How To Become A Marine Biologist: Your Path To A Career Among The Waves

two marine biologist working underwater

Maybe you grew up wading knee-deep in streams catching crawfish and you want your children to have the opportunity to do the same. Or, you have been dreaming of touching the ocean for the first time and hoping to spot a dolphin. Either way, you may also be wondering how to become a marine biologist.

How to Become a Marine Biologist

A marine biologist looking at a sea turtle under water

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It seems you are well on your way to figuring out how to become a marine biologist. The first step is to simply get excited about all the little, or big, creatures that live in the water near you. Taking an interest in your own local water creatures will help you strengthen the skills needed to become a marine biologist.

After you have played with the tadpoles and waded in tidepools, it is time to start thinking of schooling. While classes can be slightly specialized in high school, consider choosing a college with a renowned biology degree that is near a body of water you are particularly interested in. With this, make sure to volunteer with local efforts to keep waterways clean and visit a few aquariums to expand your breadth of knowledge.

So, after persuing your undergraduate degree in marine biology, look for internships that will get you hands-on experience working in the field. These can range from doing research on ocean vessels to working at your local aquarium or river shed. This will get you the much-needed experience for starting your career or a great base for grad school.

What Does a Marine Biologist Do?

A marine biologist trained a dolphin

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If you are wondering how to become a marine biologist, you probably know many things that they do. While training dolphins and working with whales are some of their most known duties, jobs with those aspects are few and far between. Marine biologists actually can be considered anyone who works or studies anything that is alive and lives in water.

Marine biologists actually deal quite a bit with things outside of fish, plankton, and sharks. They need to understand the chemistry of the water, the oceanography of their body of water, and the environmental impact of humans and other animals in the same space.

As you can see, marine biologists need to be well versed in all of the sciences in order to succeed. Keep that in mind as you are considering how to become a marine biologist.

So You Want to Be a Marine Biologist

We've got you hooked on being a marine biologist now. That's good! Keep in mind that this means you could be collecting samples for a government study, managing a fishery, or even teaching classes at a local university.

If you are hoping to begin getting connected with organizations and other marine biologists, consider the following organizations. It is never too early to start networking for future projects, jobs, or studies.

The Association for Zoos and Aquariums is a wonderful organization for finding internships where you will get exposure to a plethora of types of land and water animals. This can be a great starting point for you.

If you are more interested in fish and rivers, consider the American Fisheries Society. They have annual papers and conferences that can help you stay on the cutting edge of marine biology.

Lastly, the Society of Marine Mammology is ready to press on into the future of marine biology. With a focus on aquatic animals and conservation, this is an exceptional organization to watch and learn from as you consider how to become a marine biologist.

Focus Your High School Studies

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Each step of your journey towards becoming a marine biologist needs to keep the end in mind. Your future employer will be looking at your college degree, internships, and extracurriculars. But, your college or university program will be looking at your high school grades and the clubs you participated in.

So, you can see how each step of the process influences the next step. With this, you will need to focus your high school classes as much as you can. This means focusing on chemistry. biology, geology, and mathematics.

However, the more important element to focus on is your club involvement and volunteering. This will show your consistent dedication and interest in rivers, oceans, conservation, animals, fish, and other wildlife. This, in turn, will preempt your education with hands-on experience and a network to support you as you head of to college.

Take advantage of opportunities nearby

There are vast opportunities to pique your interest in marine biology. In your local town, there are probably a few organizations that are cleaning up local waterways as well as keeping tabs on the health of local wildlife. Consider joining in the efforts there.

If you have your eyes on a further prize, think about joining an ocean clean up volunteer squad. This could take you anywhere from simple beach clean-ups to helping divers clean up reef or local shores. With that, if you have the opportunity to become a certified diver, that is an excellent step to showing your interest in becoming a marine biologist.

Choosing a University

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There are more universities than you can count these days. As you are figuring out how to become a marine biologist, this may seem like a daunting task. However, we will walk through a few ways to help you narrow down your list.

First off, be realistic with your grades, SAT scores, ACT scores, and desires. Pick schools that will accept your scores and grades. If you would like, apply to one school that will be a stretch. If you get it, then you will be ecstatic.

Next, look at the ratings of the biology and marine biology departments at these schools. Are the professors doing studies and writing books that you are interested in? Also, what types of hands-on learning and programs do they have?

You cannot dismiss cost as a limiter when applying for college these days. College debt will be incredibly difficult to work through later down the line, so minimize as much as you can now. This may mean going to an in-state school or attending community college for two years before transferring to a four-year university.

Location, location, location is our last tip for you. If you are hoping to work in the ocean one day, make sure your university is on the beach! If there is a particular aquarium or river you are hoping to see, look for schools near there first. This is all part of you making your own road map to success in becoming a marine biologist.

How to become a marine biologist: The right classes

Majoring in biology or marine biology will definitely help you attain your career goals. However, you do not necessarily have to major in one of these to succeed. Other sciences or math classes and degrees will give you a unique background that can help you stand out as a potential job applicant.

Consider taking classes in molecular biology, oceanography, plant ecology, or other classes that could support your future marine biology adventures. Having more experience in other areas will help you gain report with other professionals in the field, as well as give you a well-rounded education.

Internships: All About This Next Step

Internships are a crucial part of figuring out how to become a marine biologist. They allow you to work closely with marine biologists, gain experience, and decipher a bit more about what type of work you would like your career to focus on.

During the school year and the summer in between is the time to pad your resume with your biology experience. Consider some ocean specific internships where you can do hands-on research in the field. There is also a multitude of labs associated with schools that you can work at.

With this, diversity is respected in a resume. So, consider going to a different school for the summer internship than the one you attend. While it will be a little more work to figure out the logistics of it, it will be worth it to gain a more diverse experience.

Do I Need to Go to Graduate School?

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Graduate school is a focused education that usually costs quite a pretty penny. However, many jobs in the field will require you to do this. A master's degree will give you the chance to hone in your expertise on a specific subject.

With this in mind, you will want to know what to specialize in before you commit the time and money to a graduate degree. If you are still figuring out how to become a marine biologist, consider postponing graduate school until you have worked in the field for a few years.

This allows you to know what you want to study more specifically. It also opens up the potential for an employer to help sponsor your schooling. If you make it through a master's degree and have thrived during it, consider a PhD.

A PhD requires just a few more classes than a master. However, the big difference is writing and defending a dissertation. But, remember that you will most likely be doing many research projects as a marine biologist, which lends itself well to a dissertation.

Choosing your masters and PhD

So, you are considering adding a master's degree as you figure out how to become a marine biologist. There are many schools offering masters in this field. It is no surprise that Florida and California are the two main hubs for these degrees throughout the country.

Master's degrees vary in their concentration. You can study Fishery and Ocean Science, Oceanography, or Conservation Biology. If those do not pique your interest, there is also Zoology, Tropical Conservation Biology, Estuary Science, Vertebrate Biology, or even Aquatic Resources.

Each of these programs will equip you differently for your career. Similar to applying to a four-year university, consider the professors, papers, and work that is put out of the institution. This will help you decide if you would like to join and learn from them.

Landing the Job as a Marine Biologist

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Getting your first job can be thrilling but also intimating and difficult. You need the right balance of experience, references, and networks to do this. So, how do you become a marine biologist in today's world?

First off, your resume is a representation of you. It needs to be polished, well written, and stand out. If you have a mentor in the field or even a good friend, have them look at your resume for spelling errors and wording choice.

You will want to use industry-specific words and quantitative data to show your skills. If you have done research, make sure to write how much you did, how you took samples, and more like that. While you do not want your resume to be overwhelming, do try and show your full arc of interest in marine biology.

Your cover letter should be specific to the job you are applying for as well. If you know someone at the company, ask them if you can elegantly reference them in your cover letter. This will go a long way in landing a job as a marine biologist.

Finally, nailing the interview is your last step in figuring out how to become a marine biologist. The most important part of the interview is to be yourself while staying assertive and informed. Make sure to do research on the institution you are speaking with beforehand.

Write down a few questions you would like to ask them before you go so that you are ready to see if it would be a good work environment for you. Hopefully, with each of these steps, you will be able to succeed in securing your first job. Then, you will truly be a marine biologist.

Setting your expectations: Salary and more

During the interview process, you may be asked what salary or benefits you would like. If possible, you always want your potential employer to be the first to give a number of a salary. This way, you can negotiate up from there.

So, how much does a marine biologist make? While it does vary greatly from state to state and based on experience, you can expect to start between 45,000 and 70,000 dollars, depending on the local economy and cost of living.

Most marine biologists should be able to do nine to five hours, but depending on the work you may need to vary those. If you are collecting samples, you may have some long days out on a boat or have to collect at odd hours. In addition, there may be other opportunities for travel to unique destinations and annual conferences.

With all of this, it is important to remember there will be plenty of work inside at the computer and lab as well. Most marine biologists will spend quite a bit of time running data and writing reports. So, do not expect to be outside all day, every day if you become a marine biologist.

Now You Know How to Become a Marine Biologist

You now know the path. Enjoy the ride. Remember, start by focusing on your local water sources, organizations, and volunteer efforts.

This will first conjure up a love for all things wet and watery. A passion for the outdoors and wildlife is essential to being a marine biologist. Once you have that, then get your education lined up.

Whether your dream is to help save the whales, protect our oceans, track salmon populations, or find cures for diseases in the natural world, marine biology is full of opportunities. The vast amount of water in our world means that there will always be a good amount of jobs in this field.

Are you a marine biologist, or considering pursuing this as your career? What were the most helpful tips that people gave you? We would love to start that conversation below in the comments.

So, now that you know how to become a marine biologist, we wish you the best. Pursue it with passion, vigor, and intelligence and you are sure to succeed.

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