So you want to be a marine biologist?

In a series of posts I am writing about my experience becoming a marine biologist and some insight, I have created some information I would have found very useful a few years ago.

(The next paragraph came from this post). Like all scientists, marine biologists pursue a vigorous education that includes undergraduate and graduate study. As undergraduates, most prospective marine biologists study biology or zoology, and some choose majors in marine biology. Studying marine biology as an undergraduate is not a prerequisite to becoming a marine biologist, however. Marine biologists may find it useful to develop a strong background in engineering, mathematics, or computer science in addition to pursuing a natural sciences education. Students in biology programs study biochemistry, cell biology, ecology, and evolution in addition to taking courses in physics, chemistry, calculus, and statistics. Some marine biology jobs are available to those whose highest degree is a bachelor’s degree, but advancement often requires earning at least a master’s degree.

  1. Make sure marine biology is for you

There is a very romanticized view of what marine biologist do.  I feel people often that that we are frolicking in the sea with dolphins and sharks all day, but that is definitely not the case for most marine scientists. We spend endless hours in the office staring at computer screens, reading scientific papers, writing, and doing data analysis. There are so many career routes for people who simply love the ocean. This includes SCUBA instructing/guiding, being a naturalist on a tourism boat, becoming an underwater photographer, aquarist, veterinarian, etc.

  1. It isn’t only about charismatic megafauna

This is a funny tip coming from me, since I study turtles (which are considered charismatic megafauna) but my project includes much less desirable projects. Such as assessing heavy metals in sand, watching hours of drone footage of turtle nesting beaches, and sifting through images of turtles for a photo ID project. But it is important to remember that all animals of the sea are important and should be studied. For example, there are so few studies of worms in the Red Sea, fortunately, Shannon Brown has convinced me how cool and important these worms are!

  1. You don’t need a diving certification

It is a common misconception that you need to be a diver. This isn’t true, although it is a helpful skill for some projects, it isn’t a requirement. For example, my project (assessing turtle nesting sites) doesn’t even require me to know how to swim.  So don’t worry if you don’t have tons of ocean experience, you can find a project that suits you.  

  1. Importance of math & sciences

I wish I knew this in undergrad, but math and sciences are so important. For example, statistics is an essential skill for analyzing data as a marine biologist. In addition, marine science is a wide field, and can include information  from genomics/genetics, physics, chemistry, biology, ecology, etc.  So make sure you are taking a good amount of science classes to build up a good baseline.

  1. Internships and experience

This is now becoming increasingly crucial in today’s job market. I was lucky to have a ton of diverse experiences during undergrad (keep reading to learn more). But I highly recommend to join clubs, work, volunteer, and do what you need to do to get as much experience as possible. Most colleges have research labs that are looking for assistant researchers to help out.

  1. Study abroad during undergrad

My semesters abroad in Turks and Caicos and Tanzania were the highlights of my college career.  And I highly recommend study abroad as much as possible. You are able to not only travel to cool places, but you can learn incredible new skills, do research, and learn about new cultures

  1. You don’t need to study marine biology in undergrad (physics, chemistry, statistics)

As I have mentioned earlier, a diverse education is helpful to become a marine biologist. And don’t be at all discouraged if you don’t have a marine biology program at your school. I majored in Environmental Science and Biology (keep reading to learn more) and I was able to pursue a career in marine biology.

  1. Research and apply, apply, apply

It can be discouraging to be rejected from something you apply for, but I promise you when you finally have success it is so well worth it.  I spent so many hours on the computer researching scholarships, grants, jobs, and internships. Through this time I applied for countless opportunities, and even if I thought there was no way I would be accepted, sometimes I was pleasantly surprised. You never know what attributes the employer is looking for.  I applied on a whim for the NOAA Holling’s scholar, having little previous marine biology experience, but I was accepted and I was able to make over $25,000 from this, and got to do my own research in Maui.

  1. Know your resources

The internet has so many amazing resources.

  • I recommend using facebook if you are looking for job/internship opportunities (for example, the “marine biologist network and job posting”).
  • There are many email lists where you can find about new opportunities, such as the NOAA coral list which sends out info every single day.
  • I also am on a lot of job email threads, including Global Marine Community, WiseOceans, and Conservation Job Board.
  • This sitealso has tons of resources, check it out!


Thank you so much for reading, and I hope some of this information was helpful to you!  Let me know what you’d like me to write about in the future and if you have any specific questions.

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