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GeoConnection Webinar:
Geoscience Careers at the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

This webinar is part of the GeoConnection Careers series of webinars in which leaders from different employment sectors discuss prospects for careers for geoscientists in their field. There are many career opportunities for geoscientists at NOAA. Listen to this webinar to hear about the career paths of three NOAA scientists, and find out how to get your foot in the door. Following the panel presentations, you can listen to the open discussion period in which audience members from around the world to ask questions of the panelists.

Our panelists include:

Dr. Diane Stanitski, Climatologist & Program Manager, NOAA

Dr. Rick Lumpkin, Physical Oceanographer, NOAA

LCDR Michael J. Silah, Chief of Staff, Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, NOAA


Additional Questions & Answers from the Webinar:

Q: Could I go into physical oceanography with a BS in meteorology if I decided climateology/atmospheric research isn't for me?

A (Rick Lumpkin): Absolutely! Meteorology and Physical Oceanography share a lot of background; even the same equations are used to describe the large-scale atmosphere and ocean. As long as you’ve taken some calculus and done well in the meteorology classes, your application for graduate school should be taken very seriously.

Q: When in your academic career did you know what you wanted to specialize in?

A (Rick Lumpkin): I knew I wanted to be a scientist for as long as I can remember, but didn’t seriously consider oceanography until I was a few years into my undergraduate work. As I started my graduate studies and began thinking about what I would do for my PhD, I realized that my greatest love was collecting and analyzing observations. That’s what I’ve done ever since.

Q: If I was interested in physical oceanography, or climate/atmospheric research, would a BS in computer science and minor in either physics or geoscience be enough to get into a position that didn't involve sitting behind a desk all day?

A (Rick Lumpkin): Yes, with a computer science background you could consider a science support position. For example, you could be responsible for processing data collected from ships, and would need to go to sea on research cruises. You could also chose to be a “research assistant”, someone who is expected to have both computer science and research background, although that would be a more desk-intensive position. If you’re interested in positions like these at my laboratory, we advertise them through the University of Miami at

Q: If you struggle at first in school and your G.P.A. suffers but manage to pull your grades up over time, can you still be a competitive candidate for graduate school and internships?

A (Rick Lumpkin): Yes, especially if you write a good application letter addressing this explicitly. Let the graduate school know that you have matured, have applied yourself and are finishing strong. Make this into a selling point!

Q: Is age much of a factor? (e.g. late start in career, Ph.D. at ~40yr. = difficult to get in a scientific position?) Are starting positions "junior" ?

A (Rick Lumpkin): Age isn’t a factor for federal or joint institute positions, and shouldn’t be a factor for graduate schools as well. I’m currently on the hiring committee for two positions at my laboratory, and we don’t ask for or consider age … just abilities.

Q: How much time is required to be away from family or just to have personal time?

A (Rick Lumpkin): My position requires going to sea, and time away from family is the worst part of going to sea (there are many positives!). Many modern ships have satellite internet access, though, so you can stay in touch via e-mail. When at home, I work around 45-50 hours per week and have plenty of personal time.

Q: Wow, you did a postoc in France? Did you work with Infremer? How does one get an opportunity like that? Is it possible to do it as an undergrad?

A (Rick Lumpkin): Yes, my postdoc was at the Laboratoire de Physique des Océans at the IFREMER campus near Brest. The French government funded my postdoc, which was a Chateaubriand fellowship (see I didn’t work with any undergraduates at the IFREMER campus, but there was a nearby university that was affiliated with some IFREMER activities: the Université de Bretagne Occidentale ( I would recommend searching there for possible French undergrad positions in Physical Oceanography that would involve seagoing work.

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