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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Career Opportunities in the Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences

The large majority of individuals with a bachelor’s degree in Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences obtain jobs in their field. Initially this may require moving to places where jobs are available, although later in their career they will probably find jobs in the geographical area of their choice.

The National Weather Service (NWS) has upgraded its requirements for employment as a meteorologist to include a bachelor’s degree in Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences. At present the hiring rate is very low, being influenced by retirements and restructuring within the organization. The NWS has indicated a preference for students with additional coursework at the graduate level. Positions are sometimes available with the Environmental Protection Agency and with some state governments and municipalities. These positions usually involve monitoring and forecasting air quality.

There has been a pronounced growth of opportunities in the private sector, primarily with relatively small consulting firms. These usually specialize in providing weather forecasts tailored to the particular needs of their clients, including utilities, shipping, agri-businesses, commodities brokers, and engineering concerns. These private firms also provide customized forecasts to local radio stations for broadcasts.

Positions are available in television and radio. In the past most TV weathercasters were announcers with little or no training in atmospheric sciences. Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences graduates who have a suitable voice and presence for radio or TV are now preferred. As more sophisticated weather information, such as that provided by satellites and radar, become available for public display, TV stations rely more and more on trained atmospheric scientists.

Career opportunities also exist in the armed services, particularly the Air Force. Some students begin their training for these positions by joining the Reserve Officer Training Corps while in college.

There are also opportunities for teaching atmospheric and oceanic sciences. Students who plan to teach science at the high school level take a number of atmospheric and oceanic sciences courses to enhance their earth sciences or general science courses. Teaching at the college level almost always requires a Ph.D. degree. In the larger universities teaching duties are combined with research work. These teachers train future atmospheric scientists and offer general courses for students in other majors.

Many students who obtain their masters degree or Ph.D. in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences go into research to better understand the atmosphere and its interaction with the rest of the earth system. In addition to universities there are positions available in a wide variety of federal government agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Environmental Protection Agency, and government funded laboratories such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research. There are many private research companies that have been formed which do contract work for these government agencies.

In addition to obtaining a good training in atmospheric and oceanic sciences, it is advantageous to acquire background in a related field such as computer science, chemistry, electronics, or agriculture. It should be noted that a person earning a bachelors degree within the College of Letters and Science is also a good candidate for employment in a number of areas not directly involving atmospheric sciences. Education in mathematics and science along with liberal arts is a valuable combination.