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Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services

MEET: Mark Bushnell

Manager, Ocean Systems Test and Evaluation Program, Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services

I’ve been a NOAA oceanographer for over 31 years and plan to retire this year.  I work in the Engineering Division of NOS’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS), where I manage the Ocean Systems Test and Evaluation Program (OSTEP). The OSTEP team helps transition new sensors and systems to an operational setting.

Mark Bushnell


What do you like most about working at NOS?

NOAA has always provided me with an abundance of opportunities. When I reflect on the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen during my career, I’m just amazed! Work hard, be sincere, and the next thing you know you’re headed to Tahiti, or a 20/20 Program [in which federal employees work 20 hours/week and go to school 20 hours/week], or something equally rewarding.

What is the hardest part of your job?

It can be challenging to introduce new technology. Things tend to change slowly, whether you’re involved in deep blue sea climatology or coastal observations. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but a lot of times the new stuff is way better.

What is your educational background?

I have a bachelor’s of science in oceanographic technology from the Florida Institute of Technology, and did graduate work in coastal engineering at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. I like to think that I “came up through the hawse pipes” because I realized early that experience at sea would look good on a resume, so I found summer jobs as a deck hand on a tug boat and on a seismic survey ship. I learned a lot from those experiences.

What inspired your interest in the ocean and coasts?

My father was in the U.S. Coast Guard and our family vacationed at the beach in New Jersey, so there was always a focus on the ocean. I started surfing at an early age, and my intent was to land a job where I could get paid for surfing. I haven’t found one yet! However, at the age of 14, I decided I wanted to be an oceanographer, and I never considered anything else. I was lucky to have a clear career goal.

How did you end up working at NOAA?

My first job was at Research Triangle Institute in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I was involved in studying infrared sea surface temperature imagery from the early NOAA satellites under a NOAA contract (a long way from surfing). Dr. George Maul at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) in Miami visited there, and later, I called him to ask about a job. In a curious twist of fate, an AOML employee was quitting to move to Chapel Hill, so we wound up switching jobs.

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

I’m also a sailor, so I know that any motion will move the boat forward even when there’s no wind. So be sure that you’re always heading in the direction you want to go, and watch for opportunities to move your boat in any way possible. Volunteer, network, choose related hobbies, think about where you want to be and tell everyone about it, work hard, and eventually, you’ll get there.

The Top 10 Things I’ve Learned in My Career at NOAA:

1. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call the hotshots for advice.
2. Don’t give your bosses excuses, give them options, and your recommendation.
3. The Gulf Stream can exceed 6 knots, and it’s pretty impressive to see!
4. Invest the maximum in your TSP (Thrift Savings Plan), starting right now.
5. Become the expert in something, and let folks know it.
6. If you’re successful, you will sometimes have trouble distinguishing between work and play. This is very good!
7. Fortunately, curiosity and oceanography still go hand in hand. Be curious.
8. Don’t wait to be trained or told – figure it out yourself (see #1).
9. Bio-fouling, battery power, and data communications are still obstacles to be overcome.
10. Sea level is rising, despite opinions to the contrary.