Frequently Asked Questions
For my school project, I have to interview someone in a career that I would be interested in pursuing. I’ve always dreamed of becoming a marine biologist. Can you answer some questions for me?
You’ve certainly come to the right place if you are interested in what marine biologists -- and lots of other people in the marine sciences -- do for a living! Marine biologists, as you may know, come in many different shapes, ages, educational backgrounds and geographic locations. At our website, we've tried to profile different types of people representing many different careers and backgrounds to show the diversity of this field. By visiting the profiles section for each topic, you will be able to read interviews with several marine biologists, oceanographers, engineers and other professionals in this exciting field. We’ve asked everyone to respond to the same 10 questions so that you can see how different the people who do jobs in the same field can be -- and how different the job responsibilities can be! In some cases, the people who we’ve profiled have agreed to answer email from students. If that is the case, you will find an email link in their profile. Feel free to use our interviews for your career assignments, but please be sure to let your teacher know that the interview came from the Sea Grant Marine Science Careers website (www.marinecareers.net).
I'm 13 years old and have always wanted to work with ocean creatures. I'm too young to start thinking about colleges, so is there anything I can do now that would help me get closer to my goal?
While it may be a bit early to start researching colleges, there are plenty of things you can do now to combine your interest in ocean creatures with hands-on experience in the field. In fact, that’s a great way to find out if it is something you may want to consider studying in college or even pursuing as a career later.
Contact organizations near where you live or attend school to see if they might need a volunteer. Places to search would be aquaria, museums and science centers, as well as federal or state laboratories, marine theme parks or businesses dealing with the marine environment. There may also be summer programs in your area. See Summer Opportunities in our resources section for an idea of what's available.
Once you reach high school age, you may want to consider an internship. Check out the Internships and Fellowships in the resources section of this website.
Some organizations even offer scholarship or aid opportunities for employees or interns once they reach college age. And, establishing connections with such organizations now could result in possible job opportunities once you finish college. At the very least, it is a great way to find out if the field is for you and you’ll have fun and meet lots of people who share your interests while doing it.
I recently visited a theme park with my family and was amazed by the marine mammal show. How does someone become a marine animal trainer?
Your interest in training marine mammals is shared by many. Common advice from those in the field is to take as many math and science classes as you can -- not just in high school, but in college as well. Also, while a marine mammal trainer may be your first choice now, if you're still in high school it's a bit too early to limit your options. In fact, that is the advice we hear a lot from people in the field of marine science: don't specialize too early, keep your options open and be flexible.
When deciding on further education, you should look for a school with strong science programs. Career opportunities involving work with marine mammals are very competitive, so you should try to get some relevant experience now. You could begin by finding out about volunteer opportunities at nearby zoos or aquaria. Many places offer such positions and some are even paid.
There are a couple of organizations that offer information about working with marine mammals and marine mammal training. They are: the International Marine Animal Trainers Association and the Society for Marine Mammalogy. Both of these organizations offer websites and publications for students interested in working with marine mammals as a career.
I'm interested in studying marine biology in college. How should I choose a college that will offer a good program?
Because choosing a college is such a personal decision -- one that depends on so many variables -- we do not recommend particular colleges or universities. Things to consider include size, proximity to home, cost, reputation, courses offered, faculty credentials, proximity to internship opportunities, job placement after graduation, and, most importantly, the answers to the following questions: How did you feel when you visited and spoke to students, faculty and recruiting staff? What is the atmosphere like? Could you see yourself as a student there?
That being said, we will pass along some advice that we hear repeated again and again by people currently working in the field of oceanography or marine science. The main thing is to keep your options open. Specializing too early in a particular field may limit your options later. Experts we’ve interviewed recommend sticking with the basic sciences as an undergraduate (biology, physics, chemistry, geology, etc.) and holding off on specializing (in, say, marine biology) until later. There are many reasons for this. For one, the best and most competitive graduate programs like to see a solid foundation in a major science, so keep that in mind if a master’s degree or a doctorate is something you are considering.
While holding off on a program in a specialized field of science works well for many who go on to earn advanced degrees, there are many good specialized undergraduate programs. While such programs tend to offer more of a "smorsgasbord" approach, they do allow students to see if this is an area that suits them. For example, many of the specialized programs offer field courses, laboratory courses, internships and/or cooperative programs, or long-term independent research projects -- all which allow students to get a taste for what this field offers.
In terms of finding out what schools are the “best,” U.S. News and World Report does an annual ranking; this considers many factors including quality faculty and academic programs. You could start there, and look at which of those highly rated schools offer biology undergraduate programs. If you feel strongly about marine biology programs, be sure to look at the courses and compare them to a straight biology program. That will help you see the differences in the courses: faculty credentials, laboratory work, field work and other course requirements.
There are a number of good resources available to help you with your college search, including those listed in our resources section, Colleges, Universities and other Degree-Granting Institutions with Marine-Related Programs. There is also Barron's Profiles of American Colleges, which is available on amazon.com, and, most likely, at the guidance counselor's office at your high school.
I'm looking for a two-year school that offers programs for becoming a marine technician. I've heard that there are only a few and I can't find them. Can you help?
There are many programs that offer education and training programs for technicians. And, there are many types of technicians: marine technicians, science technicians or technicians in more specialized areas of science, such as geology, chemistry, biology and engineering. While many programs are two-year programs or degrees, there are also certificate programs and four-year undergraduate programs that would prepare students for careers as technicians. A good place to start looking is in the resources section of this website, particularly the section Colleges, Universities and Other Degree-Granting Institutions with Marine-Related Programs.
My professor told me that biochemistry is a really hot field right now. I am currently enrolled as a marine science biology major. Should I change my major?
Each year, various organizations compile lists of “hot careers.” Of course, what’s hot today may not be hot by the time you graduate. For example, a change in the economy or the political climate can have a significant impact on an industry. Presumably, you chose a major because it was something that interests you and that you are good at. This is the best reason to choose a career field. After all, you should enjoy what you are doing. For most people, job satisfaction is about more than just a salary.
In your case, there are many similarities between biochemistry and marine biology. In fact, oceanography is a very interdisciplinary field. That is, single projects can often involve biochemists, biologists, engineers and technicians -- all with similar interests but different ways of looking at a single problem.
As you can imagine, many people come to the marine sciences by way of marine biology; it’s marine biology that hooks people, but other aspects of the field that become their passion and specialty. Very few marine scientists and oceanographers come to their careers via the same path. Check out the people profiled on this site and read through their profiles to see how many diverse people ended up in the same field (select a field to access the profiles within it). Chances are, you’ll be able to identify with several of the people we’ve included. And check back -- we add new profiles.
I am researching a career in marine veterinary medicine. I was wondering if you have any information on this career?
The field of marine or aquatic veterinary science is certainly an exciting and growing field. Check out the following links to explore more about the field, colleges that offer programs to prepare students for this field, and professional organizations for aquatic veterinarians.
- Association of Zoos and Aquariums
- Auburn University
- University of California, Davis
- General Information
If you wish to do your own web searches, you'll find even more sites. Search for veterinary science or aquatic animal science.
How much money would I earn if I became a marine scientist?
As you probably guessed, salaries for marine scientists and marine-related occupations vary greatly. Some of the determining factors include: educational background, experience in the field or a related position, employment sector, geographic location, job responsibilities and employee benefits. Check out our Salary information for more information.
It’s also important to remember that some fields and employment sectors have more competition for jobs than others. This can happen when the supply outweighs the demand in a field or job sector. For example, in the academic community, professors have been turning out more students with Ph.D.s than there have been job openings. Graduates with doctorates who might have been counting on a job in academia may find such positions scarce. These students may end up taking multiple post-doctorate positions (postdocs, typically, are one-to-two-year positions at research universities or institutions that are meant to be the first stepping stone to a career in academia), or they may find themselves looking for jobs in the private sector or in government.
Another way of finding out salary information is by reading through the profiles on this site. At the end of the profile, some people have listed a salary range for their particular job. But don’t forget to take into consideration that person’s experience, education, employment sector and geographic location.
Can marine scientists belong to any organizations?
Here is a partial list:
- American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
- American Chemical Society (ACS)
- American Fisheries Society (AFS)
- American Geophysical Union (AGU)
- American Institute of Physics (AIP)
- Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO)
- Marine Technology Society (MTS)
- National Association of Marine Laboratories (NAML)
- National Marine Educators Association
- National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)
- The Oceanography Society
- The Society for Marine Mammalogy
- Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ)
Keep in mind that every marine scientific or oceanographic discipline has additional societies or organizations that are very focused on a specific aspect of the field.