Marine Biology Career

From: Jennifer Philips (jphilips@hawaii.edu)
Date: Mon Jan 21 2002 - 21:12:40 EST


HI,
             MY NAME IS MIMI AND I AM 15 YEARS OLD. I LIVE
IN NEW JERSEY.
I WANT TO BECOME A MARINE BIOLOGIST OR SCIENTIST(I DON'T
KNOW THE DIFFERENCE)
AND I WANTED TO KNOW IF YOU COULD HELP ME IN FINDING A
COLLEGE THAT I CAN GO
TO AND ALSO HELP ME BY TELLING ME WHAT KINDS OF COURSES I
NEED TO TAKE. IT'S
KIND OF HARD TO LOOK FOR THESE THINGS ON MY OWN. I THOUGHT
IT WOULD BE BETTER
TO TALK TO A MARINE SCIENTIST FOR BETTER HELP.

THANK YOU,
MIMI

Mimi,

Congratulations for thinking about this and planning ahead
so early! A marine biologist is a scientist who specializes
in the study of organisms that live in the ocean. Within the
broad category of marine biology, investigators (i.e.,
scientists) specialize their study to a specific category of
organisms - such as marine mammals, fishes, or algae, for
example. Because my specialty is marine mammals, I can
answer your questions in more detail from that perspective,
particularly in providing you advice on schools, etc. If you
are interested in other organisms, you might find schools
that are better suited toward your interest.

Because I am asked similar questions about marine mammal
science as a career, I have a rather long winded but
informative answer which I'd like to offer to you:

There are at least two very different paths a person can
follow when interested in becoming involved with marine
mammals as a career. One is marine mammal training, the
other is scientific investigation. (Of course there are
others, like government offices in marine mammal protection,
child education, etc, but these are the main career paths).
The education and experience you must get are very different
for each. If a person wants to train marine mammals at sea
life parks, for shows and exhibits, he or she can do nothing
better than to start getting experience now. A degree in
biology, marine biology, zoology, etc is helpful, but not
required for positions in training. Parks tend to hire
people with experience, especially people who have had
beginning level positions in their park. Specialized
education in animal training is available and also helpful,
such a Moorepark college in Southern California. But there
isn't quite so large an emphasis on advanced education.

The other path in marine mammal careers is scientific
investigation, or research. Scientists study the lives and
processes of marine mammals, both in captivity and in the
wild, write the results of their observations into
scientific journals. In order to do this, one must go to
college. The first step of course is to get your bachelor's
degree, in fields such as biology, marine biology, zoology,
psychology, and psychobiology. I will talk about specific
schools in a bit, but generally the particular school you
choose should depend mostly on the quality of its program in
marine biology, what researchers work there, etc. Your GPA
in high school does not need to be extremely high, but you
should do the best you can in classes and on entrance exams,
keeping informed of the minimal entrance requirements for
the schools you are interested in attending. After
undergraduate school (where you will get your bachelor's
degree), it's on to graduate school, at which work through
your PhD is necessary. I, for example, plan to continue
research with marine mammals, and will eventually
(hopefully) get an academic position at a university
somewhere where I will teach undergraduates, do my research,
attend conferences, write articles in journals, and instruct
my own graduate students. This is very challenging, but
very rewarding and very exciting.

There are rare positions for marine mammal trainers at
research projects, and this is a good mix between training
involvement and research involvement. Many researchers,
especially grad students, work with and train their own
captive animals for research, and others hire a professional
trainer to do it for them. This just depends on the lab you
end up going to .

There are many many good schools in the US for marine
biology studies. As I mentioned, Moorepark College has a
great 2-year program in animal training. For research
education, good colleges include UC Santa Cruz, UC San
Diego, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, MIT (with Woods
Hole Oceanographic Institute), Cornell, Texas A&M, and some
colleges in Florida I don't know the name of. Most people
go to a different college for their bachelor's degree than
they do for their graduate degrees. And MANY people start
out their first couple years in community college (I did!).
Your first couple years in college are spent taking many
core classes that have nothing to do with your marine
biology interests, so its just fine to take those classes at
a 2-year community college and transfer the credits when you
go to the 4-year university.

My strongest advice is that, if possible, you should first
understand what 'marine biology' is by exposing yourself to
the day-to-day work it involves and learning what it is like
to be a scientist. In other words, I believe that the
single most valuable move one can make when entering marine
biology is to get real, hands on, research based experience
early on. Through that, you can decide what aspect of
marine biology you are interested in, which is the first
step. You might think about volunteering at a local
aquarium, zoo, or marine life park, for example. You could
also look into summer internships for high school students,
during which you will get the opportunity to experience the
work first hand.

I Hope this information and advice helps you. I would also
recommend that you check out the Society for Marine
Mammalogy website, as they have some great info about marine
biology as a career as well. Their URL is:
http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~smm/strat.htm

Good luck!



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