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A marine biologist is someone who studies all types of sea creatures, and can choose to 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, can be studied.
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, being a research scientist, an oceanographic laboratory technician, working for an aquarium or zoo, or any number of possibilities for consulting with different government agencies and universities.
Another potential career for a marine biology graduate would be to become a hydrologist, 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.
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.
Oceanography centres, laboratories, aquariums, 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, as marine life is often at the cutting edge of research.
This is a field where educational 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 where they are 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.
Please note that most degrees in Marine Biology are earned at the Masters level or higher and usually require a Bachelor's degree first in Biology, Zoology or another life science.
You have to have a solid, traditional science background to be a marine biologist. Classwork will give you the basics, but working in a lab or doing independent research is how you’re going to learn how science is actually done.
Travel is really dependant on what type of marine life you are going to study. If you work in a lab, then obviously you will do very little travelling, if at all. If you get a job at the zoo or at an aquarium, the position will be based there, with perhaps the occasional need to travel for a research project. If you are researching the migration of whales or are doing deep sea research, then you can expect to be travelling and to be out at sea for extended periods of time.
The best way to learn about marine life and how the ocean works is to do research. Talk to your professors, and get to know them. It is one of the best investments you can make as they are the ones that are running the labs and doing the research. They also know other professors/scientists doing research, and know who needs help, with what, and where.
If you are interested in scuba diving, learning how to dive is a valuable skill. One of the quickest ways to get in with the researchers at a university is to know how to dive. Researchers are always looking for divers, and you'll probably get many offers to help out with various research projects.
Take some computer programming courses. Scientists live in a world of data, so knowing how to program is essential.
Consider taking a research semester abroad. There are quite a few programs that will allow you to go abroad, do research, and get course credit.
There really is no typical day for a marine biologist, since there really isn't a typical marine biologist. There are millions of unknown and known species that exist in our seas, and a marine biologist may perform any number of things each day.
Much of the work focuses on research. For example, a marine biologist may study the effects of oil or chemical spills released into the ocean on plant and animal life. They may also collect various types of data. An example might be where the marine biologist goes scuba diving for mussels in the morning, brings them back to the lab for observation in the afternoon and records any relevant data. He or she may also do some statistical analysis (using a computer) by comparing studies already done by other scientists. As well, marine biologists may sometimes present their research papers at scientific conferences, and/or publish the results of their research in scientific journals.
Five years after graduating from a Masters in Applied Marine Science, I found myself swimming with the biggest fish in the sea. Every day.
Icebergs, Glaciers. Ice floes. Snow. Marina’s tent home is equally minimalist: sleeping bag, duffel bag and sheepskins (the academic kind — PhD) pinioned to the stretched nylon tent wall. Welcome to life in Antarctica, where the leopard seals dive and thrive.
While marine biologists may work at a local stream or in an office, their job can also take them to remote locations the world over. Interest in working with raw data is one quality marine biologists strongly require.
I write this from the perspective of obtaining a Ph.d. in marine biology and I am assuming the reader wants to go for a Ph.d. as well. Some of these are not specific to deep-sea research, but apply generally to any path toward graduate school in the sciences. Below is my take on this, tips and tricks, lessons I’ve learned from doing things both the right and wrong way.
While pursuing a career in marine biology or oceanography can be a challenging road to travel you’ll be hard-pressed to find a marine biologist with regrets. Hopefully the following tips will help you navigate the multifarious paths to becoming a marine biologist:
I am fortunate indeed, and I wouldn’t exchange my life and career for anything. But people don’t often realize what goes into the job.