Becoming a marine biologist

FishSpeaking from my own experience marine biology is a fascinating area to work in. I have been privy to see some tremendous marine life around Britain and the world. One of the most popular jobs that many people aspire to is marine biology. Popularised by films and television documentaries, it is easy to see why. But for the uninitiated what exactly is marine biology?

The first thing that many people associate with marine biologists are cetaceans, everyone would enjoy the opportunity to work with dolphins, whales or seals during some time of their life, but this area is tremendously competitive and opportunities are becoming increasingly rare in this area. Other areas which offer just as rewarding opportunities are algal biology, fish biology, oceanography and so on.

In explaining the process to become a marine biologist I speak from my own field of algal and deep-sea biology so some of this may not be relevant to other fields. I originally wanted to be a geneticist, but circumstances led me taking up a course in coastal marine biology at the Scarborough Centre for Coastal Studies, then part of University of York, now Hull. In the first few months and leading up into the 2nd year I became more interested in algae, particularly macroalgae. My lecturers allowed me to pursue an independent project in the genetics of fucoid algae as part of my third year honours project, which has led to me doing a PhD at Queens University, Belfast in the Long Term Effects of Macroalgal Grazing by Limpets.

I’m now an established post-doctoral researcher at the Scottish Association for Marine Science in Scotland (see my professional page). I had to leave my first love of algal biology behind and I now work in the depths of the deep-sea. Every day is fascinating, with new discoveries, amazing technology and the oppotunity to travel the world over.

DiversTo become a marine biologist, the first step, is showing an interest in the field. Reading text books, and watching television documentaries will give valuable insights into this interesting world. As with most academic careers it is important to pursue a good education early on, and then to pursue a university degree.

Then after you hold a degree, you are then faced with several options. Firstly you can further your academic career with more specialised taught courses (Masters Degree) or research (Postgraduate Honours Degree). Or secondly you can get a job in the field to further your experience within the field, building up valuable work related experience.

One final thing, one of my old lecturers said to me when I finished my degree, that a PhD or a Masters degree don’t make people listen to you more than a firm grasp and enthusiasm for your subject. In any case good luck, in finding a rewarding career of your own, I feel privileged to have had my opportunity and I hope it lasts for a very long time, at least until I retire.