How to Become a Climatologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a climatologist. Research education and career requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in climatology.

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Should I Become a Climatologist?

Climatologists are atmospheric scientists who study the Earth's climate. They collect and analyze data from sources such as ice cores, soil, water, air, and even plant life to find patterns in weather and learn how those patterns affect the Earth and its inhabitants. Research might be used for agricultural planning, building design, and weather forecasting. Some climatologists study climates of the past.

Many climatologists find work with academic institutions along with federal, state, and private agencies. Climatologists might divide their time between working in a lab or office and going into the field to collect samples and gather information.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree for entry-level jobs; master's or PhD for research and teaching positions
Degree Field Climatology/meteorology or atmospheric science with a concentration in climatology
Experience Number of years and type of experience varies with job position
Key Skills Strong skills in science, writing, critical thinking, speaking, complex problem solving, knowledge of scientific software used to analyze data, software for graphics and map creation, spreadsheet and word processing software
Salary (2014) The median salary for atmospheric and space scientists was $87,980 in 2014

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Michigan State University

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Bachelor's degree programs usually combine climatology with the study of meteorology, which is the science of weather forecasting. This provides the strong education in science, math, and computer technology needed for a climatology career. Foundation topics in chemistry and physics lead to more advanced coursework in oceanography, astronomy, plate tectonics, and advanced math such as calculus. Students also learn technical skills for geographic information systems (GIS), satellites, radar, and forecasting computer software.

Success Tip:

  • Use internships and independent study to get hands-on and/or specialized experience. Climatology internships might be found through local television and radio stations, the National Weather Service, the Weather Channel or state emergency management programs. Independent study courses may provide research experience for those who plan on going to graduate school.

Step 2: Start with an Entry-level Job

Those with a bachelor's degree in climatology are qualified for many entry level jobs. Each position - whether meteorologist or weather services assistant - can offer valuable experience towards qualifying for higher-level positions. In addition, the opportunity to work with new computer models and other recent technology may be beneficial for admittance to graduate school and when conducting research for a thesis or dissertation.

Success Tips:

  • Check out government jobs. The Federal government is the biggest employer of atmospheric scientists in the U.S., and advertises jobs located throughout the country on its USAJobs website. Agencies include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Defense.
  • Be flexible about location. Those just starting out in the atmospheric sciences may need to be willing to move to a different geographic region or state, particularly when working in a government position. Once a career is established, there may be more latitude for location in the climate and region of choice.

Step 3: Complete a Graduate Degree

Climatology research work in both government and private institutions generally requires a graduate degree. Those with a PhD have the additional option of teaching and doing independent research at colleges and universities. A master's degree in a non-research job may also contribute to higher pay and more opportunities for advancement.

Applicants to graduate school may have a bachelor's degree in climatology or, in some cases, a bachelor's degree in physics or engineering. Master's degree programs can include graduate courses in microclimatology, atmospheric thermodynamics, and dynamic meteorology. There may be a thesis or comprehensive exam requirement. PhD programs might require similar courses along with an original research project culminating in a written dissertation and oral exam.

Success Tip:

  • Join a professional organization. While certification isn't required to be a climatologist, belonging to a professional organization can provide networking opportunities while looking for jobs. For those already working and/or doing climatology research, meeting with peers offers a place to exchange information, spark ideas, and even begin collaborating on new climatology projects. Climatologists can apply for membership with the American Association of State Climatologists and the American Meteorological Society.
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