One of the most frequent questions I get from people, especially younger individuals or students, is “how can I become a marine biologist or how can I get started doing work similar to yours?” First of all, I’m honored that some of you have reached out to me for advice. I don’t consider myself to be any more special than any other marine scientist so it means a lot that there are people seeking my guidance. Second, please take everything I have to say with a grain of salt. I can only give advice based off my experiences and how I ended up where I am today. What worked for me, while I think it is useful to share, may not work the same way for someone else. There are lots of different ways to get started. Here is my advice for aspiring marine biologists.
While schooling is important, nowadays experience and connections mean almost just as much when it comes to finding a job.
Picking a University
When it comes to picking a school or university to study at there are a few things I advise students to look into. There can be really subtle differences between degrees at colleges and even between the same degree at different schools. When deciding on what school to go to it is important to think about what it is you are interested in potentially wanting to do (I say “potentially” because it’s ok if that changes throughout time) and pick which program will help align you towards that path.
While almost every field in marine science will cover some of the same basic info, as you progress through your schooling degrees will start to differ from each other in their focus. For example, oceanography is different from marine science, which is different from marine biology, environmental science, zoology and biology, etc. Find the degree and school that offers a program that makes sense for you.
Another huge thing to consider when picking a school is what other sort of opportunities does that university have to get you involved in the career field you want to pursue. Does the school offer class sizes you like, opportunities for independent research, clubs you can join, or organizations you can start to volunteer and work with nearby?
Read my step by step guide to picking a college for marine science here.
My biggest advice when it comes to getting a foot in the door in the marine science world is to start getting involved in whatever ways you can. Even if it is as simple as joining a club at school, every little bit helps. Volunteering and/or interning at different organizations is one of the best ways to gain experience in the field and build your resume. Now, more than ever, experience is becoming a more and more important factor in whether or not you have a good chance of getting hired once you’re done with your schooling.
Think outside the box when it comes to where you choose to get involved. Even if the organization you are volunteering with works with birds and you want to study nudibranchs or its a conservation group and you want to do research, the skills you learn will most likely be transferrable when you start working with other organizations or animals. Who knows, maybe you will discover something new and fall in love and change your focus! Some of my most valuable experiences were working somewhere I thought would be my ideal job and ending up hating it. That experience forced me to look into other options and find organizations I had never heard of that fit my dream job way better!
The only other thing I want to emphasize is that as you get more and more involved in the marine science world you should try to make connections with other people doing similar work. Networking can be a daunting task but when you start to make meaningful connections with other individuals in the field there are a lot of great opportunities that can develop. Some of the coolest things I’ve done in the field were because of friendships I made with colleagues while working with them. However, it’s not all about making connections for your career, having a community and friends with like-minded goals is so rewarding and leads to great things.
Again, these are just things that I think will help you start working towards a career in the marine sciences. Whether you are about to start college, have finished school and don’t know what to do next, or are just wanting to make a shift in careers I hope that my advice helps a bit.