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Marine Biologist

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Dolphin with trainer
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When you picture a marine biologist, what comes to mind? You may picture a dolphin trainer, or maybe Jacques Cousteau. But marine biology covers a wide range of activities and organisms, and so does the job of a marine biologist. Here you can learn what a marine biologist is, what marine biologists do, and how you can become a marine biologist.

What Is a Marine Biologist?:

Marine biology is the scientific study of animals and plants that live in salt water. If you look through this site, you'll realize there are thousands of species of animals, plants and algae that live in saltwater habitats. So, the more you think about it, the term 'marine biologist' becomes a very general term for anyone who studies or works with things that live in salt water, whether they are a dolphin, seal, sponge, or type of seaweed. Some marine biologists do study and train whales and dolphins, but the vast majority do a variety of other things, including studying corals, deep sea creatures or even tiny plankton and microbes.

Where Do Marine Biologists Work?

Marine biologists may work at universities, for Federal or state governments, at non-profit organizations, or at privately-owned businesses.

What Does a Marine Biologist Do?:

A marine biologist's job may involve work "in the field" (which is really, out in or on the ocean, on a salt marsh, on a beach, in an estuary, etc.). They may work on a boat, may scuba dive, use a submersible vessel, or study marine life from shore. A marine biologist may work in a laboratory, where they may be examining tiny creatures under a microscope, sequencing DNA, or observing animals in a tank. They may also work in an aquarium or zoo.

Or, a marine biologist may work in a combination of places, such as going out in the ocean and scuba diving to collect animals for an aquarium, and then observing and caring for them once back at the aquarium, or collecting sponges in the ocean and then studying them in a lab to look for compounds that could be used in medicine. They may also research a specific marine species, and teach at a college or university.

How Do I Become a Marine Biologist?:

Jobs in marine biology fields may be competitive, so it is helpful to learn as much as you can about a variety of ocean-related organisms and habitats, and get related experience as early as you can. But even if you don't live near the ocean, you can get relevant experience. Work with animals by volunteering at an animal shelter, veterinary office, zoo or aquarium (even experience not working directly with animals in these institutions can be helpful for background knowledge and experience). Learn to write and read well, as marine biologists do a lot of reading and writing. Be open to learning about new technology. Take as many biology, ecology and related courses in high school and college that you can.

As mentioned on this Stonybrook University web site, you might not necessarily want to major in marine biology in college, although it's often helpful to pick a related field. Classes with labs and outdoor experiences offer great hands-on experience. Fill your free time with volunteer experience, internships and travel if you can, to learn as much about the ocean and its inhabitants. This will give you lots of relevant experience that you can draw upon when applying for grad school or jobs in marine biology.

Many marine biology positions will require bachelor's, masters, or Ph.D. degrees. Many marine biologists also do post-graduate work, which all amounts to years of schooling.

How Much Does a Marine Biologist Get Paid?:

The pay that a marine biologist earns depends upon their position and experience. And sometimes, the jobs considered more "fun," with more time in the field, may pay less as they are often entry-level technician positions that might be paid by the hour, while jobs with more responsibility might mean that you spend more time inside at a desk looking at a computer. Click here for an interesting and informative interview with a marine biologist (James B. Wood), who indicates that an average salary for a marine biologist in the academic world is $45,000-$110,000, although he cautions that much of the time the marine biologist has to raise those funds themselves by applying for grants.

Positions are competitive, so a marine biologist's salary may not necessarily reflect all of their years of schooling and experience. But in exchange for relatively lower pay, many marine biologists enjoy working outside, traveling to beautiful places, not having to dress up to go to work, getting to make an impact on science and the world, and generally loving what they do.

References and Additional Reading:

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Marine Life
  4. Marine Careers
  5. Marine Biologist

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