Vitad Pradith knew he had found the right career the first day he stepped onto the boat. “The myriad computers, sensors and devices needed to run the equipment are like something out of a National Geographic underwater research expedition. In this field, you are always working with the latest and greatest available technologies.”
Vitad is a physical scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Coast Survey. His specialty is hydrography, the science behind surveying and the charting of bodies of water. Hydrographers use remote sensing techniques, such as sonar, to make maps of the seafloor. Vitad explains, “NOAA is responsible for producing nautical charts of the United States and its territories. A nautical chart is akin to a road map of the sea, which mariners use to navigate waterways.” The Office of Coast Survey also responds to natural disasters, such as hurricanes, to quickly scan ports for obstructions and debris so that waterway traffic can resume.
About 40% of Vitad’s job is in the field out on research ships and boats; the time he spends in the office allows him to keep up with the latest policies, processes, and technologies that affect the study and management of the oceans. He then uses this information to research, develop, and procure new tools that might be used towards seafloor mapping and/or emergency response operations. This research is then brought to the field where he evaluates its usefulness in scientific operations, from sonar evaluations to implementing new techniques.
Vitad developed his passion for science and research in college, where he studied physical geography, and later in graduate school, where he got his degree in Geospacial Sciences. Ironically, it was his terrestrial (land-based) skills that landed him the job on the water. “My exposure and experiences working in different fields had made me familiar with Global Positioning Systems (GPS), computer programming, and information technology (IT).
These technologies and skills are what opened the door into the marine world. It was an easy transition because the skill sets were the same, all I had to do was to just add water!” Vitad’s experience has taught him that internships, work study, and part-time jobs are invaluable, even when they are outside of your major. “I once took a college work-study job in the IT field supporting an academic help desk. I came away with hard skill sets that were not only technical, but also soft skill sets by learning how to approach people and learning how to ask the right questions.”
“Get comfortable being uncomfortable! Science as a field of study will always make you ask tough questions. Be inquisitive, focused, but thoughtful. More importantly, in science, failure is always an option!”
Did You Know?
The Age of Sail was said to be the domain of “wooden ships and iron men,” but sailing ships also had boys on their official crew lists.
Today, you have to be 14 years old before you can get a job in most states in the US, but in the Age of Sail both merchant ships and navy vessels signed on boys as young as seven years old as regular members of the crew.
What were these kids doing on board sailing ships?