Becoming a marine biologist...

Oct 13, 2005
When I graduate from high school, I would very much like to go to college to become a marine biologist. I've done a little bit of research, but I keep finding very conflicting information...

One site will say that to be a marine biologist, I would need to get a bachelor's degree, then others will say that I need a masters, or even a doctorate.

I'm not a senior yet, but I want to be prepared, and know what i'm getting into.

I'm still kinda confused about the whole "degree" business, so any help would be greatly appreciated.

Basically what I want to know is what degree I need to be a marine biologist, and do research on certain animals (cephalopods, seahorses, corals, etc.).

Also, what are some careers that a marine biologist can look for?

You might try letting your fingers do a little typing and seeing what coastal schools have on-line catalogs (I know there is a college just north of Key West but have no idea of its reputation, Greg has mentioned that the NRCC has a few internships so there must be a university near by with a marine program and then there is California, with Berkeley and a host of others). Also, Steve O'Shea's bio is still here (you just have to look for it) as well as info that Roy has allowed to escape, Roy Caldwell Of the younger set, perhaps Mucktopus, Jean and/or Tintenfisch will offer some ideas or look for some of their published work or check to see if they have a home page listed on TONMO.

The field is growing and there are many more businesses that employ (and will increase with the global warming issue I dare say) full time consultants. For dedicated animal research, however, I suspect the universities may have the largest staff.
This thread certainly caught me eye, I'm in Grade/Year 12 right now and in the middle of choosing a good uni..which I have settled on AUT. However, it has never occured to me what sort of degree I need.

I hope you get your answer Brock, as I'm actually waiting for an answer or this too.
From everyone that I have spoken to, you really must consider pursuing a doctoral degree if you would like to do any in depth research. There are not many chances for research opportunities with only a B.S., although there are some. If you are at the right location, and at the right time, things can work out great. I have also been told that Master's degree may actually eliminate you from many jobs by being too qualified, or not qualified enough. Perhaps someone may comment on that as I do not have first hand experience.

I have several publications so far with only a B.S. but I will be entering grad school soon as certain research endeavors are not feasible at my present employment.

Hope that helps.

It really depends on what you want to do as a marine biologist. If you want to do research as a career, then you need a doctorate. If you just want to do a little bit of research, then there are opportunities to do research as an undergraduate. If you pursue a master's degree, you can concentrate on cephalopods as your thesis topic.

If you are interested in working at an aquarium with marine life, then you can get by with a bachelor's degree. Usually, you can get some work experience as an undergraduate in the summers with internships (I worked at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for a summer internship). The more work experience you have, either as a volunteer or intern, the more attractive you are to employers.

I have found that having a master's degree has prevented me from getting some entry-level positions...

My advice, be flexible, willing to work for little money but a lot of satisfaction and have a back-up plan. My undergraduate degree is in biology, not marine biology, so that if I couldn't get a job as a marine biologist, I could still work in science.
I would also like to work as a marine biologist, though at the moment i am only a sophomore in high school. I know there are several good schools in California, including Santa Cruz which often works with Monterrey Bay. I also read somewhere on here that Texas A&M students occasionally work with the NRCC as interns. I might be interested in studying out of the country near marine environments that have been less studied such as those surrounding the southern tip of Argentina, but i still have a couple of years to think about it. I am currently taking a Marine Science class, and honors biology, i also took honors chemistry last year, and i plan on taking AP biology next year. Are there any other classes that you would recommend i take to better my chances of getting into a school with a good marine science/biology program? Thanks.
One my roommates at university did a semester at sea, it was a collaboration between Cornell University and Woods Hole. Most of the people I knew who did this studied biology or natural resources. I'll ask a colleague about the uni in Fiji, where her son is pursuing a doctorate, probably on freshwater fishes of Papua New Guinea. He'll at least know something about studying salt water creatures.
Brock Fluharty;105608 said:
Thanks everyone!

The thought of college is still a bit daunting...I don't really understand stuff about degrees, and majors, etc. I hope this is normal for a sophomore...

Don't worry about it. When most people talk about "going to college," they mean getting a four-year degree, called a Bachelor's degree. After commencement (the fancy college word for graduation), some people decide they really liked school and want more of it. These people can spend two more years in school and get a Master's degree; or even longer and get a PhD (which means Doctor of Philosophy--don't ask!). This is collectively known as graduate school (because you're still in school, but you've already graduated!).

Graduate school differs from regular college. As an undergraduate (someone who's in college, but hasn't yet graduated) your life will be similar to how it is in high school, except you'll be much more independent. You'll still go to classes, you'll still do homework; but things have been stepped up a notch--you can't get away with missing assignments, and you'll write a lot of papers at the end of each semester and they're expected to be of pretty good quality. When you go to grad school, things are stepped up a bit further: you're usually expected to teach some classes or labs, take a few advanced classes and work on a project of your own. When I say project, I mean doing real honest-to-goodness science to be published--something that other professional scientists will look critically at.

Graduate school is a lot of hard work and it isn't for everyone. Some graduate schools will be able to waive your tuition and give you a small stipend, but it often isn't enough to live on. I think it's safe to say that most graduate students take on considerable debt to pursue their goals; tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Also, there are a lot more students who want to be marine biologists than there are jobs, which is why you'd probably want a PhD to have a good chance at getting a position. In fields like this where there aren't a lot of jobs you also can't be too choosy on where you'll be. If there's a good graduate school that will take you in a different part of the country you have to be willing to move. If you picture yourself living in a particular place, this might not be your thing. This isn't endemic to marine biology, I suspect if you go to your local research university and ask professors of all fields where they grew up and went to school I doubt many will be local. This can be difficult on relationships--if you meet someone special in college will they be willing to move with you, multiple times?

Some of these things may sound discouraging. I don't necessarily mean for it to be although I think it's important to know what it might be like. Most people who become professional scientists thrive on the challenge and adversity. People who do well under pressure. If you're a sophomore in high school you've got plenty of time to think about what you see yourself doing. Take as many advanced math and science classes as you can and see if you have an affinity for it--and more importantly, if you find yourself looking forward to staying up all night with the textbooks!

Good luck!

A fish biologist at UCSB has a web site with two fantastic articles about becoming a marine biologist. His name is Dr. Love. So if you search UCSB and "Love lab" you should be able to find it. It is well worth the time to read it and think about it. On a personal note. I have a BS in Biology and have been a high school teacher for quite a while. I created a Marine Biology class, built aquaria, took students on field trips, worked hard to make the class accessible and fun. Now I spend three fifths of every day teaching Marine Biology. It is not research or working in the field or working at an aquarium. But it is a great way to spend a lot of quality marine time.
You've got some pretty sound advice here. I'll chime in and say a doctorate is pretty much a prerequisite in order to be taken seriously in the scientific community when you are relatively young, but as you get on a bit (middle aged) and become established it becomes less important. I haven't reached that point where I've got on 'a lot', but it could again become more important later in life - I don't know.

The happiest and brightest chap I ever knew made Milo for a living!
Thats cool, for my extended essay, that i need in order to graduate from the International Baccalaureate (IB) program I'm in, i was planning on testing the long term memory of octopuses. I will be able to study some octopuses kept at the University of Miami (UM) that is near my house, and I'm also starting an internship at the Miami Seaquarium (public aquarium here in miami) next year. Hopefully this, along with good grades, will be enough to get me into a good college. I have a question for the marine biologists on here: what university/college did you attend? and what do you feel they are looking for in terms of prior experience, and grades?
Simple, I think you should break out your question about what universities the marine biologists on this site attended - it's likely to be missed here. Making Choices for School is under Physiology and Biology. Maybe you should put it there.


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