Robert Ballard: OceanAGE Career Profile
Meet Dr. Robert (Bob) Ballard. Perhaps best known for his investigations of the Titanic shipwreck, Bob Ballard is a visionary oceanographer who is continually extending our reach and understanding of the underwater world. Click on the photos above to hear Bob Ballard talk about his job, telepresence, and what it's like to be an ocean explorer. Read the full text of Bob's interview below to learn more about his job.
About the Job
What is your title?
Where do you work?
I work at the University of Rhode Island, Graduate School of Oceanography.
Do you travel often?
What are the educational requirements for your job?
Having a bachelors of science, a masters of science, and doctorate degrees.
What is the salary range for someone with your type of job?
Senior oceanographers make between $100,000 and $150,000 a year as full professors.
How many hours do you work per week?
I work approximately 60 hours a week.
Tell us about your research and the types of things you do.
Developing a new graduate program in archaeological oceanography at the University of Rhode Island and working with the first group of graduate students, our continuing research in the Black Sea, improving our telepresence program via the Immersion Institute, and looking forward to NOAA's new ship of exploration, the Okeanos Explorer, coming online...too many things to list.
What is the most fascinating thing you have ever seen or done?
I think the most fascinating thing I ever saw were the creatures living in and around deep-sea vents.
What are the personal rewards of your work?
That you can excite and motivate young people to become life-long learners of science and technology.
How does your work benefit the public?
Greater understanding of the world around us, awareness of conservation issues, increasing our use of advanced technology.
What else could someone with your background do?
Teach, lecture, and conduct expeditions.
What sparked your initial interest in ocean sciences?
Growing up in Southern California, spending a summer working at Scripps, and going to graduate school at the University of Hawaii gave me a good perspective on the vastness of the world oceans. I was fascinated and wanted to explore that secret world.
I was heavily influenced by books, movies, and television programs about the undersea world including "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," "Sea Hunter," and the "Underwater World of Jacques Cousteau."
I graduated from a passive interest in the underwater world to an active interest when I learned how to SCUBA dive. That was when I saw the true beauty of this hidden world.
As time went on, I graduated from SCUBA diving to deep-diving submersibles, reaching depths of 20,000 feet. At first, I thought the only way to appreciate the underwater world was to "physically" descend beneath the waves and "see" it first hand. But few people have this opportunity and even those who can, the journey is long, frustrating, and very expensive for what little time you can spend there.
Then I began to develop deep-sea robots to take me. These robots are called Remotely Operated Vehicles or ROVs.
At first, they were primitive vehicles like ARGO that I used to discover the Titanic and Bismark. Their cameras were black and white and in no way equaled the experience of looking out of the view port of my submersible.
But then, in the early 1980s, there was a series of technological breakthroughs that would change everything, the first of which was fiber-optic cable. Instead of using copper cables through which I was transmitting my black and white images of the Titanic using ARGO in 1985, I could now use fiber-optic cable to transmit beautiful, high-definition color images of the Titanic using my new ROV HERCULES in 2004.
Another breakthrough was the recent development of Internet2, the new SUPER information highway.
Then the bulb in my head went off. Why not bring all of this together? My love of the undersea world and a desire to share that love with everyone in a way that would not destroy the very thing we loved. Why not take people who will never go themselves to this world and let them see why these wonders of the underwater world and help protect them for future generations?
Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?
My father, Chet Ballard.
Looking back, was there anything you would have done differently in your education or career journey?
I might have taken more courses in the humanities.
What obstacles did you encounter along the way?
My biggest obstacles have been people who are threatened by my accomplishments as well as those who lack vision.
What are your hobbies?
Fishing, horseback riding.
Growing up in Southern California I enjoyed playing in the tide pools along Mission Bay.
1965 - B.S. Physical Sciences - University of California, Santa Barbara
1974 - PhD in Marine Geology and Geophysics - University of Rhode Island's Graduate School in Oceanography
First Career-related Job:
Working at Ocean Systems Group
Employment Journey/Career Transitions:
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution:
1969 -1974: Research Associate, Ocean Engineering Department
1974 -1976: Assistant Scientist, Geology and Geophysics Department
1976 -1978: Associate Scientist, Geology and Geophysics Department
1978 -1979: Associate Scientist, Ocean Engineering Department
1980 -1983: Associate Scientist, Ocean Engineering Department (Tenured)
1983 -present: Senior Scientist, Department of Applied Ocean Physics & Engineering (Tenured)
1983 -present: Founder, Deep Submergence Laboratory
1989 -1995: Director, Center for Marine Exploration
1979 -present: Scientist Emeritus
University of Rhode Island, Graduate School of Oceanography:
2002 -present: Professor of Oceanography (Tenured)
2002 -present: Director and Founder, Institute for Archaeological Oceanography
University of California, Santa Barbara:
2003 -present: Adjunct Professor, Department of Geology
1979 -1980: Visiting Scholar, Stanford University Geology Department
1980 -1981: Consulting Professor, Stanford University Geology Department
Institute for Exploration:
1995 - present: President and Founder
Honorary Doctoral Degrees:
1986 - Clark University
1986 - University of Rhode Island
1986 - Southeastern Massachusetts University
1987 - Long Island University, Southampton
1988 - University of Bath, England
1990 - Tufts University
1991 - Lenoir-Rhyne College
1992 - Skidmore College
1992 - Worcester Polytechnic Institute
1993 - Bridgewater State College
1993 - Lehigh University
1994 - Maine Maritime Academy
1994 - Massachusetts Maritime Academy
2000 - University of Wisconsin
2001 - University of Hartford
2001 - University of Delaware
For More Information
Print and Web Resources
This site, sponsored by NOAA's National Sea Grant College Program, introduces a wide range of marine career fields and people working in those fields. Professionals describe what they like and dislike about their careers, what they see for the future in their fields, and much more. The site also provides salary and other pertinent career information.