Education

What Degrees Do You Need To Be A Marine Biologist

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 9 minute read

Please tell us whether you’re interested in marine animals such as crabs and fish. You may want to consider a career as a marine biologist. A marine biologist is a sort of biologist who specializes in aquatic species. Marine biologists must have a formal education in order to succeed in the field.

The field of marine biology may be studied at a number of colleges and universities, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees available. An aspirant marine scientist could major in general biology, zoology, ecology, or another animal science at another institution.

What Exactly Is Marine Biology?

Simply put, a “marine biologist” is someone who focuses their research on oceanic life forms. For the study of life and living creatures, biology is a subdiscipline of natural science. 

The term “marine” denotes that the subject matter of this discipline of biology is limited to species found in or associated with bodies of water.

What kinds of marine life exist?

Since students and researchers solely study water species, marine biology may appear to be a somewhat limited topic. However, marine species are numerous, diversified, and incredibly fascinating.

The following are examples of marine life that marine biologists can study:

  • All types of fish
  • Sharks
  • Octopuses and squids
  • Stingrays and manta rays
  • Turtles, crocodiles, and marine iguanas are among the marine and aquatic reptiles.
  • Seals, sea lions, dolphins, and whales are examples of marine animals.
  • Penguins, puffins, and pelicans are marine birds.
  • Aquatic plants include seaweed, algae, and coral
  • Fungi, bacteria, and protozoa are marine microorganisms.

Specific names have been given to a few of these subfields of study. An ichthyologist is a scientist who specializes in studying wild fish, such as sharks. Experts in cephalopods, such as octopuses and cuttlefish, are referred to as teuthologists. Cetologists study dolphins and other marine creatures.

Besides that, marine biologists may also study aquatic creatures that are found in other animal species. As an example, some malacologists focus on aquatic mollusks like clams, while others research snails that live on the ground.

A marine scientist could be more interested in marine iguanas, saltwater crocodiles, and sea turtles, although herpetology embraces all reptiles and snakes. Penguin researchers and observers may fall within the umbrella of a marine scientist, even though most ornithologists are focused on non-aquatic species.

It’s not uncommon for marine scientists to focus on a certain type of marine life. In this subject, a scientist may be a specialist in sea turtle species or dolphins, for example. 

Specialization in other areas of marine biology such as marine ecology or marine biotechnology is common among marine scientists. Marine biotechnology involves the production of drugs and other compounds by utilizing biological materials and processes gleaned from oceans.

What is it that marine biologists do?

Marine biologists routinely collect biological samples and specimens, carry out experiments, analyze empirical data, and observe sea creatures in their natural habitats like coral reefs or in controlled environments like tide pool exhibits as part of their work in the scientific study of marine life.

It’s not uncommon for marine scientists to research ocean life in order to gain a better understanding of the magnificent and often enigmatic organisms that inhabit the oceans. 

Environmental restoration technologies developed by marine biologists can assist rebuild depleted marine ecosystems and communities, as well as alleviate the detrimental effects of human activities on our seas.

Where Do Marine Biologists Do Their Job?

Aquatic biologists can be hired by any firm, organization, institution, or authority that sees benefit in better understanding marine creatures. Marine biologists are employed by academic organizations, such as research colleges and universities, to serve a dual purpose: to train the future generation of scientists and to perform groundbreaking research.

Marine biologists are needed by coastal authorities and other government agencies for research, conservation activities and public education. Fisheries management corporations and environmental compliance organizations, as well as scientific labs and enterprises engaged in research and development in the scientific and technology services sector, all profit from the efforts of marine biologists.

Marine biologists are employed by conservation organizations, aquariums, and other organizations that protect and conserve marine species and aquatic habitats. Rare species can be observed in their native habitats by marine biologists who go to remote locations for fieldwork.

Others prefer to stay close to home, working in offices, labs, aquariums, and other facilities dedicated to the study of marine life. If you are considering a career as a marine biologist, you need to know what is expected of you.

Fieldwork jobs may need lengthy periods of time away from home and exposure to adverse weather conditions, such as stormy seas, temperature extremes, and other environmental hazards. Everyone isn’t suited for these positions. However, if you’re a person who isn’t troubled by these conditions, a profession that doesn’t need much fieldwork may appear monotonous.

If you know what you want to accomplish with a marine biology degree and where you want to work before starting your studies, it might be helpful. If you want to be a marine biologist, your educational needs will vary based on what you plan to accomplish.

The Required Degree Level for a Marine Biologist

For the vast majority of marine biology employment, a formal college background is required. Even for entry-level positions in the area, some amount of education is required. Marine biologists are likely to need to have a higher degree of education if their research or employment obligations are more complicated or comprehensive.

Students can pursue a marine science or marine biologist degree at each level of higher education imaginable, from associate’s degrees to doctorates. Even entry-level marine scientist jobs require a bachelor’s degree.

O*NET reports that 57 percent of industry professionals polled regarding the amount of education required for a job as a biologist believe that a master’s degree is required for new employees in the area.

Associate’s Degrees in Marine Biology

Junior colleges and community colleges that offer two-year degrees in marine biology often do not qualify students for employment as marine biologists. However, you may be qualified for some entry-level biological technician positions.

Beginning their careers with an associate’s degree, zoologists and wildlife biologists must complete an extra two years of full-time study to get a bachelor’s degree. The primary advantage of getting an associate’s degree initially is paying reduced tuition rates at a community college (as opposed to a four-year institution) for the first two years of study.

Typically, the curriculum of an associate’s degree program in marine biology includes introductory and fundamental training for marine biology study at the undergraduate level. A significant portion of your courses in an associate’s degree program will be devoted to fulfilling general education requirements.

Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a bachelor’s degree is often the minimal level of education necessary for marine biology occupations (BLS). If you want to become a marine biologist, don’t settle for less than a bachelor’s degree.

The coursework in bachelor’s degrees in marine biology is more in-depth than those of associate’s degree programs in marine biology. Students may enroll in advanced and specialized courses in their area of expertise.

Marine Biology Doctoral and Graduate Programs

To prepare for graduate school, students must take on more challenging courses and have more opportunities for independent study. A master’s thesis and a doctoral dissertation are two different types of research projects undertaken by graduate students in their last year of study.

A marine scientist who wishes to work in a non-academic industrial capacity might consider a master’s degree program. Students in master’s programs sometimes have the option of specializing, which allows them to gain in-depth expertise in a particular field of study.

The doctoral degree is the pinnacle of academic achievement. Students who complete PhD programs are better prepared for careers as professors and researchers at the highest levels in the field of marine biology.

Curriculum within Marine Biology Programs

A marine biology degree requires you to take a particular number of courses. Specialized marine biology courses will be required in addition to your general education requirements.

Students majoring in marine biology can expect to enroll in the following types of courses:

  • The discipline of biology that examines the structure and function of cells, the basic unit of life that composes all living tissues and organisms.
  • Molecular biology is the discipline of biology that focuses on the physical and chemical structure of cellular molecules that execute and are engaged in a variety of biological processes and activities.
  • Marine chemistry, often known as ocean chemistry, is the scientific study of the chemical composition and chemical processes of the ocean.
  • Marine ecology is the study of marine habitats and how marine organisms interact within them.
  • The scientific study of ocean creatures and their biological processes within their natural habitat.
  • Scientific research and laboratory practices: Research is an essential component of marine biology studies. Students learn how to design experiments, gather and evaluate data, and conduct research. Some marine biology students, especially at the graduate level, conduct independent research.
  • Marine biology students need courses in computer science in addition to those with a special marine scientific concentration. The study of computer science assists marine biologists in modeling, simulating, and analyzing data utilizing modeling and biostatistics tools.

Numerous degree programs in this discipline begin their core curriculum with basic and foundational biology and oceanographic courses. By the end of their bachelor’s degree programs, students enroll in courses at the intermediate and advanced levels.

Programs in Marine Science and Biology include electives.

The majority of your coursework may consist of electives. If you are interested in researching creatures such as dolphins, whales, and seals, for instance, you may enroll in a course in marine mammalogy or marine mammal biology. If you are more interested in plants than animals, electives such as general botany and medical botany may be of interest.

Some of the more specific electives that students may face in the discipline of ocean science include the ecology of polar marine vertebrate species, the behavior of salmon and trout, sustainable fishing techniques, and illnesses of aquatic creatures.

Fieldwork for Aspiring Marine Biologists

To succeed as a marine scientist, especially in a position that requires extensive fieldwork, you need more than just academic understanding. You must also be able to operate equipment ranging from laboratory equipment to boats and scuba diving equipment.

Due to these prerequisites, marine biologists must acquire their knowledge through hands-on experience. Practicum or fieldwork experience is frequently incorporated into programs. Internship participation is especially promoted among undergraduate students. 

Students may pursue internships in zoological parks and aquariums, conservation societies, non-profit research organizations, and government institutions, among others. Students may opt to study abroad in order to do fieldwork in other geographical locations that are home to a variety of aquatic organisms.

High School Preparation for Marine Biology Education

If you’ve always wanted to be a marine biologist, it isn’t unusual to realize this from a young age. Many high school students aspire to be marine biologists, which implies that they may begin preparing for this educational path and career path early on.

Studies in marine biology typically incorporate a substantial amount of science content, as one might expect. Because of this, it is important to have a well-rounded education in the sciences prior to entering college.

Students in high school should take biology, chemistry, and physics laboratory classes, and they should think about taking AP courses in these topics if they are interested. Students in high school should take advantage of opportunities to learn about environmental science and oceanography if they can. Precalculus or calculus, as well as statistics and probability, can all be beneficial.

High school students may prepare for a future in marine exploration and research through more than just their academics. Free career tests can help you focus on a certain career path while summer programs at aquariums, research institutes and government agencies can help you obtain relevant experience in the field prior to enrolling at an institution of higher education.

What competencies do marine biologists require?

Before graduating from marine biology degree programs, students should have established practical abilities in the use of research equipment and computer software.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since many marine biologist professions entail at least some fieldwork, it is crucial for employees in this sector to have good outdoor abilities and survival skills.

Research is an essential component of the marine biologist profession. Students must therefore learn research skills, such as understanding of research protocols, experimental design, and strategies for correctly acquiring and interpreting data.

To become a marine biologist, you need technical and “hard” talents, but also “soft” skills and non-technical attributes. A marine scientist, for instance, requires good critical thinking, problem-solving, interpersonal, and communication abilities. Particularly crucial for this vocation are skills in professional scientific writing.

Once a marine biologist has made a discovery, they must disclose their findings to the scientific world, typically in the form of a paper published in academic publications that have undergone peer review.

Having a desire for ongoing learning is essential for marine scientists. Constantly expanding knowledge of marine life and animal behavior is produced through research in this subject. Through their formal and informal continuous learning efforts, zoologists and wildlife biologists not only remain abreast of the most recent advancements in their area, but also continue to build their soft skills and technical abilities in the context of professional growth.

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