Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 29 Issue 01

View Issue TOC
Volume 29, No. 1
Pages 22 - 30


A Moving Target: Matching Graduate Education with Available Careers for Ocean Scientists

By Melbourne Briscoe , Deborah Glickson, Susan Roberts, Richard Spinrad , and James Yoder 
Jump to
Article Abstract Citation References Copyright & Usage
Article Abstract

The objective of this paper is to look at past assessments and available data to examine the match (or mismatch) between university curricula and programs available to graduate students in the ocean sciences and the career possibilities available to those students. We conclude there is a need for fundamental change in how we educate graduate students in the ocean sciences. The change should accommodate the interests of students as well as the needs of a changing society; the change should not be constrained by the traditions or resource challenges of the graduate institutions themselves. The limited data we have been able to obtain from schools and employers are consistent with this view: desirable careers for ocean scientists are moving rapidly toward interdisciplinary, collaborative, societally relevant activities, away from traditional academic-research/professorial jobs, but the training available to the students is not keeping pace. We offer some suggestions to mitigate the mismatch. Most importantly, although anecdotes and “gut feelings” abound, the quantitative data backing our conclusions and suggestions are very sparse and barely compelling; we urge better data collection to support curricular revision, perhaps with the involvement of professional societies. 


Briscoe, M., D. Glickson, S. Roberts, R. Spinrad, and J. Yoder. 2016. A moving target: Matching graduate education with available careers for ocean scientists. Oceanography 29(1):22–30, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2016.05.


Abbott, M.R. 2008. Oceanography in 2028. Oceanography 21(3):74–81, https://doi.org/​10.5670/oceanog.2008.38.

Anderson, G., C. Martinez, R. Czujko, and P. Cooper. 2009. Earth and Space Science Ph.D.s, Class of 2006. http://sites.agu.org/careers/files/2011/06/finalPhD.pdf

Ausubel, J. 1996. Malthus and graduate students: Checks on burgeoning ranks of PhD’s. The Scientist, February 5, 1996, http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/17760/title/Malthus-And-Graduate-Students--Checks-On-Burgeoning-Ranks-Of-Ph-D--s.

Böttjer, D., S.P. Jungbluth, R. Boiteau, B. Burkhardt, F. de Leo, and B.C. Bruno. 2014. Career choices in marine and environmental sciences: Navigating a sea of options. Oceanography 27(2):201–207, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2014.35.

Briscoe, M.G. 2008. Collaboration in the ocean sciences: Best practices and common pitfalls. Oceanography 21(3):58–65, https://doi.org/​10.5670/oceanog.2008.36.

Cassuto, L. 2015. The degree for quitters and failures: A look at the melancholy history of the master’s degree. The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 1, 2015, http://chronicle.com/article/The-Degree-for-Quitters-and/230533

Doliner, H. 2014. Marine technology transfer: Leveraging challenges into opportunities. Soapbox. Sea Technology, December, 2014.

Farrington, J.W. 2001. Sverdrup, Johnson, and Fleming’s The Oceans revisited: What of the future of graduate education in ocean sciences? Oceanography 14(2):34–39, https://doi.org/​10.5670/oceanog.2001.41.

Howard, D.J., and F.N. Laird. 2013. The new normal in funding university science. Issues in Science and Technology, http://issues.org/30-1/the-new-normal-in-funding-university-science.

Howe, N., and W. Strauss. 2000. Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. Vintage Books, New York. 415 pp.

Knauss, J.A. 1990. The Stratton Commission: Its history and its legacy. Oceanography 3(1):53–55, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.1990.23.

Knauss, J.A. 2003. The oceans as educational philosophy. Oceanography 16(3):29–31, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2003.27

McDuff, R.E. 2014. Demographics of ocean science graduate programs: Some long term perspectives. Ocean Science Educators’ Retreat, September 24–25, 2014, Savannah, GA, http://oceanleadership.org/wp-content/uploads/Demographics-of-Ocean-Science-Graduate-Programs.pdf.

McNutt, M. 2014. Think outside the lab. Science 344:672, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1255745.

Merrell, W.J., M.H. Katsouros, and J. Bienski. 2001. The Stratton Commission: The model for a sea change in national marine policy. Oceanography 14(2):11–16, https://doi.org/​10.5670/oceanog.2001.34.

Miller, A., and R.E. McDuff. 2012. Assessing the state of graduate programs in the ocean sciences. Poster presented at the Ocean Sciences Meeting, February 20–24, 2012, Salt Lake City, UT, http://oceanleadership.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/OS12_Poster_PRINT.pdf 

Miller, A., and M. Briscoe. 2012. Results of a preliminary survey on graduate training in professional skills. Oceanography 25(4):6–8, https://doi.org/​10.5670/oceanog.2012.107.

Moran, S.B., M.M. Higgins, and D.E. Rosen. 2009. Educating future business leaders in the strategic management of global change opportunities; The blue MBA. Pp. 227–241 in Management Education for Global Sustainability.

National Research Council. 2015. Sea Change: 2015–2025 Decadal Survey of Ocean Sciences. Committee on Guidance for NSF on National Ocean Science Research Priorities: Decadal Survey of Ocean Sciences, Ocean Studies Board, Division on Earth and Life Studies, National Research Council, National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 120 pp.

National Science Board. 2012. Science and Engineering Indicators 2012. NSB 12-01, pp. 3–20, National Science Foundation, Arlington, VA, http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/c3/tt03-20.htm.

National Science Board. 2014a. Science and Engineering Indicators 2014. NSB 14-01, pp. 5–6, National Science Foundation, Arlington, VA, http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind14/index.cfm/chapter-5/c5h.htm#s4.

National Science Board. 2014b. Reducing Investigators’ Administrative Workload for Federally Funded Research. NSF Report NSB-14-18, March 15, 2014.

Nilsson, L. 2014. PhDs, come out of the closet! Science 345:706, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.345.6197.706

Nowell, A.R.M. 2000. Education in oceanography: History, purpose, and prognosis. Pp. 195–200 in 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950–2000. National Academy Press, Washington, DC.

Nowell, A.R.M., and C.D. Hollister. 1988. Graduate students in oceanography: Recruitment, success, and career prospects. EOS Transactions, American Geophysical Union 69(36):834–835, https://doi.org/​10.1029/88EO01100.

Rosenberg, M. 2012. An “honorable” career in academia vs. an “alternative” career in the private sector. ASBMB Today, August 2012, http://www.asbmb.org/asbmbtoday/201208/Essays/Rosenberg

US Commission on Ocean Policy. 2004. US ocean-​related academic infrastructure. Appendix 4 in An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century. Washington, DC, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/oceancommission/documents/full_color_rpt/append_4.pdf.

Sullivan, K. 2015. It’s high time we achieved JFK’s other moon shot. The Economist, Analysis and Opinions. May 8, 2015, http://www.economistinsights.com/opinion/it-s-high-time-we-achieved-jfk-s-other-moon-shot.

Weir, G.E. 2001. An Ocean in Common: American Naval Officers, Scientists, and the Ocean Environment. Texas A&M University Press, College Station, TX, 424 pp.

Wilson, C. 2013. Status of recent geoscience graduates 2013. American Geosciences Institute, Washington, DC, http://www.americangeosciences.org/sites/default/files/StatusRecentGeoGraduates_2013.pdf

World Ocean Council. 2014. Report of the World Ocean Council Business Forum on Ocean Policy and Planning. September 28–30, 2014, New York, NY. 

Copyright & Usage

This is an open access article made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution, and reproduction in any medium or format as long as users cite the materials appropriately, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate the changes that were made to the original content. Images, animations, videos, or other third-party material used in articles are included in the Creative Commons license unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If the material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission directly from the license holder to reproduce the material.