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Does anyone know anything about Oceanography? I have a BS in computer science but I was interested in switching to another field. I originally studied biology so I have done a little research before. But now that I've been doing computer science I feel like I've lost the direction a real science can only provide. Also the thing is I want to switch to a more obscure science that's less competitive than say biology or computer science (which are both really popular subject to study in school). I also love the ocean, I've been near it almost my whole life. I know oceanographers study things like currents and water salinity -- which I'd be really interested in learning more about.

Does anybody have any input into this. Also how hard would it be to find a masters degree program in oceanography that would accept a CS major?

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Most earth science programs accept students from a variety of physical science backgrounds, and I'm sure this is true for oceanography in particular. For example, the URI Graduate School of Oceanography website says:

"URI offers Ph.D., M.S., and B.S. degrees in the Department of Ocean Engineering. This program specializes in the application of engineering principles and technology to solve problems in the ocean and coastal waters.... Specializations include ocean renewable energy from wind, waves, and tides; marine spatial planning, ocean robotics, ocean instrumentation and data analysis, underwater and sub-bottom acoustics, acoustic tomography, marine geomechanics and soil mechanics, marine hydrodynamics, coastal engineering and near-shore processes, marine environmental modeling, ocean drilling, ROVs and AUVs (remotely operated and autonomous underwater vehicles), and coastal and offshore structures....Graduate enrollment is open to students with undergraduate degrees in engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, or other technical disciplines."

(emphasis added)

Your computer science background would make you a pretty good candidate for a project heavily based on computer modeling. That said, you would probably have to take classes in basic earth science and oceanography. In my undergrad dept, plenty of grad students would take basic undergrad courses (like mineralogy or sedimentology etc) to fill in gaps in their own undergrad preparation. THAT SAID I don't know how this all would apply to an MS rather than a PhD. In a PhD you have a lot more time to catch up on basic coursework than you have in an MS. I would recommend talking to the schools you are interested in and seeing what they say about required coursework... but if you are really interested in oceanography you should definitely go for it!

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Hi Alphonse,

Your background would be desirable for a thesis based on satellite data assimilation or applied ocean physics/engineering (floats, robots, sensors). I think most modeling projects would require a better background in basic Earth Sciences topics, as rockbender started to get into.

Oceanography as a field is generally less focused on MS degrees, and these are often skipped or given as a door prize in PhD programs (with the exception of ocean engineering and applied physics type programs, engineers sure do love the MS). Otherwise, a separate MS tends to increase time to graduation--some of the major oceanography programs will still put you on a 5 year track and require you to take classes, even if you come in with a MS. PIs in other programs may look unfavorably at your MS, since it means less time to train you and get useful work out of you. My impression is that the best known programs are avoiding candidates for a MS even when they nominally accept applicants to that degree--the MS in oceanography has become more like a consolation prize for people who drop out of a PhD (big caveat, this is only for US schools).

If you are dead set on an MS, I think the University of Hawaii and Oregon State accept MS only students. The University of Washington may still do this for exceptional candidates, but I think is moving away from this (Scripps and WHOI, the other two best known programs, are generally not accepting MS students). URI and UConn might. Canadian schools are still big on separating the MS and PhD, so UBC, University of Victoria, and Dalhousie could all be good options. And I am not advocating for this, but you could apply to PhDs and then (without telling the program this when you first apply!) terminate early with an MS. Further abroad, the University of Bergen, Southhampton, or IFM geomar could be good options.

PM me if you have more questions.

Edited by Usmivka
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Thanks Usmivka! You have no idea how much this means to me.

Though I think I'm going to stick to pursuing the masters first. I think it would be better if I have somewhat of a background in the field before applying for PHd programs. That way I know what I'm getting into. The University of Hawaii is actually my state uni (like I said, grew up by the ocean), though I really wouldn't want to go back home (but it would be easier for me to get in if i have to resort to it). I saw some other good programs at UC santa cruz and Texas AM, that also have MS programs -- I'm going to look into those schools as well.

Though what I really need right now is some way to pick up some good relevant references. Do you know of anywhere I could apply for some type of oceanography related job, or even a volunteer type position, somewhere? I saw some IT related jobs down in Scripps which I qualify for, so I think I'll submit an application to them. But do you know of anything else? What kind of work would an admission committee look for and consider related to the field?

Thanks again Usmivka!

Edited by Alphonse23
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TAMU has a well regarded program, you are correct, although I've never met anyone not in ocean engineering coming out with only an MS.

If you are really concerned about "experience in the field," I'd apply for a tech position with a physical oceanographer. Most will be happy to have a programmer. You can do this anywhere that is local to you, no need to relocate (seriously, there will be somebody even if you are in the Rockies or Midwest). Curtis Deutsch at UCLA might be a person to ask (more of a biogeochemist, but he does lots of modeling and will be clued into who there might want help). Also check the job listings, state schools are required to advertise for a couple weeks before hiring.

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I actually disagree with some of the points made here. In my program, we have about a 50/50 split of MS and PhD. Granted, it's a tiny program, but still. MS is not considered solely a consolation prize here, and I'd say about 1/3 of the PhD candidates already have MS degrees. I think all of the physical oceanographers came from an engineering/CS/math related backgrounds, and they're primarily the ones with the MS degrees since they had 0 background in anything oceanography coming out of undergrad. IIRC, I think FSU, RSMAS, and Rutgers all accept (and in some cases totally fund) MS candidates. Non-US schools are also a lot better about offering that track, so I agree with all the schools already listed by others.

That said, I think usmivka and rockbender made a lot of good points, too. For example, working as a lab technician might help you get more familiar with what oceanography is all about.

Also: even though earth/ocean sciences may be relatively less competitive than other programs, don't switch to it thinking it's an easy ride, because it's still tough :P but it is super fun, I'd say B)

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  • 1 year later...

If you can afford UCSC, it has some great programs.  I just didn't find much funding there, or anywhere in CA for that matter.  But last year was tough for funding with the sequester.  Texas A&M has good funding.  I don't know anything about Hawaii.


I would say that you could drum up interest if you made visits to a few schools that you would consider.  Being able to put a face with a name on an application is a good thing.  When it comes down to a bunch of applicants all being equal, I think the personal touch is what sways the decision.


Good luck!

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So, all things being equal, atmospheric science and climatology would be really effective ways to integrate your CS background as well - your CS background would probably again be a positive rather than a deficiency in most cases. I've gathered that your interest in oceanography is stemming from past experience, but I figured I'd throw it out there for you to ponder. After all, ocean, atmospheric, and climate science are all very closely related and have a lot of overlap in research - especially with regard to methods where your CS background would be most useful. If nothing else, broadening your scope with these will give you many more schools and PI's research to look into to perhaps find that 'eureka!' project that really gets you going. 

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