Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
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A Career in Marine Biology

So you want to get paid to go to the beach? Well, working in marine biology usually involves much more than getting paid to go to the beach. Maybe you already know this, but we still wanted to start here because over the years Cabrillo Marine Aquarium staff members have encountered many misconceptions about what a career in marine biology actually entails. Here are a few things to consider as you contemplate pursuing marine biology as a possible career.

Ocean science careers fall within two main categories: marine biology and oceanography. A marine biologist is a scientist who studies life in the oceans and this includes all ocean life, from kelp to microscopic plankton to the largest whales. An oceanographer is a scientist who studies the physical aspects of the ocean, including tides, waves, chemistry and geology. Typically, jobs in marine biology or oceanography require a college degree or higher.

"It's good to start taking science courses in high school, such as AP chemistry, biology and physics. These classes will give you a head start on college and an idea of the basics needed for a career in marine biology or oceanography," explained Mike Schaadt, Director of Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. "And if possible, start getting real world experience early. For example, the Aquarium offers a research mentoring program for high school students. This is a great way to learn the scientific method and get a better understanding of how research is done and whether itís a good match for you."

Career options depend on your educational background. Graduating high school and getting an Associate of Arts degree (2 years) is the perfect path for becoming a lab technician or research assistant on a ship. A bachelorís degree (4 years) can lead to a variety of job options at non-profits, aquariums or zoos. If you are really passionate about a specific ocean animal or you want to study kelp or the impacts of pollution, then itís best to get a masters degree (2 years) and Ph.D. (4 to 6 years). Advanced degrees lead to careers in research and college teaching. At this educational level you become an expert in your field with opportunities to present your findings at conferences and answer questions from reporters.

"Passion is the key to pursuing a career in marine biology or oceanography," said Schaadt. "You have to be willing to study hard, maybe take out school loans for college if necessary and work in a field that has an entry level pay scale of $30,000 to $40,000 and where jobs are harder to find. But it's all worth it if you love what youíre doing."

Maybe you won't get paid to go to the beach, but there can be exciting opportunities to work on a boat, travel, SCUBA dive or do field research. Data collected outside has to be taken back to the lab and analyzed, which can mean spending even more time indoors than outdoors. "A career in marine biology is exciting, but it can also be tedious, you have to have the patience to crunch numbers, match whale tails or identify microscopic plankton," said Schaadt. "But if you love the ocean, you will find greater purpose in everything youíre doing, which makes all tasks rewarding in some way."

To learn more about careers in marine science, search the internet using the keywords: marine science careers, marine biology careers, or oceanography careers and explore the information you find.

Additional Resources:
Sea Grant Marine Careers
Stanford University Hopkins Marine Station
Humboldt State University Fisheries Biology
Michigan State University Zoo and Aquarium Management
Cal State Long Beach Marine Biology
UCLA Marine Biology
UCLA Ocean Sciences
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Post Date: Thursday, May 3, 2012


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