What Can You Do With A Marine Biology Degree

Sheetal B
By Sheetal B. Updated: March 6, 2022
What Can You Do With A Marine Biology Degree

You may have recently been watching some of the fascinating and awe inspiring images of marine life brought to us by documentaries like Blue Planet. It's popularity shows how many of us can become fascinated by underwater life, but for some it might sow seeds of making this interest into a career. A marine biology degree encompasses a wide range of disciplines such as biology, zoology, chemistry, mathematics and biometrics. You will need a foundational knowledge in these areas before you can study at university level, but once you have completed your degree, looking at the next stage can be intimidating. As marine biology is one of the main branches of biology, there is more than enough to get you started on a career. oneHOWTO looks into what you can do with a marine biology degree so that we can find out what the specifics of this career might be.

  1. What is marine biology?
  2. What did you study in marine biology?
  3. What you can do with an undergraduate marine biology degree
  4. What jobs you can do within marine biology

What is marine biology?

Marine biology at its basic level is the scientific study of sea dwelling organisms. It is fundamentally important to life on earth, both on land and sea. The animals which dwell in the sea affect the earth's ecosystem, helping land animals (including us humans) process oxygen and providing sustenance. Marine biological research is also furthering other fields such as medicine, using some of the many species underwater to develop different medications[1].

As the biology of marine organisms encompasses all life both in and on water, there are many different areas of research you can investigate with a marine biology degree. Sea life contains shellfish and finfish, the creatures we have most come to associate with the association. However, there are saltwater lizards, mammals and all sorts of related life which live there.

Invertebrates which live in the sea include jellyfish, sea worms, octopus and squid. Legends such as the giant squid may have sparked your interest in marine biology, just as those of vertebrates like Moby Dick the whale have for others. There are also plant life, funghi, seabirds and microscopic organisms with are closely related to microbiology.

All these areas have their own fascinations, but a marine biology undergraduate degree will get you started on where you might want to specialize for a career. Fortunately, while the earth covers over 70% of the planet, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, over 95% of this is yet to be explored[2]. However, as the wonder of the sea inspires many, marine biology is also a fiercely competitive area. Considering how you will fit into this world is important.

What did you study in marine biology?

The first step in knowing how you will work in the world of marine biology is answering why you got into it in the first place. Is it because it was something you were naturally gifted at learning? Did you have a passion for animals which made marine biology seem like a good idea? Did you have misguided notions that being a marine biologist would mean spending your working life by a beach with piña coladas in hand?

Whatever reason you had when starting a marine biology degree, you need to learn from your experiences to help inform your next move. Have a think if your motivations at the beginning of the course have stayed or changed. Did you struggle just to get through the exams or find yourself losing interest in a lot of key areas. If so, perhaps it is not too late to think about changing disciplines.

If you found an undergraduate degree in marine biology to be stimulating and it sat comfortably with both your needs and abilities, then you will need to look into further study. You may be able to go on work shadowing or volunteer schemes in related fields to see if the practical aspects of being a marine biologist suit you before applying to postgraduate courses.

What Can You Do With A Marine Biology Degree - What did you study in marine biology?

What you can do with an undergraduate marine biology degree

If you have decided that you do not want to take your education further, or circumstances dictate that you can't, your undergraduate degree in marine biology can still be very valuable. You might also want to go into something which may take you further into another area, so you can consider using your undergraduate marine biology degree to go into something unrelated. There are many careers which are either related to marine biology or which have transferable skills. Here are just some of them to get you thinking what your career choices might entail:

  • Coastguard: if you wanted to get into marine biology because you love the sea, this could be for you. It requires a practical head and a healthy body, but it could be the kind of career which meets your interests, while involving a less scientific approach.
  • Law: marine biology encompasses not only the organisms which live in the sea, but how humans interact with them. Perhaps you were interested in marine biology because of conservation issues. You might be better suited to dealing with maritime law and work hard on the legal recourses to prevent destruction of oceanic life.
  • Administration: there are many different government departments, private institutions or projects which are linked to marine biology. Using your marine biology undergraduate as a platform, you might be interested in working for these organisations in a less scientific capacity. It could also entail organizational elements and event coordination.
  • Journalism: if you enjoyed the writing elements of marine biology, but found that you wanted to go into something more broad, you could write on related subjects for various publications.
  • Public relations: many firms are related to marine biology. These include companies which make seafaring technologies, environmental activists, fisheries or a multitude of other fields. Working in marketing or public relations for these companies can allow you to use your background knowledge to inform their public image.

These are a few suggestions, but if you have decided you want to get away from marine biology altogether, you will need to decide upon a new career path before you can work out how to get there.

What Can You Do With A Marine Biology Degree - What you can do with an undergraduate marine biology degree

What jobs you can do within marine biology

Marine biology is such an umbrella term, there is no real consensus of what a 'marine biologist' does other than work with oceanic organisms. That's why we should look into the different possible career paths you might be able to enter if you want to use your marine biology degree to go further in this field:

  • Laboratory research scientist: you may have had dreams of seafaring when going into marine biology, but there is a lot of amazing work which gets done in the lab. Whether you are interested in microorganisms, studying marine health or many of the amazing roles marine biologists fulfil in the lab, it could be something you are well suited to. It's also great for those also interested in chemistry.
  • Field research scientist: perhaps the stereotypical idea many have of being a marine biologist, this is the process of collecting information outside of labs and libraries. It can involve many different excursions and can be as intensely rewarding. Difficulties include opportunity for funding as well as navigating difficult laws and restrictions of other countries and organizations (also your own). Requires a lot of practical training as well as further study.
  • Nature conservation officer: if you are passionate about maintaining marine life for years to come, then perhaps conservation is the route for you.
  • Medical research scientist: if you want to improve the health of underwater organisms as well as see the benefits it has on land dwellers.
  • Aquaculture: aquaculture is the farming of fish and other sea life for different purposes. These include as a food source, research, sustainability[3], protection or even for ornamental purposes. You don't necessarily need a marine biology degree to become an aquarist, but you can certainly use it to advance through the field.
  • Oceanographer: oceanography is the study of the physical aspects of the ocean, which includes its biology. It involves studying tidal movement, underwater ecosystems, migrations of sea life, zoology, geology, geography and much more. It is an incredibly diverse field and is worth exploring alongside marine biology.
  • Ichthyologist: ichthyology is the scientific study of fish. It may seem limited to focus only on fish marine life, but within this one subject is a wealth of study. Many fish are yet to be discovered and there have even been instances of once thought extinct fish being rediscovered[4].
  • Academia: you may have discovered that library research and teaching were the aspect of your degree you most enjoyed, so you can consider a career in academia as meeting your needs.

With the amount of people employed in the overall field of marine biology increasing 4.92% in 2015 from the year previous[5], it looks like there may be growth in the area. Be careful, however, as the same report notes that tuition fees have increased 3 - 4% in the same time, while salaries have only increased 0.45%.

Don't let this dissuade you if you are truly passionate about oceanic life and remember these are only a few suggestions out of the many possible careers you could choose, related or not. Considering a career in marine biology is worthwhile. It is an area which can fascinate you, while at the same time illuminating the rest of the world.

If you want to read similar articles to What Can You Do With A Marine Biology Degree, we recommend you visit our University degrees category.

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What Can You Do With A Marine Biology Degree