Ecology Project International (EPI) participants work side-by-side with field researchers from Costa Rica, Galapagos, Hawaii, and Mexico, and often return home with a new goal: Become a marine biologist. Pursuing a career in marine biology or oceanography can be competitive—but you’ll have a harder time finding a marine biologist who regrets their career choice. We hope the following tips will help you navigate the diverse paths to becoming a marine biologist:
1. “Get your feet wet” With Marine Biology Jobs!
Most conservation researchers—marine or otherwise—are driven to pursue their career out of an authentic love for and curiosity about the natural world. It’s never too early to cultivate this type of appreciation for your surroundings by pursuing a job in the conservation field. Get outside, be inquisitive and never let the walls of the classroom be the boundaries of your education!
2. Show your passion for science and Marine Biology
By getting involved in science courses and extracurricular scientific activities as early as high school, you stand a better chance of becoming a marine biologist in the long run. By 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. (EPI's Baja Marine Science, Hawaii Island Ecology, Galapagos Island Ecology, and Costa Rica Sea Turtle Ecology programs are wonderful places to start!)
3. Research colleges that offer Marine Biology as a major
Focusing on marine biology as an undergraduate, rather than general biology, might provide you with a leg up on the competition when it comes to marine biology-specific fellowships, internships, jobs, and graduate programs. MarineBio.org has a great list of schools by state that offer marine biology programs.
In addition to academic studies, many marine biology undergraduate programs focus heavily on field-based experiences and lab research. That being said, when deciding on program, location is important to keep in mind. Marine Biology students at California State University, for example, get a wide range of fieldwork on bays, estuaries, beaches, rocky intertidal, and open water, due to the university’s close proximity to diverse marine habitats. At Eckerd College on Florida’s gulf coast, Marine Science classes are often held on the university-owned vessels that occupy Tampa Bay.
4. Build a resume for Marine Biology jobs
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. EPI's Costa Rica Gap Year experience is a great place to start.
5. Pursue a graduate degree in Marine Biology
While a graduate degree may not be a necessity to becoming a marine biologist—or an active and contributing member to the world of conservation—many successful researchers would tell you that an M.S. or Ph.D. degree added greatly to their abilities and resume. By the time you're ready for graduate school, you'll have had ample time to explore a number of subjects in marine biology and can concentrate on a more narrowly-focused research interest that graduate schools require. 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.