For anyone who has been drawn to plant and animal life teeming in bodies of water – whether freshwater streams and rivers or in salty seas and oceans – the idea of becoming a marine biologist is the perfect marriage between passion and livelihood. There are a few different routes to becoming a marine biologist, especially depending on each individual's ultimate career goals. Consider what education is needed to become a marine biologist, as you learn more about the profession.
College Preparation in High School: Four Years
Students who have an idea that they'll want to study science should work toward that goal throughout their high school studies to help bolster their knowledge before reaching college. Hopeful marine biologists should commit to their high school science studies. The better grounded students are in the sciences as they head toward college, the easier their goals will be to achieve. Students should study biology, chemistry, physics, pre-calculus and English composition during these years as college preparation. Additionally, students should consider spending time volunteering for their local zoos and aquariums to become familiar with a possible working environment in their desired field.
Bachelor's Degree: Four Years
While studying marine biology as an undergraduate is ideal, it isn't necessarily the only way to approach this discipline. Students who are at an institution with no undergraduate program for marine biology should take courses in basic biology. SUNY College at Stony Brook notes that it's important to pad undergraduate studies with biology, physics, chemistry, botany, computers and technology, math and engineering to set a firm foundation for more in-depth marine biology studies later in their education and career. However, students should take marine science courses, which may include environmental biology, when they are available to stay on track toward their goals and complement their core science studies. Students who want to become an aquarium curator or work for an area's Department of Natural Resources, for example, may only need to pursue their bachelor's degree for a career in marine biology.
Master's Degree: Two to Three Years
Education Portal reports that some schools allow for a combined bachelor's and master's program for marine biology students. Whether students pursue the combined path or attend school for their master's, the period of time is similar. The course structure is not rigid during this phase of education, and students focus more on research and lab methods, understanding how to effectively use research equipment and recording their findings through quality scientific writing to share information with colleagues. The classes that students take at the graduate level are more refined – with courses such as Pacific coral reefs, shark biology and plankton ecology – and give students a chance to explore a specialized field of study.
Doctorate Degree: Four to Six Years
For those who want to bypass private sector, zoological jobs and governmental careers in marine biology, obtaining a Ph.D. is the logical course to follow. Students who have chosen a particular niche and plan to commit their careers to that path spend several years researching their dissertation topic, acquiring relevant data, discerning the critical data and summarizing their findings in their dissertation, which they must defend to their department. Once a student has completed this lengthy process, he may pursue a career as a professor or as a field researcher in their specialty, requesting grants and funding.
Salary and Job Outlook
You may be wondering do marine biologists make a lot of money? The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average annual salary for wildlife biologists was $62,290. Entry-level marine biologists with a bachelor's degree will earn less. The lowest 10 percent of marine biologists earned $39,620. Once you've earned a doctorate, you can expect to earn as much as $99,700.