Brian Kennedy is a NOAA Corps Officer for NOAA with a Marine Biology degree who helps facilitate research and gets to experience all sorts of ocean science discoveries! Read the full text of Brian's interview below to learn more about his job.
What is your title?
I am a NOAA Corps Officer on board the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer.
Where do you work?
I work all over the world. Wherever the ship goes is my home and office. In the last 18 months we have worked in Indonesia, Costa Rica, the Galapagos, Panama, the Cayman Islands, the Gulf of Mexico, and up and down both coasts of the United States including Hawaii.
Do you travel often?
I get the opportunity to travel often. Not only is the ship continually moving from one research area to another, but I often get the opportunity to attend training all over the country. In the last two years the ship has worked in Indonesia, Costa Rica, the Galapagos, Panama, the Cayman Islands, the Gulf of Mexico, and up and down both coasts of the United States including Hawaii.
It varies from year to year. There have been a few years that I’ve been on dozens of different committees and we go to meetings, oh, I would say maybe 2 or 3 weeks out of the month, a few days each. Recently, I’ve traveled a few times a year but now, on longer trips like2, 4, 6-week-long sea tests.
What are the educational requirements for your job?
In order to join NOAA Corps you must have at least a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering with course work in physics and calculus. After you are accepted you must complete a multi-month training program to learn how to handle and navigate ships.
What is the salary range for someone with your type of job?
NOAA Corps officers are paid on the same scale that U.S. Naval officers are. The starting salary for an Ensign is about $35,000 per year including housing.
How many hours do you work per week?
While the ship is in port we work a normal 40 hour week plus being on call a couple nights a week if something comes up on the ship. While the ship is underway it is not uncommon to work 9-11 hrs a day 7 days a week.
Tell us about your research and the types of things you do.
The Okeanos Explorer is America’s ship for ocean exploration. The Okeanos systematically explores areas of the world’s ocean that have been understudied or have never been studied before. We employ a wide breadth of sensors and equipment that allow us to quickly characterize areas of the sea floor. We have a high resolution multibeam mapping sonar, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and a full suite of chemical sensors on our CTD (an instrument that measures conductivity, temperature and depth). The goal of the ship is to explore an area and get a basic understanding of what is there, then move on to the next area of interest. Then another team’s specialists can come back and conduct more detailed analysis of the area.
What is the most fascinating thing you have ever seen or done?
One of the best things about my job is that I get to do some new and fascinating things and there is no way for me to pick just one. Some of the images the ROV has returned have been simply jaw-dropping: creatures never before seen by human eyes that bioluminesce in the water so strongly that dolphins swimming next to the ship leave glowing contrails 10 meters long, diving on the ship’s hull in over 3000 meters of water to remove fishing gear the was entangled in the ship’s propellers. Routinely, I get to see or do something new which is one of the wonderful things about my job.
What are the personal rewards of your work?
Being part of uncovering the mystery of the deep ocean and helping to facilitate discoveries that literally rewrite the textbooks has a huge personal reward for me.
How does your work benefit the public?
I believe that knowledge is intrinsically valuable to the public. We do not know what we are going to find until we go out and look. It has been said that we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the surface of the deep ocean.
What else could someone with your background do?
I have a Bachelor’s degree in marine biology and a minor in geology so I could work as a research assistant in a lab or in the field. If someone was interested in following a career in marine science, an advanced degree is really necessary.
What sparked your initial interest in ocean sciences?
When I was about five or six I was on a vacation with my parents in the Florida Keys and we encountered an adult manatee in a harbor on the North side of Marathon Key. As my parents tell the story it was like the light bulb turned on over my head and I have wanted to be involved in marine science ever since.
Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?
My parents had a huge impact on my career choices. They were always encouraging me to pursue my dreams and helping make opportunities become realities whenever possible. Several teachers also stand out. In high school my Ocean Sciences Bowl Coach Vicki Souter helped me make many contacts that were very influential later in my life. In College Dr. Leslie Sautter and Dr. Gorka Sancho, both at the College of Charleston, had a lot of influence on my decision to join NOAA.
Looking back, was there anything you would have done differently in your education or career journey?
Not really, I am very happy where I am right now.
What obstacles did you encounter along the way?
There are always obstacles that everyone encounters but the biggest thing I can say about obstacles is that you must be persistent to get by them. Do not give up easily. If you need to make a dozen phone calls, then make them. If someone tells you to call back, then call back. I was trying to get an internship researching right whales and they did not really think I was qualified for it. So they tactfully told me to call back in a month. So I did and when I did they told me to call back in two weeks. This went on for almost 6 months until they finally gave up and let me have the internship. It turned out to be one of the coolest experiences I have ever had. Well worth the couple dozen phone calls I had to make.
What are your hobbies?
I am an avid SCUBA diver, kayaker, I enjoy photography, and I have my private pilot’s license.