component of Earth science dealing with an array of subject matters such as ocean currents, plate tectonics, ecosystem dynamics and what not. Oceanography is further classified into a number of studies such as Chemical oceanography, which deals with the chemical aspect of the ocean; geological oceanography, which pertains to the geological study of the ocean; biological oceanography—also known as marine biology—deals with the biological aspects of oceans such as marine organisms. Thus, oceanography is a diverse field and provides a great room to explore and understand the ocean. So, if you plan to become a freelance oceanographer, you will have so many options to choose from.

The freelance community of oceanographers is selective, and therefore, among the trickiest to become a part of. This, however, should not discourage you since there are ways to open doors to this community and become an inseparable part of it. In this article, we shall explore four key considerations for becoming a freelance oceanographer:

1. Job Requirements for a freelance oceanographer

Oceanography is an extensive field, and, therefore, educational qualifications are extremely important. In order to start your career as a freelance oceanographer, you will have to take note of certain basics, and those basics have been jotted down below. Follow the steps attentively, and you shall have a well-founded freelance career before you.

  • Oceanography courses are provided at several levels ranging from the bachelor level to the post-graduate level and beyond.
  • At the bachelor level, there is B.Sc. Marine Science: the eligibility criterion is the completion of schooling with the subjects Maths, Physics and Chemistry, and time duration is three years. At the post-graduate level, there is M.Sc. Marine Biology: the eligibility criterion is graduation in science, and the time duration is two years. Going higher still, one can go for M.Tech in Marine Biology or Oceanography, M. Phil. in Chemical Oceanography or Marine Biology, or a Ph.D. in Oceanography. Thus, there are a number of academic opportunities for a potential oceanographer.
  • In India, the setting is that most colleges provide postgraduate courses in oceanography and few provide doctoral courses. Some notable institutes offering oceanography courses in the country are Mangalore University, Annamalai University, Anna University, National Institute of Oceanography in Goa, Cochin University of Science and Technology and Goa University.
  • If you wish to go international, then you may have ample options to choose from. These include World Ocean Circulation Experiment, Australian Institute of Marine Science, Australia; Institute of Oceanography, Bulgaria; Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Canada; Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, Japan; the University of South Carolina, the United States of America.
  • Apart from regular academic degrees, there are many reputed institutes providing certificate courses in oceanography and its branches. It is recommended you go for certificate courses alongside the regular degree course to build a more credible resume for future purposes.

2. What skills does an oceanographer really need?

Studying the ocean is a herculean task which naturally mandates the requirement of certain skills. Without these skills, your academic degrees will not be of much help. The point is this: If you cannot put your knowledge and logic into practical use, there is no use trying.

  • Multidisciplinary knowledge: Oceanography is not a distinct form of science, but is a blend of various branches of sciences—this explains the diversity in oceanography. Different kinds of oceanographers deal with different areas; for example, a chemical oceanographer researcher needs to study, inter alia, the chemical properties of the ocean; a biological oceanographer, the marine life in the ocean; physical oceanographers study the different kinds of physical reactions oceans go through. Evidently, there is an intermingling of disciplines in the world of oceanography; hence, it is all the more expected from you to have extensive and up-to-date multidisciplinary knowledge.
  • Computer skills: Oceanography is heavily depended on the use of computers. Those engaged in the field have to create complicated computer models and digital maps, and without relevant skills, this task cannot be possibly completed. Such skills play a key role in backing up the hypotheses by research.
  • Communication skills: While oceanographers expend most of their time collecting samples and conducting research, they must be able to convey the results to people clearly. They must be able to write down their research in a manner which is lucid, to-the-point, and unambiguous. Often, oceanographers have to deliver speeches to their colleagues, the academic or general public; hence, they must be able to accordingly to adopt a communication style best suited to the audience. So, even if the audience is clueless about oceanography, you should be able to introduce to them the dynamics of the same in a simplistic manner.
  • Lab and Research Skills: One of the most fundamental skills every oceanographer must have is research skills. Oceanographer must be able to work at length and under adverse conditions. In labs, they should be able to efficiently use the equipment, to hypothesize, conclude and write lab reports. For all these, they must possess analytical, math and reasoning skills in abundance.
    With the aforementioned skills, you will create a name for yourself as an able and reputed oceanographer in the freelance community.

3. The pay scale for freelance oceanographers

Oceanography is relatively new, but one can make a lucrative freelancing career in it. The starting pay scale may not be as lofty as you imagined, but there are ways to climb up higher on the ladder to success quickly.

If you have awesome educational qualifications coupled with impressive years of experience, then you may charge as much as USD 390 or more per month; the pay scale will be higher if your clients are from abroad such as France or New Zealand. A fresh oceanographer will have to struggle in the early years of freelancing, starting with the pay scale falling in between USD 125 to USD 186; however,  if you have degrees from reputed institutions, then you may have an upper hand. Much of the pay scale depends on the qualifications, skills, and experience; publications can also be of great assistance.

In order to apprise yourself of the pay scale more appropriately,  it is advisable to join societies, communities or online forums of freelance oceanographers. The closer you are with those with a similar way of living, the better you learn.

4. Job prospects for an oceanographer

Oceanography is developing, and therefore, requires support from as many oceanographers as possible. This makes oceanographers among the most cherished scientists in the world. The following are the working opportunities for an oceanographer:

  • You can work for industrial research laboratories, research institutions, environmental health agencies, navy, oil industry, safety organizations and marine equipment producers.
  • Oceanographers are greatly wanted in Navy for various research purposes integral to the improvement of the mobility and strength of the vessels and soldiers.
  • You can provide freelance tutoring in various educational institutions in India or abroad, whatever your preference may be.
  • In order to keep a closer eye on job vacancies, you should go online. There are a number of freelance websites which provide a more mobile platform for freelancers to find jobs. To connect to the online community, you need an account, a portfolio of skills and regular follow-up. These websites have been designed to keep freelancers and clients updated with the latest information on opportunities, and connect both of them easily.
    Some of the famous freelance websites include,,, etc. A few of them require subscription fee; others do not.