Want to be a Marine Biologist?

There are many paths to a career in marine biology, and there are many different kinds of marine biologist. This can make it confusing to a person trying to figure out how to pursue a career in this field.

If you read definitions on the Internet of Oceanography, Marine Biology, and Marine Ecology, you begin to realize how many different fields are involved. People who study the oceans (Oceanographers) may have backgrounds in one or more of the fields of biology, chemistry, geology, meteorology, physics or geography. Marine Biologists may specialize in ecology, physiology, neurology, parasitology, embryology, ornithology, ichthyology, biomechanics, phycology, systematics etc.

So where should you start?

How to prepare in high school:

High School:

As a foundation for any of the fields mentioned above, you should study Math, English, Chemistry, Physics and Biology. In addition, develop skills in computer literacy. The culture of science is very collaborative, so learning to get along with other people and work as part of a team are also very important.

What to study at University:

Your first university degree should be a Bachelor of Science (BSc). This will probably be in biology, but could be in chemistry, physics, geography or math. When trying to decide, think about which subjects you liked best in high school. The first two years of a BSc are designed to give you the background needed to pursue more advanced topics. In the first two years, most courses are prescribed, but you will also have some options. It is important to continue developing your skills in English, Math and Statistics.

Try to obtain work experience in areas that interest you while you are working on your BSc. You may be able to get lab and/or field experience during gap years, or through degree programs that provide internships such as co-op positions. Work experience is a great way to develop skills, make connections, and test the water.

Pursue topics of your choice during the last two years of your BSc. This is the time to explore courses in ecology, neurology, physiology etc., and start to determine your interests. This is also a good time to take specialized courses in marine sciences. Marine science courses may be offered by your home university, or you could take them at a marine lab for credit at your home university.

 The Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre (BMSC) is one place you can take courses in marine sciences. BMSC belongs to five universities (University of Alberta, University of Calgary, University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and University of Victoria), and students from any of these universities can take courses at BMSC. In addition, students from other universities around the world, also come to BMSC to take courses, and arrange for credit to be transferred to their home universities.

Graduate Degrees:

Many, but not all Marine Biologists, go on to Masters and PhD degrees where they learn how to do scientific research. By this stage, most students have a pretty good idea what areas of marine biology interest them and choose graduate programs in these areas.

Careers in Marine Biology:

The field of Marine Biology is broad, and includes many different kinds of jobs. There are several good sites on the Internet that answer questions about careers in marine biology, and also how to prepare for them. Below are some links for you to explore.

Good Luck!

  1. Stony Brook University has a website that is an educational resource in Marine Biology. Two useful links from that page are:
    “Become a Marine Biologist”
    “Some common questions about a marine biology career
  2. Other sites that address how to become a marine biologist: