Marine biology is the study of the world's aquatic organisms and the ecosystems they inhabit. It is one of the most comprehensive and competitive areas of oceanography, overlapping with many other areas of study, from biochemistry and microbiology to psychology and anthropology.
Many different types of jobs relate to this discipline. Its practitioners are academic professors and lab researchers, scientists, supervisors, consultants, and more. Marine biologists may spend their time tracking ocean wildlife for conservation efforts or assisting oil companies with deepwater drilling. They may constantly travel to conduct fieldwork, or rarely leave their cubicle.
Similarly, the term 'marine biology' encompasses a variety of educational pathways. There is not one correct major or set of prerequisites; even graduate programs have relatively few core requirements. In general, the best strategy is to focus on gaining a solid science background at the undergraduate level and a strong research background at the master's level while deciding among different areas of emphasis.
There is no national agency that specifically accredits biology or marine biology departments in the United States. However, schools that offer marine biology or related programs should be accredited by an organization recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Education.
To get into most colleges for marine biology, students need a 4-year bachelor's degree. The undergraduate level is a good time to begin volunteering at local labs, connecting with established scientists, and participating in internships.
Those who know exactly what they want to do can specialize at this level, but it could limit their career options later on. Those who don't know what they want to do yet shouldn't worry. They are advised to focus on a core science, and schedule in plenty of multidisciplinary studies.
The chief goal of the bachelor's degree for a future marine biologist is to lay a wider foundation on which a more specialized graduate education can be built. It's about learning how to do science, so students don't necessarily need Marine Biology degrees at this level. Instead, the top marine biology colleges prefer applicants with a major in one of the following core sciences:
Depending on their interests, other students opt for Psychology, Zoology, or Oceanography. No matter the major, they should be sure to cover subjects like:
- Organic Chemistry
- Molecular Biology
Students who know for sure the area of marine biology in which they will ultimately specialize can begin taking background coursework to that end. Those who expect to become marine mammologists, for instance, might take:
- Invertebrate Zoology
- Animal Anatomy and Physiology
Of course, classes in marine or environmental science are helpful, but they are not essential. In addition to the above sciences, pick up courses in:
- English Composition
- Computer Technology
Some marine biology students enter the workforce after getting a bachelor's degree. It's not the most competitive option, but there are jobs out there for bachelor degree-holders.
Aquaculture, for instance - fish farming and management - is growing at the international level. Students only need a bachelor's to work for a private fish harvesting company as a Marine Logistics Manager. Other positions that may require only a bachelor's degree include:
- Fishery Biologist
- Aquarium Biologist
- Marine Engineer
It is recommended that prospective marine biologists earn a master's degree to give themselves the greatest career flexibility and a competitive edge in applicant pools. Many entry-level jobs are offered exclusively to master-qualified professionals.
A master's plan typically last 2 years and requires a thesis for graduation. For most students, this is when more targeted marine biology coursework starts. Yet, like their undergraduate counterparts, master programs mandate few core requirements for aspiring marine biologists.
Marine biology is inherently broad and its practitioners need a good sense of the bigger picture, so students are free to choose a thesis topic based on their interests and faculty connections. Veterans in the field recommend focusing on unsolved questions and scientific problems more than particular animals or taxa.
Someone with a master's degree in a marine or related science could become an environmental consultant with the oil and gas industry, for example, or work for the NOAA processing satellite data from international monitoring stations.
What other kinds of jobs are available to master degree-holders?
- Staff Marine Biologist
- Marine Archaelogist
Graduate-level Ecotoxicology coursework, for instance, might include:
- Environmental Chemistry of Pollution
- Risk Assessment for Environmental Health Hazards
- Mechanisms of Carcinogenesis
Students who anticipate an academic or independent research career move on to a 2- to 3-year Ph.D. program after earning a master's. It's possible to earn a Ph.D. without first earning a master's, but not recommended given the necessary preparation required for doctoral study and funding.
Some students earn a Ph.D. without ever studying Marine Biology at all. A marine biotechnologist, for example, could have a master's or a doctorate in Molecular Biology and bring that expert knowledge to bear on aquatic environments without ever taking a Marine Biology class.
Marine biology jobs that require a Ph.D. include:
- Professor of Marine Biochemistry
- Senior Coastal Engineer
Seminars for a Coastal Engineering doctorate, for instance, might cover:
- Ocean Fluid Dynamics
- Water Wave Mechanics
- Engineering Mathematics
We found 56 schools offering marine biology degree programs in the U.S.
|Auburn University Main Campus||Auburn University||AL||21860|
|Bemidji State University||Bemidji||MN||4118|
|Brigham Young University - Idaho||Rexburg||ID||8949|
|California State University - Long Beach||Long Beach||CA||30918|
|Cheyney University of Pennsylvania||Cheyney||PA||1496|
|Coastal Carolina University||Conway||SC||4653|
|College of Charleston||Charleston||SC||11129|
|College of William and Mary||Williamsburg||VA||7530|
|Drake University||Des Moines||IA||5126|
|East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania||East Stroudsburg||PA||5811|
|Eckerd College||Saint Petersburg||FL||1572|
|Fairleigh Dickinson University - Metropolitan Campus||Teaneck||NJ||9382|
|Florida Institute of Technology - Melbourne||Melbourne||FL||4248|
|Hawaii Pacific University||Honolulu||HI||7553|
|Mansfield University of Pennsylvania||Mansfield||PA||3113|
|Nova Southeastern University||Fort Lauderdale||FL||18587|
|Palm Beach Atlantic University - West Palm Beach||West Palm Beach||FL||2295|
|Roger Williams University||Bristol||RI||3750|
|Rutgers University - New Brunswick/piscataway||New Brunswick||NJ||35236|
|Saint Francis University||Loretto||PA||2129|
|Saint Pauls College||Lawrenceville||VA||518|
|Savannah State University||Savannah||GA||2166|
|Southampton College of Long Island University||Southampton||NY||2595|
|Spring Hill College||Mobile||AL||1484|
|Stony Brook University||Stony Brook||NY||19924|
|Suny Maritime College||Bronx||NY||776|
|Texas A & M University at Galveston||Galveston||TX||1363|
|Texas State University - San Marcos||San Marcos||TX||22423|
|The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey||Pomona||NJ||6312|
|The University of Alabama||Tuscaloosa||AL||19277|
|The University of Texas at Austin||Austin||TX||49996|
|The University of West Florida||Pensacola||FL||8479|
|University of Alaska Fairbanks||Fairbanks||AK||7132|
|University of California - Los Angeles||Los Angeles||CA||36890|
|University of California - San Diego||La Jolla||CA||20197|
|University of California - Santa Cruz||Santa Cruz||CA||12144|
|University of Connecticut||Storrs||CT||19393|
|University of Georgia||Athens||GA||31288|
|University of Hawaii at Hilo||Hilo||HI||2874|
|University of Maryland - Baltimore||Baltimore||MD||5337|
|University of Maryland - Baltimore County||Baltimore||MD||10759|
|University of Maryland - College Park||College Park||MD||33189|
|University of Maryland - Eastern Shore||Princess Anne||MD||3297|
|University of Miami||Coral Gables||FL||13963|
|University of New England||Biddeford||ME||2684|
|University of North Carolina - Wilmington||Wilmington||NC||10100|
|University of Rhode Island||Kingston||RI||14362|
|University of San Diego||San Diego||CA||6943|
|University of South Carolina - Columbia||Columbia||SC||23728|
|University of West Alabama||Livingston||AL||1924|
|Western Washington University||Bellingham||WA||12307|