Is God calling me to a scientific career?

Looking back (44 years!) to when I went university (Bristol) I don’t think that I had given much thought to my future career. I had enjoyed maths all through my school life and in the sixth form, so it seemed a natural progression to go to university to study mathematics. While at university I continued to enjoy mathematics, especially applied maths, therefore when the opportunity came up to stay on and do a PhD in applied mathematics I took it. It was the 1970s, an oil crisis was happening, and alternative energy sources were being developed so my research was on the theory of wave power. At the end of my PhD, having spent six years as a student, I had to get a job (wife and child to support) and ended up at the then Institute of Oceanographic Sciences (now part of the National Oceanography Centre) carrying out research on ocean waves. Subsequently I have worked on a variety of topics: satellite oceanography, measuring the oceans from space in collaboration with the European Space Agency and NASA; upper ocean biology and physics, how turbulent mixing and currents affect plankton; the Agulhas and Madagascar current systems near South Africa; and more recently running the Rapid Climate Change programme, which is looking at the potential slowdown or shutdown of the North Atlantic Circulation due to anthropogenic global warming (think of the film “The Day After Tomorrow” but much less dramatic!). Over the years I have morphed from being a mathematician to being an oceanographer, though I still use maths in my research.

Reflecting on my career I would now say that my vocation (calling) has been to be a scientist and more specifically an oceanographer. As I look back, the question that I ask myself sometimes is: did God call me to a scientific career? As a Christian, I prayed and thought about my future and what God wanted me to do next, especially at clear decision points in my life, such as towards the end of my undergraduate degree and of my PhD. I applied for my PhD and then for my job in oceanography, but I cannot say that I felt clearly at the time that God was calling me to do a PhD or to get a job in oceanography. My decisions were based on enjoying what I did (maths and research), what opportunities presented themselves (though I did go and look to see what opportunities were available to me – God doesn’t want us to be passive), and trusting God that he would help me make the right decisions. If you are wondering whether God is calling you to a scientific career then: a) ask yourself, do I enjoy the science that I am doing? If you don’t then a scientific career may not be for you; b) pray that God would guide you in making decisions (for example, whether to apply for a MSc or PhD), He promises to answer prayer (Matthew 7:7-11); c) pursue and explore the opportunities that God sets before you, trusting Him to give you wisdom in making decisions (as He promises to do; James 1:5). I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy my career in science and am grateful to God for it (Colossians 3:17).