5 Steps: Experience and Education Needed to Become a Marine Biologist

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Woman snorkeling and conducting a marine censusMany of our students returning from Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, or Mexico, working side-by-side with field researchers, come home with a new goal in life: become a marine biologist.

Pursuing a career in marine biology or oceanography can be a challenging road to travel, but 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:

  1.  “Get Your Feet Wet!” Most conservation researchers – marine or otherwise – are driven to pursue their career out of a downright love of and curiosity about the natural world. It’s never too early to cultivate this type of appreciation for your surroundings. Get outside, be inquisitive and never let the walls of the classroom be the boundaries of your education!
  2. Build a Demonstrable Interest in Marine Biology: By getting involved in courses and extracurricular activities as early as high school, you stand a better chance of becoming a marine biologist in the long-run. Through volunteering with local, regional or international marine organizations and partaking in marine science programs outside of the classroom you position yourself to stand out from the crowd during the college application process. Our Baja Island Ecology, Baja Whale Ecology and Costa Rica Sea Turtle Ecology programs are great places to start!
  3. Research Colleges that Offer Marine Biology as a Major: Though not an absolute necessity, focusing on marine biology, rather than general biology, throughout your undergraduate career can provide you with a leg up on competition when it comes to marine biology fellowships, internships, jobs and graduate programs. MarineBio.org has a great list of schools by state that offer marine biology programs.
  4. Pad your Marine Biology Resume: During and shortly after college, find opportunities that allow you to build your marine biology resume: internships, jobs, research assistantships, summer courses, fellowships…etc. Graduate schools and employers value experience as highly as they value education.
    -  Marine Conservation Biology Institute has a great list of job opportunity links
      –  Columbia University department of biology offers a (far from exhaustive) list of ocean-related internships
      –  MarineBio.org also has a list of marine research laboratories that are great places to gain additional experience
  5. Pursue a Graduate degree in Marine Biology: While a graduate degree is far from a necessity en route to becoming a marine biologist or an active and contributing member to the world of conservation, most successful researchers would tell you that an M.S. or Ph.D. degree could be added to the list of education needed to be a marine biologist. By this point you’ve had ample time to explore a number of marine biology avenues and can concentrate on a narrowly-focused research interest. Find schools and professors that have research programs and focuses similar to your own interests. MarineBio.org’s list of schools also shows whether M.S. or Ph.D. degrees are available.
Read more about some of our students that have been inspired by conservation and marine biology and the paths that they’ve pursued.
EPI Students peer over bow of boat at dolphins swimming
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