Feature Stories 2017: Marcos Sastre-Cordova '14: PhD, Marine Observation Technologies

Marcos Sastre-Cordova on a boat on the water
Feature Stories 2017: Marcos Sastre-Cordova '14: PhD, Marine Observation Technologies
Marcos Sastre-Cordova '14: PhD, Marine Observation Technologies

Alum Marcos Sastre-Cordova talks about his work as a systems engineer and explains how pursuing his doctorate degree at SMAST helped advance his career path.

How did you become interested in marine science?

I became interested in marine science after attending an introductory lecture on physical oceanography. Ocean circulation, geophysical fluid dynamics and energy transfer were just a few of the topics presented during the lecture that immediately sparked my curiosity and fascination. As a young physics-major looking for a graduate field of study, marine science became the next step for me at that point.

What did you study at SMAST?

I focused on using acoustics to measure ocean turbulence and mixing. Through research, I’ve demonstrated that turbulent mixing of salinity can be observed using high-frequency acoustic backscattering in a stratified estuarine environment.

Explain how the PhD program influenced your career path.

The PhD program at SMAST provided the right balance between breadth and depth that really helped me further my career as an undersea systems engineer. Completing the degree has not only accelerated my professional growth but has earned me peer respect and recognition.

Talk about balancing work with your studies.

The structure of the program at SMAST allowed me to complete the degree while holding a full-time job. The faculty at SMAST was very understanding of my professional commitments and supportive of my academic goals. Working with the faculty at SMAST was a very rewarding and growing experience. 

How did conducting research as part of your studies impact your educational experience?

It helped me polish and augment my analytical skills, and gave me the confidence to tackle new and complex problems independently.

Talk about your current career.

I am a systems engineer for a major Navy contractor, specializing in undersea systems. In my line of work I have worked with a variety of Navy programs, including anti-submarine sonar, naval mine detection and disposal and various internal and external research and development projects. I am presently the principal investigator on a sonar system development project for the Office of Naval Research and part of a team developing an autonomous mine neutralization vehicle.

What makes SMAST special?

Location, location, location. I applied to the PhD program at SMAST after five years in industry. I was sponsored by my employer to pursue advanced studies and chose SMAST for its world-class faculty, inter-campus course offerings and proximity to my work location. SMAST is at the center of what will probably become an industrial hub for marine robotics and marine-related technology. 

Any advice for prospective students?

Do not take scientific writing for granted. Allow yourself more time than expected to produce a quality scholarly written thesis/dissertation. If possible, seek to get published in a reputable journal before you graduate and be open to criticism.  Criticism is not there to hurt you but to make you better.

Tell us about one of your most memorable experiences as a PhD student.

My most memorable moment while pursuing my degree at SMAST took place oversees at the Ocean Engineering Society (OES) Oceans conference in Bremen, Germany. I presented a paper and won an award for my research at the student poster competition.