How To Get Into Marine Biology
If we had a penny for every time someone asked us how to get into marine biology… then we would be rich enough to fund all the science needed to protect the ocean. Ok, ok, joking aside, it’s a valid question and there are so many routes and roads into this field, that it can be a daunting web to untangle. This article sets out what you need to do to get into marine biology…
So you want to be a marine scientist. You’ve seen Blue Planet II, follow those awesome marine biology accounts on instagram and maybe you’ve always felt a connection with the ocean. But let us tell you now, that “getting into” marine biology is much the same as every other career - it requires hard work, commitment and the knowledge that you are entering a competitive field. So, let’s start at the very beginning with one simple question… What area are you interested in? Have a google, watch videos, read, listen to podcasts - learn, and decide what interests you. Because marine science covers a whole ocean of possibilities (and trust us, the ocean is pretty damn large). As with everything, there is no set path into marine science, but we have outlined some key pointers below…
If you are interested in being a science professional, publishing academic papers or becoming a professor, then this a solid route is for you. The process usually follows something like this: a bachelor’s degree, then a masters, then a PhD, followed by post-doctoral research. Not everyone can afford to go to university for this long, and we admit that not everybody wants to. Here’s a quick recap of each of the degrees:
Bachelor’s (Usually 3-4 years)
A bachelor’s degree is usually taught, though often research component in the final year. Here you’ll learn the fundamentals of marine science along with a number of practical skills.
Master’s (Usually 1-2 years)
At masters level, you are usually afforded more independence but are also expected to have a foundation of knowledge from your undergraduate degree. A maters can either be taught or research based.
PhD (Usually 3+ years)
Marine science PhDs are research based and grant you much more independence. In many countries, you can earn a salary (albeit usually rather small) from a PhD!
So, if you’ve decided to go this route, next you need to decide what type of degree are you looking to do. This will largely depend on whether you wish to go straight into a marine biology or study a related biosciences degree. Some courses will ask for specific A Levels and grades. Check university website pages for individual course requirements (can also be found on themarinediaries.com for UK universities). Different courses at different universities will expect different things from you and your personal statement. Check course pages for details or ask admissions tutors or students at open days for advice.
University can’t teach you everything however. If university is not for you, then you can still have the opportunity to get involved in marine biology by assisting qualified marine biologists as a research assistant. These placements and volunteer experiences exist across the globe. With any luck, you may be able to find yourself a job through one of these placements.
As with everything in life, there’s an element of who you know. Put your name out there – reach out, send emails, connect with people. Join marine biology Facebook groups such as Marine Biologist Network or Girls in Ocean Science to meet likeminded people. Attend conferences, visit museums. We’re of the strong opinion that if you don’t ask, you don’t get!
4. Get Skills
Scuba diving, boat handling license, marine surveyor – each and every skill goes a long way in making you stand out from others when it comes to employment, having a degree doesn’t always count for everything.
5. Educate Yourself
Become your own expert. There is a wealth of information out there; learn and absorb as much as you can because this will be so useful when applying for courses and jobs. Watch documentaries, read books, read papers. Sign up for mailing lists like NOAA coral digest. Take a free online courses from institutions such as Edx.
So to summarise - there is no secret way to ‘get into’ marine biology – like most careers out there, it is a competitive field with limited jobs and funding. But this should by no means put you off. It takes passion and hard work, and if you’ve got that, then you’ll go a long way.