Graduate Program Overview

The Ocean Sciences Department offers both Master of Science and Doctorate degree programs. The graduate programs in ocean sciences are designed to prepare students for careers in research, teaching, and other environmentally related endeavors. The fundamental requirement for admission to the program is substantial evidence of superior scholarship and aptitude for original research. Preparation for admission to the graduate program in Ocean Sciences should comprise an undergraduate degree in the discipline of one of the program specialty areas (e.g., biology or marine biology, geology or earth sciences, chemistry, or physical science) or an equivalent background. If a student does not have a degree in one of these areas, the student must demonstrate to their sponsor that they have taken the classes necessary to do their research.

In addition to the core department faculty, affiliated faculty includes faculty from related disciplines within biology, chemistry, Earth sciences, environmental studies, and physics who sponsor students in the program. 

Ocean Sciences Ph.D. Degree Program

The program leading to a doctorate in ocean sciences is designed around a core training in oceanography for all students, supplemented and focused by advanced training in oceanography and in the traditional disciplines—biology, chemistry, Earth sciences, and physics—as chosen by the student and his or her advisers. The core training is provided through courses in ocean sciences; a subset of which is taken by all students in the first two years and reinforced by the student's seminars throughout the program. Preparation also includes upper-division/graduate courses in ocean sciences and in the specialty discipline, graduate seminars, independent study research credits, participation in a departmental student seminar series, and a minimum requirement of two quarters as a teaching assistant. There is no formal language requirement.

A scheduling meeting in the first quarter of enrollment is used to map out the course program in the first year. The course program is determined by a faculty advisory committee in consultation with the student, and courses are drawn from ocean sciences and other science departments (e.g., biology, chemistry, Earth sciences, physics). A departmental oral examination covering material from the core courses is usually taken at the beginning of a student's second year in the program and must be completed successfully within two years of entering the program. The purpose of this examination is to ensure that the doctoral student candidate has acquired sufficient fundamental knowledge of oceanography to proceed toward the doctoral degree.

A qualifying examination requiring a written research proposal to be defended orally in front of the student's Qualifying Examination Committee is normally taken during the third or fourth year of the program. A dissertation, demonstrating original thought and research, must be written, presented in an open seminar, and defended to the student's Dissertation Reading Committee. Students are strongly encouraged to prepare their dissertation in a form suitable for publication.

Sample Pathways

The pathways within the Ocean Sciences Ph.D. program are differentiated from related degrees in the traditional disciplines by their focus on global-scale problems and interactions, a focus on the ocean, and their inherently interdisciplinary approach. Interdisciplinary projects across and between pathways are encouraged, as are interactions with faculty in related departments.

Biological Oceanography

This area of study involves the interactions of organisms with their chemical and physical environments. It includes research on the physiology and ecology of organisms, but differs from marine biology in its focus on the oceanographic setting of the organism in relationship to, for example, biogeochemical cycling and the effects of ocean currents on distributions of organisms. The focus is mainly on small oceanic life-forms (plankton and bacteria, molecular ecology) and their roles in the biogeochemical cycles of marine systems.

Chemical Oceanography

Chemical interactions of trace metals and radionuclides in the sea are the focus of this area of study. Research includes development of analytical techniques, measurement of trace species in seawater, and investigation of the effects and interactions of trace elements on biological processes using analytical and isotopic approaches.

Geological Oceanography

Paleoceanography, paleoclimatology, and sediment geochemistry are the focus in this pathway. Research areas include the history of global geochemical cycles and composition of the ocean on various timescales, the fate and diagenesis of materials in sediments and their contribution to the paleoceanographic record, understanding ocean and climate history by the use of records of stable isotopes and trace elements, and paleoclimate modeling.

Physical Oceanography

The physics and dynamics of the ocean and atmosphere are the main aspects of this program. Research includes observational, computational, theoretical, and experimental physical oceanography, geophysical fluid dynamics, ocean acoustics, dynamical meteorology, climate, and global change.

Requirements for Ph.D. Students in the Ocean Sciences Department

To introduce students to the breadth and depth of the field of ocean sciences, students will be required to complete the following.

  1. The four core Ocean Sciences courses are expected to be completed in the first year of the program prior to taking the departmental oral examination: OCEA 200, Physical Oceanography; OCEA 220, Chemical Oceanography; OCEA 230, Biological Oceanography; and OCEA 280, Marine Geology.

  2. A minimum of three graduate-level or upper-division elective courses is required to provide depth in the chosen area of emphasis or supporting disciplines. These courses are selected in consultation with the student's adviser and the department's graduate advising committee (a maximum of one course may be a graduate-level seminar (OCEA 290), and at least two courses must be graduate or upper-division undergraduate lecture courses).

  3. OCEA 292, Ocean Sciences Seminar series. Attendance required each quarter of enrollment.

  4. OCEA 296, Teaching in Ocean Sciences, taken prior to, or concurrent with, being a teaching assistant. Generally offered during the fall quarter each year.

  5. Teaching experience is satisfied by two quarters of teaching assistant experience in Ocean Sciences or related departments.

  6. A minimum of three courses in Independent Studies (OCEA 297, before advancing to candidacy), or Thesis Research (OCEA 299, after advancing to candidacy) under the direction of a sponsor. Students beyond their first year will usually take 10 or 15 credits of Independent Study or Thesis Research each quarter.

  7. Pass a departmental oral examination. The purpose of this examination is to ensure that the doctoral student candidate has acquired sufficient fundamental knowledge of oceanography to proceed toward the doctoral degree.

  8. Pass the qualifying examination to advance to candidacy. This examination requires a written research proposal to be defended orally in front of the student's Qualifying Examination Committee.

  9. Ph.D. dissertation. The Ph.D. dissertation, demonstrating original thought and research, must be written, presented in an open seminar, and defended to the student's Dissertation Reading Committee. It is intended to help guide and evaluate the student's program, study, and progress.

Ocean Sciences Master's Degree Program

The Ocean Sciences Department offers a Master of Science (M.S.) degree in ocean sciences. The Ocean Sciences M.S. degree can be attained through Plan I (thesis, minimum 44 credits) or Plan II (coursework, minimum 42 credits). The degree combines core courses and electives to provide depth and breadth in the ocean sciences. Graduates from the program are exceptionally prepared to take research or management positions in organizations concerned with the marine environment, to become educators, or to enter doctoral programs in ocean sciences or related fields. The thesis M. S. degree is preparation for research careers.

Whereas the doctoral program has an oceanographic orientation, the Ocean Sciences Master's program is even broader and has traditionally attracted many students in marine biology and ecology. As with the doctoral program, students are encouraged to select a course of study and a research program that draws on the expertise of the core ocean sciences faculty and any of the affiliated faculty in other departments. Customized programs of study that combine related disciplines are supported in the Master's program.

Requirements for the Ocean Sciences Master's Degree

Plan I requirements - Thesis Master's Degree:

  1. OCEA 200 (Physical Oceanography) and any two of the remaining three core courses. Students are expected to complete all three of these courses in the first year of the program, and they should be taken in the order listed below. Students are also encouraged to take the fourth core course, in which case it can count as an elective. The courses must be taken in the following sequence: fall-OCEA 200 Physical Oceanography, and OCEA 280 Marine Geology; winter-OCEA 220 Chemical Oceanography; and spring-OCEA 230 Biological Oceanography.

  2. A minimum of two graduate-level or upper-division elective courses to provide depth in the chosen area of emphasis. At least one of these electives must be a lecture course.  Only one of these courses may be a graduate-level seminar (OCEA 290). These courses are selected in consultation with the student's adviser and the department’s Graduate Advising Committee.

  3. A minimum of three courses in Thesis Research (OCEA 299) under the direction of a sponsor. Each quarter a student should take 15 credits of classes. Students beyond their first year will usually take 10 or 15 credits of Thesis Research each quarter.
  4. OCEA 296, Teaching in Ocean Sciences, to be taken prior to or concurrent with being a teaching assistant. 

  5. A teaching requirement, satisfied by one quarter as a teaching assistant for an Ocean Sciences or supporting department’s courses.

  6. Attendance at the Ocean Sciences Seminar series (OCEA 292) each quarter of enrollment.
  7. Successful completion of a Master's thesis presented at an open seminar.

Plan II requirements - Coursework Master's (Exam) Degree:

  1. Complete all four core courses, taken in the following order: fall-OCEA 200 Physical Oceanography, and OCEA 280 Marine Geology; winter-OCEA 220 Chemical Oceanography; and spring-OCEA 230 Biological Oceanography.

  2. Complete one course in data analysis (5 credits) (Introductory Data Analysis in Ocean and Earth Sciences, OCEA 260).

  3. A minimum of three graduate-level courses is required to provide depth in the chosen area of emphasis. These courses are selected in consultation with the student's adviser and the department’s Graduate Advising Committee (a maximum of one course may be a graduate-level seminar (OCEA 290), and at least two courses must be graduate lecture courses).

  4. Attendance at the Ocean Sciences Seminar series (OCEA 292) each quarter of enrollment.

  5. Passing performance on the comprehensive written exam. 

 Details regarding admission, graduate standing, financial aid, examinations, and the requirements for the Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees are available from the Division of Graduate Studies (http://graddiv.ucsc.edu/student_affairs/).