Explorer-in-Training Program

As part of its mission to train the next generation of ocean explorers, scientists, engineers, and communicators, the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) hosts students in the Explorer-in-Training Program. These interns gain valuable, interdisciplinary experience in ocean exploration while collaborating on OER projects and expeditions. Explorer-in-Training internships enable students to increase their competitiveness for educational and career opportunities in ocean-related fields.

Standing Watch:  Explorers in Training Laura Almodovar, Victoria Dickey, and Kelsey Lane standing mapping watch at the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center. Image Credits: CCOM

Standing Watch: Explorers-in-Training Laura Almodovar, Victoria Dickey, and Kelsey Lane standing mapping watch at the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center. Image courtesy of CCOM. Download larger version (jpg, 2.8 MB).

The NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) provides the nation with unparalleled capacity to discover and investigate new oceanic regions and phenomena, conduct the basic research required to document discoveries, and seamlessly disseminate data and information-rich products to a multitude of users. OER strives to provide resources, develop technological solutions, and innovate applications to address critical problems in undersea exploration. A fundamental part of the OER mission is the engagement of the marine science community and the general public and the training of the next generation of explorers.

The 2000 President’s Panel on Ocean Exploration Report, Discovering Earth’s Final Frontier: A U.S. Strategy for Ocean Exploration, calls for a national ocean exploration program to “train the next generation of ocean explorers." One of the many ways that OER addresses this goal is through a partnership with the Cooperative Program for the Advancement of Earth System Science (CPAESS), a community program of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), to coordinate opportunities for students to gain valuable experience in ocean exploration.

One of the ways that accomplishes its goals is through exploration on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer—the nation’s only federal vessel dedicated to ocean exploration. The ship is equipped with advanced tools that support systematic exploration of unknown ocean regions. High-resolution sonars, deepwater remotely operated vehicles, and telepresence technology are used to collect baseline information in unexplored areas. Real-time collaboration with scientists and other experts at Exploration Command Centers around the world enables rapid dissemination of information-rich products to the scientific community, allowing them to directly participate in expeditions, even from shore. Telepresence technology ensures that data from new discoveries are available almost immediately to experts in relevant disciplines for further analysis and research. OER also supports deep-ocean exploration expeditions through a competitive grants program and by partnering with a wide range of organizations. This combination of onshore and offshore efforts allows OER to maximize its capacity for exploration and discovery.

About the Explorer-in-Training Program

A 245 km long section of Horizon Tablemount mapped during strategic Transits of four cruises. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

A 245-kilometer-long section of Horizon Tablemount mapped during strategic transits of four cruises. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. Download image (jpg, 255 KB).

Since 2009, CPAESS/UCAR and OER have hosted over 120 Explorers-in-Training. For many, this first experiential opportunity was invaluable in subsequent academic and career pursuits. OER continues to seek opportunities to work with external groups to train the next generation of explorers. OER also hosts graduate and undergraduate students as Explorers-in-Training in collaboration with NOAA’s Educational Partnership Program and "Cooperative Science Centers.

The Explorer-in-Training Program equips students with skills to meet the current and future demands of the ocean exploration workforce, providing meaningful experiential learning opportunities that support OER’s mission and inspire ocean literacy for the next generation. The program features two internship options: (a) 10-week, summertime opportunities and (b) 2 to 4-week expedition-based opportunities. The 10-week internships will give students an experiential opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge through long-term projects supported by OER mentors. The 2 to 4-week expedition-based internships will involve providing support for specific OER-supported expeditions, giving students the chance to contribute to mission efforts while gaining tangible skills that benefit their future pursuits. For 2021, 10-week Summer internships are available.

The Explorer-in-Training Program offers multiple internship themes to reflect OER’s diverse expertise, work products, and services. These themes are designed to be interdisciplinary and reflect OER’s main focus areas while providing training in critical ocean exploration mission fields. Available themes for the 2021 year include:

  • Exploration Education, Media, & Science Communication (10-week Summer internship): OER strives to engage stakeholders and improve ocean literacy of learners of all ages through our educational programs. To achieve our mission of community-driven exploration, we employ a suite of communication strategies and media tools that bring our discoveries to the public. Interns will work on cross-disciplinary projects to gain experience in scientific communication, ocean education programming, and media use.
  • Expedition Operations & Coordination (10-week Summer internship): At the forefront of OER’s activities are expeditions to explore previously unvisited areas of the ocean. To accomplish this, we develop mission plans that provide a suite of services needed to virtually take scientists and managers to high-priority, yet otherwise inaccessible, areas of the ocean aided by remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). Explorers-in-Training will gain tangible skills in operational project management, software tools to support planning and execution, and knowledge of ocean exploration data resources.
  • Ocean Exploration Science & Technology (10-week Summer internship): Exploration often leads to discoveries that highlight areas, features, resources, and/or processes that are new to ocean science and need further study. To accomplish these discoveries, OER promotes the innovative use of existing technologies while investing in new technologies that will help to better understand deepwater areas and more effectively target future research efforts.

The Explorer-in-Training Program has historically focused on hydrography and seafloor mapping. For 2021, no new applications will be accepted for a Hydrography & Seafloor Mapping internship theme. We will be giving priority to accepted 2020 Explorers-in-Training whose internships got cancelled due to COVID-19. Please check back next year for new opportunities in this theme!

  • Hydrography & Seafloor Mapping: Mapping the seafloor via NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer is an integral part of OER’s mission, providing critical bathymetric data needed to characterize previously unexplored areas. Students in this internship theme will work on projects related to multibeam sonar and sound velocity profile data acquisition and processing with support from OER’s experienced mapping team. These interns will gain tangible skills in the use of geographic information system (GIS) software, hydrographic processing and display software, and data management.

Eligibility & Application Requirements


  • U.S. Citizenship
  • Currently enrolled students (undergraduate or graduate) or students who have already graduated, but whose graduation date is within a year of the application date (i.e., “gap-year students”); students must be enrolled in or have received a degree from an accredited academic institution within the United States or its territories
  • Degree, major, or intent to major in a field relevant to OER’s mission; these can include, but are not limited to: STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, social sciences, communications, education, business operations/administration, and ocean policy/management
  • Willingness to learn and follow OER office and shipboard standard operating procedures

Application Requirements

  • Submission of online application form 
  • Short answer response to each of the following prompts:
    1. What attracts you to ocean exploration? (250 words or less; this question is required)
    2. What are your expectations for an Explorer-in-Training internship? What skills and/or experience are you hoping to gain to advance your future career goals? (250 words or less; this question is required)
    3. Is there anything else about yourself/your experience that you feel is important and that you would like to share? (500 words or less; this question is optional)
  • Current resume or curriculum vitae (CV)
  • Contact information for at least one academic (professor, advisor, teacher, etc.) and one character reference (community member, work supervisor, mentor, etc.). These references should be able to speak to your character and your professional and/or academic background.

Please compile short answer question responses and resume/CV into a single PDF and send it to oer.explorerintraining@noaa.gov. If you have any questions, need guidance, or experience technical difficulties, please contact OER’s Internship Program Coordinator at oer.internships@noaa.gov. Applications must be submitted by February 15, 2021.

For additional information about the Okeanos Explorer and the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, please visit: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/ and https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/about/welcome.html.

Additional information about the Explorer-in-Training Program is available through the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). 

Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion

The Explorer-in-Training Program strives to foster an inclusive environment for all, viewing our unique differences not as a barrier, but as a necessity for progress toward our shared goals of exploration and discovery. OER seeks to involve students from groups that are historically underrepresented in ocean exploration, including Black or African-American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Hispanic or Latino, female, first-generation college students, veterans, and students with disabilities. The Explorer-in-Training Program welcomes students of all sexual and gender identities, students who have experienced educational or economic disadvantages, and/or have circumstances that may complicate their professional development progress. To ensure sustainability of this commitment, we accept and value feedback from our interns and apply it to ongoing efforts to make Explorer-in-Training a model of excellence for diversity, equity, and inclusion.