• Heather McKee

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

Ecology Project International (EPI) participants work side-by-side with field researchers from Costa RicaGalapagos, Belize, 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 with regrets on 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!”

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. 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 Coastal Ecology, Belize Marine 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. has a great list of schools by state that offer marine biology programs.

4. Build 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. Read EPI's blog post on "How to Get Accepted to the Best Colleges in Ecology and Environmental Studies," to get some ideas.

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.’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.