Simply put, a marine biologist studies sea creatures. In practice, however, the field of marine biology is vast and encompasses many different specialties and career paths. Marine biology is a subset of Oceanography, which is the broader study of all aspects of oceans. Many marine biologists study several specialized areas of expertise, or disciplines, before settling upon one career course that suits them. Marine biology is a combination of general biology and oceanography.
A marine biology graduate could specialize in studying large ocean animals, all the way down to microscopic organisms. Everything from whales to the plankton they eat, and everything else in between. Marine biotechnology, one of the possible specializations, involves developing and testing new drug treatments and protocols that are derived from ocean life. Another specialization is molecular biology, which is helpful in identifying microorganisms as well as diagnosing diseases that are caused by microorganisms.
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Marine biology is a learning and research field, and many marine biologists therefore work in coordination with universities and other educational institutions. In fact, many marine biologists are also teachers and professors during the winter months, when less work is being done in the field. Research projects are at the heart of what most marine biologists do, whether it be actually collecting specimens in the field, compiling research data, finding real life applications for the research data, or classroom teaching.
Some of the possible careers for a marine biology graduate would include teaching at a high school or college level, research scientist, oceanographic laboratory technician, working for an aquarium or zoo, and any number of possibilities for consulting with different government agencies and universities. Another potential career for a marine biology graduate would be hydrology, which is a scientist or researcher that studies bodies of water, and helps to find ways to eliminate water pollution. There are actually many environmental careers that can be attained with a degree in marine biology. Even a Fish and Game Warden, which is something akin to an environmental police officer, is a possible career move for a marine biology graduate.
This is a field where education requirements tend to be fairly cut and dry. A scant few entry level positions may be available for graduates with a bachelor's degree in one of the biological sciences, but the grand majority of research positions will require at least a master's degree in Marine Biology. Those who wish to work their way into a position of authority, directing research projects, will most likely need to earn a doctorate in Marine Biology. In other words, if you want to do your own work, rather than someone else's, you'll need a Ph.D. Interestingly, many working marine biologists recommend that someone interested in a career in marine biology get a degree in a different biological science first, and specialize in marine biology for their post-graduate work. Specialization in a particular discipline is considered a key turning point in the career of a marine biology graduate.
This could be anywhere near the coasts. Oceanography centres, laboratories, aquariums, and research boats and vessels are some of the possibilities for field workplaces. It would not be unusual to find a marine biology graduate working in a tide pool, a swamp, a mangrove forest, a coral reef, or any place on earth that supports marine life. Travel to interesting places is one of the possible perks for a career in marine biology.
Laboratory work could involve working directly with the federal government, or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or on behalf of a university's research program. Virtually every body of salt water on the planet is being studied by marine biologists, from the Caribbean Seas to the Arctic Ocean. Nonprofit organizations are also a major employer for marine biology graduates, since they fund studies and research projects for commercial products. Drug companies conduct marine research as well; marine life is often at the cutting edge of research.
Entry level marine biologists can expect to make between $35k to $45k per year. Marine biologists with more than five years of experience, advanced degrees, and successful careers can expect to earn well into the $60k range and beyond. Finding funding for research projects can be one of the components of a researcher's job, and that can have a direct impact on the size of their salary as well.