Meet Dru Smith

Chief Geodesist, National Geodetic Survey

Dru Smith

As the Chief Geodesist, I share responsibility with other agency leaders for the policy decisions of the National Geodetic Survey (NGS).  I am responsible for the oversight of all NGS science projects and the approval of its publications.  Lastly, as an advisor to the NGS Director, I provide vision and leadership on improving the agency as a whole.

What do you like most about working at NOS?

The best part about working at NOS is the working environment itself.  Despite the requisite bureaucracy that comes with working for the government, this is a science agency, and the working environment almost always comes down to "doing good science."

What is the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part of my job is attempting to keep up with the latest technology and research associated with all aspects of my agency.  I was originally hired as a researcher, and was able to focus deeply on one subject at a time.  As chief geodesist, I am now required to be a “jack of all trades, master of none.”

What is your educational background?

I received my bachelor of science in land surveying from The Ohio State University (OSU). I hold a master’s and a PhD in gravimetric geodesy, also from OSU.

What inspired your interest in the ocean and coasts?

I was inspired to work at one of the few agencies where I would be able to study the gravity field.  However, my research led to actual applications, specifically the determination of accurate heights, which are of particular concern to coastal communities.

How did you end up working at NOAA?.

I was recruited at the end of my master's degree, but did not actually join NOAA until four years later, when I'd finished my PhD. The National Geodetic Survey was one of the few places where I could directly apply my graduate studies to real-world applications, so working for NGS was a matter of finding a rare job to fit my rare field of study.

What is your educational background?

I have a B.S. in meteorology and oceanography and a master’s in physical oceanography from the New York School of Engineering and Science. I also obtained one-year specialty training in tidal theory and tidal analysis at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, part of the University of California at San Diego.

What inspired your interest in the ocean and coasts?

The “aha moment” was an earth science course in my junior year of high school. I originally wanted to be a meteorologist, but turned my attention to the oceans while in college.

What advice do you have for young people wanting a career in the "ocean realm"?

Get a well-rounded education as an undergraduate, including courses in marine science, geology, and physical and chemical oceanography. Statistical and time-series analysis comes in handy in the real world of oceanography. Learn to use GIS. Don't be afraid to "jump into" the data to work through and understand problems. Never stop learning. Always look to apply your knowledge to understanding and solving real-world problems.

What is one of the most important things you’ve learned while working at NOAA?

Everything in nature is connected and the Earth is one large system under increasing stress. What happens with climate, the weather, and the oceans in one part of the globe is teleconnected to other regions, and nothing happens in isolation.

What is one of the coolest experiences you've had in your job?

One of my most interesting experiences happened early on in my NOAA career, when I was part of a group performing tidal studies in marshes along the West Coast. I got to travel to almost every marsh system from Southern California to Oregon. That set the stage for realizing how important tidal data are to understanding how ecosystems function.