Subject: Career - questions

Dagmar Fertl (
Wed, 30 Dec 1998 09:54:43 -0500

     Subject: Re: A few Question's
     Author: at ~smtp
     Date:    12/29/98 7:23 PM
     I am very interested in pursuing a career as a Marine Biologist and I 
     have a few questions to ask.
     1.  How did you get interested in and started in your profession?
     2.  Are you pleased with your profession?  
     3.  Is this a promising profession for the future, do you recommend it
     for young people like me?  Why, or why not?
     4.  How long does it take before you can start working independently 
     this field? 
     5.  What kind of starting salary could I expect?    What are the upper 
     limits of salary? 
     6.  What kind of continuing education is required in this field once 
     enter it? 
     7.  What kinds of skills other than science are important (writing? 
     People skills? finance?)
     8.  If you had your undergraduate years to do over again in preparing 
     for this profession, is there anything you would do differently?  Are 
     there other types of courses you would take?  What would you major in?
     9.  Is there any general advice you would like to give me or any
     beginning science student who is thinking about a career in this area?
     Respond to

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Hi again.  If you look at the WhaleNet website, under educational resources, 
there is a listing for 'careers'.  There are quite a number of good sites, and I
would especially recommend the Society for Marine Mammalogy for their excellent 
career guide.  I will still answer your questions, but please go to the location
I recommended.

1.  I actually had wanted to go to vet school originally.  I had a marine 
biology class in high school that was pretty fun (I was lucky living in Houston,
and fairly close to the sea shore).  In college, I decided that I might like to 
try to combine the two interests together, but felt I needed some experience 
with marine biology (I already had vet clinic experience) and sent what felt 
like a zillion letters and applications to various places for internships and 
jobs.  I was lucky and got an internship at Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal 
Laboratory in Hawaii (affiliated with the University of Hawaii).  I worked with 
captive dolphins there, and while that was interesting, I thought it would be 
even more interesting to study dolphins out in the wild, where they come and go 
as they please.  I also was lucky to have a very smart professor friend of mine 
who said he knew I wanted to go to vet school to help animals, but there, I can 
only help individual animals.  By going to graduate school, I had the potential 
to actually help groups and populations of animals.  Circumstances worked out 
that I didn't go to vet school, but went to graduate school at Texas A&M 
University where a marine mammal research program was in the process of being 
started up, and the rest, as they say, is history.  I got this particular job, 
because they were looking for someone experienced with Gulf of Mexico marine 
mammals, and someone who knew about human impacts on the animals in this part of
the country.  I got that training and insight while I was at Texas A&M.

2.  I think I'm pleased with my profession for the most part.  

3.  I think with the increasing concern about the oceans, marine biology is 
probably a promising career (I haven't looked at any stats lately, admittedly). 
There seems to be a glut of marine mammal folks though, and that's mainly 
because funding for environmental science related work is not really plentiful 
(compared to medical sciences).

4.  The 'independence' part really is kind of tricky.  You will most likely 
always have someone working with you (or supervising you).  I would say that 
you're best off with a Master's or PhD.  No one in marine sciences truly acts network and you have to collaborate, so that you effectively
use monies and permits, etc.

5.  Salary is discussed at the above-mentioned website.  A salary, like anywhere
else, depends on where you work, what you do, and the level of your education.  
Very often there is a trade-off of field time for money...e.g., office jobs 
often pay better than a field job would.  You have to decide what's important to
you, and your situation (if you have a family to support, etc.) will factor into
that decision-making.

6.  There really is no 'continuing education' in the strict sense.  A lot of 
that is up to the individual.  Certainly, as new computer programs and 
technology that makes your job easier (whether office or field work), you'd want
to take advantage of opportunities to learn that.  If you 'only' have a 
Bachelor's or Master's degree, perhaps you'd like to go back to school to get 
that degree (and possibly a higher salary or more responsibilities, etc.).  In 
our office situation, we have lots of 'training' opportunities available, 
including sexual harassment (not how to do it...), computer programs, conflict 
resolution (what I like to call 'people skills').  The biggest 'continuing 
education' that a marine biologist probably does is on their own...reading 
publications, writing publications, and attending conferences so that they can 
network and learn from their peers, as well as hear what's new and happening in 
the field of their choice.  For my job, I try to at least attend the annual sea 
turtle conference and the biennial marine mammal conference, but participate in 
other workshops, etc., as the need and opportunity presents itself.

7.  When I go and do career day at schools, I tell people that every class is 
important. English is very important (need to know how to write and speak well 
so that you can convey your research results, etc., esp. if you have hopes of 
getting money for projects you're working on, etc.); computers (everything seems
to hinge on them these days); SCUBA (can be helpful depending on what you're 
actually studying), same goes for photography; people skills are always helpful,
as is public speaking; boat-handling, etc.  Probably the best thing you can do 
is do volunteer work/internship and get as much experience in your field as you makes you marketable for a job and shows a potential graduate advisor 
that you are truly serious and knowledgeable about pros/cons of being a marine 
biologist.  Many folks are surprised that a marine biologist's life is not like 
it is portrayed on TV.

8.  I would probably do almost everything the same, considering the university I
did my undergrad work at, had no marine biology/oceanography classes.  I would 
definetely make sure to get those type of classes if I could do it all over 
again.  I would probably try to study harder.  Other than that, I was really 
glad I did my internship as an undergrad, as well as took advantage of other 
research opportunities.

9.  I think it's great that you think you want to be a marine biologist.  Be 
very determined (go after what you want), learn as much as you can (always!), 
and share your knowledge with everyone (be sure to understand that being a 
scientist doesn't mean that you don't ever have to talk to the general should be one of the biggest reasons you want to be a want to learn and uncover mysteries, etc., but you're doing it 
to share knowledge with everyone (remember, the public is the one who ultimately
makes decisions on what is important to them and where monies for research get 
directed, etc.)