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NOAA Corps Officer Profile: Commander Meghan McGovern

A female NOAA Corps officer aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps) is one of the nation’s eight uniformed services and NOAA Corps officers are an integral part of NOAA. With approximately 330 officers and growing, the NOAA Corps supports nearly all of NOAA’s programs and missions. The combination of commissioned service and scientific expertise makes these officers uniquely capable of leading some of NOAA’s most important initiatives. Meet NOAA Corps officer Meghan McGovern.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Winthrop, Massachusetts, a small peninsula on Boston Harbor, across from the runways of Logan Airport (where “rooftop height” has its own unique meaning!). My family also lived in The Hague for several years when I was a young child, but I consider Winthrop and New England to be my home. 

Where did you go to school and in what subject did you get your degree(s)?

I attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and earned my bachelor’s degree in physics. I was also a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician with the Amherst Fire Department while I went to school. 

What inspired you to become a NOAA Corps officer?

I came across the NOAA Corps by accident. I was trying to find something to do with my life that was meaningful but also leveraged a lifelong interest in science and service. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a career in academics, being stuck in an office, or having a job just for the sake of a paycheck. Eventually, I remember googling something like “career in science and adventure” and the NOAA Corps popped up. It looked like the perfect combination of science and service that I had been searching for, so I applied! Twice. Maybe three times. I finally made the cut in 2005 and it has been an amazing adventure ever since. 

What do you do as a NOAA Corps officer?

I’m currently the commanding officer (CO) of NOAA Ship Fairweather, one of NOAA’s hydrographic platforms tasked with coastal mapping in Alaska and the Pacific. As the CO, I’m responsible for the safety of the crew and ship, and execution of our assigned mission. This year we’ll be heading up to the arctic, which I’m very excited about!


Overall, I’ve had a fairly typical career path for a NOAA Corps officer, alternating between two-year sea tours and three-year land tours. I’ve been stationed in Seattle, Washington, Newport, Oregon, Narragansett, Rhode Island, Norfolk, Virginia, and now Ketchikan, Alaska. My assignments have mostly focused on coastal mapping with NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, with sea tours aboard NOAA ships Rainier, Thomas Jefferson, and Fairweather, and land assignments which mainly focused on navigation products and services.

What was one of your favorite missions or experiences?

Having the opportunity to work in some of the most beautiful and remote places on earth is incredibly rewarding. I also really enjoy the history, adventure, and exploration involved with coastal mapping, especially in Alaska. Many of the places we go haven’t been surveyed in over a hundred years, so we are following in the footsteps of early explorers who were often using rowboats and lead lines to measure the water depth. Reading through their experiences provides a whole new perspective and respect for the challenges they faced. In some cases, we are sent to a location that has never been surveyed before, so it’s just blank space on a nautical chart. That’s when it truly becomes modern day exploration. Being part of a crew mapping a place for the very first time is really special. 


Another mission that I find rewarding is emergency response work. We are often called upon in times of need such as after natural disasters to support critical infrastructure like the marine transportation system. During my sea tour aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, we responded to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Much of the area was devastated by the storm. We were able to map and support the re-opening of 18 port facilities. This work was critical to restoring maritime access to the islands as part of the recovery effort.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a NOAA Corps officer?

This isn’t a regular 9-5 job and it’s definitely not for everyone. You’ll move around a lot, and when you’re at sea you’ll be away from family and loved ones for weeks or sometimes months at a time. This can be really tough, so it’s important to understand that commitment before joining. For the right person, this can be a very fulfilling career full of adventure and opportunity. It’s also a lot of work. You’ll need to be highly adaptable and able to work well with others in order to succeed. Having experience that shows you work well with diverse teams and have the fortitude to leave your comfort zone, along with a strong academic record, will help you stand out. There are also opportunities to sail on NOAA ships as a volunteer, as well as internships throughout the agency. Getting your foot in the door can help bolster your chances on an application, and also gives you a better perspective on whether or not this is a good fit for you. 


Something that was passed down to me I think sums it up pretty well: “Enjoy this unique opportunity to provide a service to the nation while working in amazing places doing challenging things with interesting people.”

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

I’m fortunate to have had many strong role models throughout my life. I was raised in an environment where women were leaders, scientists, teachers, and professionals, and where nothing was unachievable strictly due to gender. I also know that this wasn’t the case a generation ago, and that there are still many obstacles of inequity that women face everyday. This month is a good opportunity to focus on the important contributions that women have made throughout history, and to recognize the inequity and obstacles that we still need to overcome. This is a work in progress, and we all have an important role in making things better for those who come after us.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I enjoy community service and try to find those opportunities wherever I am stationed. Earlier in my career I tried to stay involved with my hometown’s Public Safety Cadet program, but wasn’t able to maintain that with the regular moves around the country. I’ve also volunteered with groups such as Habitat for Humanity, which are typically better suited for the transient nature of active duty. In recent years I’ve volunteered with search-and-rescue in Washington state and Virginia. This is something I’ve really grown to love and hope to continue supporting for the rest of my life, and it’s something I probably never would have stumbled into if not for the NOAA Corps. I try to get out hiking whenever possible, and when I’m not outside, I enjoy cooking. Thai food is my favorite!