How to Prepare

Expectations and Keys to Success in the School of Oceanography

Deciding to go to graduate school is an important choice that can determine the direction of your career. Beyond the academic instruction that graduate school provides, it also offers opportunities and experiences for future careers in teaching, scholarship, research, policy and other fields. The strength and quality of an institution is related to its academic rigor, but equally important is its commitment to supporting its students before, during and after their tenure at the institution. Finding an institution that is right for you in terms of providing the all-around support you need can mean the difference between frustration and success. Considering factors beyond the courses you will take is key to success.


Success in the School of Oceanography depends significantly on effective and regular communication between you and your prospective mentor. In graduate school, you will be taking courses and working on a research project under the guidance of one or more faculty mentors, who will help you design and execute your research project and who will provide you with guidance as you navigate graduate school and look for a future career. Success depends on having a good working relationship with this mentor, and having effective communication about the expectations for working in their lab. Although the guidelines below are outlined as broad expectations for graduate students in the School of Oceanography, communicating with your prospective mentor about your academic and research preparation and expectations once you arrive, will enhance your success as a graduate student. If you are unsure whether the courses you have taken are sufficient for success in the School of Oceanography, reach out to your prospective mentor and discuss options. They will have the best advice for you based on your proposed research project, and the courses you will be expected to take.

Academic Preparation

The academic preparation necessary for success in graduate school at the School of Oceanography varies depending on your option (Marine Geology and Geophysics, Physical Oceanography, Chemical Oceanography and Biological Oceanography). Success in graduate level courses in each option usually depends on prospective students having taken at least one advanced (upper division) course related to that option. For example, in Physical Oceanography most incoming graduate students have taken advanced mathematics courses in differential equations, others. In Chemical Oceanography, most incoming graduate students have taken one or more advanced chemistry courses in either inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, or physical chemistry. In Marine Geology and Geophysics, incoming graduate students have usually taken advanced courses in petrology, others. In Biological Oceanography, many incoming graduate students have taken advanced courses in microbiology, ecology, or bioinformatics. It is rare for incoming graduate students to have had formal academic training in oceanography. More often, incoming students have had a strong preparation in one of the natural sciences, engineering or mathematics  their main option. As a graduate student, you will be expected to take courses inside and outside your chosen option, and these courses will largely consist of reading foundational or cutting edge scientific papers on the topic, solving problem sets with realistic applications to oceanographic questions, or writing research proposals related to the topic. Having a strong fundamental background in your option will allow you to apply this knowledge to oceanographic problems in your graduate courses.

Research Preparation

Almost all of the incoming graduate students at the School of Oceanography have had some prior research experience in oceanography, or a related field. Previous research experience is highly valued in our school, and is one of the best ways to prepare for success in graduate school in Oceanography. These experiences enable prospective students to decide if they enjoy research, feel comfortable problem solving, are confident in often self-guided research, and can adjust their research plan depending on outcomes. Graduate students are expected to be able to implement a research plan after discussion with their mentor, and to adjust that research plan if necessary. This often involves periods of self-guided and self-motivated research, reaching out to others with different expertise, learning new skill sets, or trouble-shooting lab experiments, code, or field plans. Distinct from undergraduate research, graduate students are expected to take ownership of their masters or thesis project and become a true expert in their research topic. Previous research experiences that have enabled you to contribute to or execute a completed research project, help design or envision a research plan, and/or write up or present the research findings, are excellent preparation for success in the School of Oceanography.