Catalina Martinez

Meet Catalina Martinez

Catalina Martinez is a physical scientist with NOAA's Office of Exploration and Research who loves to share her experiences and research with everyone! Read the full text of Catalina's interview below to learn more about her job.

About the Job

What is your title?

My title is Physical Scientist, but I wear many hats in my position with NOAA. I work predominantly as a project manager/expedition coordinator, and manage the regional office in Rhode Island as the liaison between NOAA and the University of Rhode Island and the Institute for Exploration. I also work as part of the outreach.

Where do you work?

I have an office at the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography in Narragansett, RI.

Do you travel often?

I do get to travel quite a bit for work, mostly to attend meetings and conferences, and also to access ports associated with expeditions. I am at sea on average, two to three months per year, experiencing the excitement of discovery of the oceans first-hand. I have been very fortunate!

What are the educational requirements for your job?

To obtain a position with NOAA as a physical scientist or project manager you must compete with a highly skilled and well-educated labor force. You need, at minimum, a bachelor's degree in an environmental science or policy related field, and should consider a graduate degree. Without a graduate degree it might be difficult to advance within your field.

What is the salary range for someone with your type of job?

The salary for any Government job depends greatly on location, education level, and previous experience. I started in NOAA as a Federal Government ZP 13/3 (Government positions have 'levels' and 'grades' associated with them), with two relevant master's degrees, and quite a bit of experience, including one year as a Dean John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellow working in the same position. The salary range for this level position is about $60,000 - $80,000 per year.

How many hours do you work per week?

The number of hours I work per week varies considerably depending on what my work load is at the time, what my level of responsibilities are for any given project, and whether I am on land or at sea. My standard work week on land is 40 hours, but I typically put in about 45-50 hours, and more when necessary. When I am at sea I work between 10 - 18 hours per day, seven days a week, as the intensity of all positions increases substantially during an expedition. There's a lot of work to do, and each day must be extremely productive, as the opportunities afforded participants are rare. I realize how fortunate I am to experience these exciting cruises first-hand, so working long hours is not 'drudgery,' by any means!

Job Duties

Tell us about your research and the types of things you do.

I have been very fortunate to participate in many exciting research cruises to various parts of the world's ocean. As a project manager, I work with the scientists who are supported by our office through the grant proposal acceptance stage, through planning the expeditions, implementing various activities to meet objectives, and then follow-up with post-cruise requirements. One of the most enjoyable aspects of my job is being able to share the excitement of these expeditions with the general public through various direct and indirect outreach and education efforts. My role is evolving right now, as we are developing a partnership with the University of Rhode Island and the Institute for Exploration to work together when our new ship of exploration (the Okeanos Explorer) comes on line in late 2007.

What is the most fascinating thing you have ever seen or done?

The most fascinating thing I have ever done is dive in the DSV Alvin to about 2500 meters at the base of a seamount in the Gulf of Alaska. It was amazing. Absolutely a dream come true. If you are interested in learning more about this once in a lifetime experience, visit the Gulf of Alaska 2004 Exploration.

What are the personal rewards of your work?

The personal rewards of my work come in several places. It is very rewarding to participate in an expedition and see it through to its successful completion. It takes a great deal of effort and resources to execute a cruise successfully, but it is not until you can take a minute and stand back from the energy and chaos that you recognize your accomplishments and experience the sense of reward. It is also intensely rewarding to share the excitement of my work with teachers, students, and the general public. The direct outreach I am involved in certainly provides the deepest sense of reward.

How does your work benefit the public?

My work benefits the public through supporting the expeditions as project manager/expedition coordinator, and also through sharing the excitement of discovery with the general public.

What else could someone with your background do?

There are many different paths a person could take with my background. Many oceanographers choose to continue with research after graduate school. Others elect to leave science and work as Program/Project Managers for Government agencies or Non-Governmental Agencies. That's sort of the role I chose after graduate school. Still others may choose to do something else altogether such as work for private industry or teach full-time. There is really no limit to what you can do, and even if you decide that you don't want to work in your particular field of study after some time, an education is never wasted! It’s perfectly alright to switch career paths and elect to do something completely different.

About Catalina

What sparked your initial interest in ocean sciences?

This is a tough question to answer, as I'm not exactly sure what sparked my interest in ocean sciences. I grew up in a tenement house on the outskirts of housing projects in Providence, Rhode Island. I spent some time around lakes and ponds as a child, but although I lived in the 'Ocean State,' I had very little exposure to the seashore. We had very little science instruction in the Providence Public Schools, and certainly did not learn about ocean sciences. Somehow, growing up in the cement world of Providence, devoid of proper science instruction, I was still always fascinated by nature and by any and all water bodies - even puddles! I wanted to know what creatures lived in them and what the bottom looked like... so maybe my career path was inevitable? As soon as I was able, I started to explore the coastline in Rhode Island, and I have been in love with the ocean ever since.

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

There have been several major influences in my life. Starting at a very young age, my grandfather, Armando Martinez, was a great influence in my life. My grandfather did not seem to like people very much, but he loved all other living creatures, especially birds. His love of the natural world was contagious, and although he is now deceased, I think of him often. Other major influences in my life were my mother and brother, who developed wonderful, productive lives despite significant adversity. I have also acquired a strong group of friends over the years that have provided the support and guidance necessary to remain on track and pursue my educational/career goals. A main source of support has come through my good friend Rob DeBlois, Director of UCAP School in Providence, RI. Rob is a quadriplegic, and the most productive, inspirational (and incorrigible) person you will ever meet. He taught me that it is possible to achieve anything, so long as you are truly determined. The most consistent source of support and encouragement in my life has come from my best friend Valerie Tutson, a Professional Storyteller and performer, and all-around amazing woman. Through her I learned to 'embrace all that I am' in every aspect of my life, including my career. This very simple statement has made an enormous impact on my life, and reminds me of my personal strengths and cultural heritage as I continue to pursue this non-traditional career path as a Latina.

Looking back, was there anything you would have done differently in your education or career journey?

I dropped out of high school at the age of 16, as it was necessary for me to work full-time. I spent many years chipping away at an education one course at a time in the evenings until I could finally enter a 4-year university as a full-time student. Needless to say, it took a long time to get through my undergraduate degree program. I wish my home situation had been different when I was a child so that I could have taken advantage of my high school education and gone directly on to college after graduation. High school is a critical time to obtain a good base of knowledge to prepare students for further study. Although all high schools are certainly not equal in the opportunities afforded students and the variety and level of courses offered, each student should be provided appropriate guidance so that they can get as much out of their time in high school as possible.

What obstacles did you encounter along the way?

The social/economic and cultural structure a child is born into is likely to dictate access to opportunities and resources on all levels, including quality of education, and thus future prospects. Jonathan Kozol calls this 'the chance of birth,' and it can result in enormous advantage or incredible disadvantage. The obstacles I encountered along the way are not unlike those encountered by all individuals who come from urban poor backgrounds. Through determination, hard work, and maybe a bit of luck, none of these obstacles resulted in complete barriers to my progress - just some minor detours!

What are your hobbies?

My hobbies include pretty much anything outdoors. I love to hike and explore, SCUBA and snorkel, kayak, bike, and run. I also love spending time with my friends and family, experiencing live theater and music, dancing, and attending events that lead to a greater understanding of various cultures.

Career Timeline

Interests in Elementary School:

I don't really remember Elementary School, but I do have memories of always being interested in nature as a young child. I have memories of turning rocks over to see what critters would scurry away, looking for bird's nests, catching tadpoles and turtles in ponds, and playing with dragonflies.

Beginning of Interest in Marine Sciences:

I was in my early twenties before I really developed a strong interest in marine sciences, as I was not really exposed to the sea as a child. As stated earlier, I was always fascinated by the natural world, especially water bodies. I found them mysterious and full of amazing creatures, and wanted to learn as much as I could about them, but 'marine science' did not play a role in my life until I was an adult.

First Marine Science Class:

I don't think I took a true marine science class until graduate school, but as an undergraduate, I worked in a laboratory that focused on fish endocrinology, and worked on projects related to marine habitat conservation.


1989 - Associate Degree in Medical Assisting from New England Technical College in Rhode Island
1997 - BS in Zoology from the University of Rhode Island (URI)
2000 - MS in Oceanography from URI's Graduate School of Oceanography
2002 - MA in Marine Affairs from URI

First Career-related Job:

I had a career in human service prior to studying the ocean, so I will focus here on my first career-related job in marine science that involved a research project I worked on in Puerto Rico in 1996 as an undergraduate. I wrote a grant proposal to the Michael P. Metcalf Foundation that was funded, and so I was able to spend a summer living on a small mangrove island off the Southwest coast of Puerto Rico called Isla Magueyes. I worked on a project that was a collaboration between URI and the University of Puerto Rico linking habitat with life history stage of a commercially important fish called white grunts.

Employment Journey/Career Transitions:

Prior to enrolling in a four-year college as a full time student, I spent many years working in an alternative middle school for students at serious risk of dropping out. This very special school is located in Providence, RI, and it is called the Urban Collaborative Accelerated Program (UCAP). During the time I worked at UCAP, I took one college course each semester at several different state colleges, chipping away at the major course requirements for a Bachelor’s degree. Once I could finally enroll in college as a full-time student, I made the decision to study science and entered the zoology program at URI. I had to continue working, so I was very fortunate to obtain a position as an overnight resident in a shelter for women and children who were victims of abuse. This was an amazing opportunity, and certainly shaped my life in many ways.

The work I did in direct human service was very important to me, and although I made the decision to pursue ocean science as a career, I have remained in touch with the 'service' aspect of my work. I incorporate a great deal of direct education and outreach into my position, and have the amazing opportunity to share the excitement of deep ocean exploration and discovery with students, teachers, and the general public through the work I do for NOAA.