Aquatic biology is most often a concentration or emphasis within a related environmental science or biology degree program, especially at the graduate levels. A bachelor's degree is sufficient for entry-level work as an aquatic biologist, though master's and doctoral programs prepare students for more advanced research or college-level teaching positions.
Graduate test scores, such as from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and letters of recommendation may be required for admission in master's and doctoral programs. Some schools allow students to pursue a doctorate only after receiving a master's degree, while others allow bachelor's degree holders to bypass the master's and go directly into a Ph.D. program. Applicants are also required to demonstrate scholarly writing skills, provide letters of recommendation, and submit a goal statement.
Bachelor of Science Degree in Aquatic Biology
Aquatic biology studies encompass bodies of fresh water, native living organisms, and the human culture affecting these ecosystems. Many programs offering a Bachelor of Science require the student to participate in fieldwork studies, which may be completed as part of the regular school year or in a summer program. Chemistry, math, and statistics classes are emphasized along with biology in order to teach students how to think analytically when balancing ecological concerns with the needs of the surrounding community. Students are also either required or encouraged to take classes in communications to prepare them for writing reports and dealing effectively with the public. Some undergraduate programs require the student to begin with a pre-biology major before being accepted into the aquatic biology program.
Course plans are designed to give students an overall understanding of the composition of freshwater ecosystems, as well as how nature biologists and industrialists can work towards common goals. Topics include:
- Freshwater entomology and botany
- Environmental studies and journalism
- Community and ecology
Master of Science in Aquatic Biology
Master's degree programs are designed primarily for students who wish to pursue careers in research or public education. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree in biology or a related discipline. Research projects in aquatic biology require students to perform fieldwork, and in some cases, an internship. Both thesis and non-thesis programs are available. Master's programs are required as a prelude to a doctorate in aquatic and fisheries science in some schools or universities. Courses for an aquatic biology degree focus heavily on environmental science and management techniques. Common coursework topics include:
- Aquaculture pathology and utilization
- Sustainable fisheries
- Ecology behavior and evolution
- Management and impact of wildlife and recreation
- Environmental ecotoxicology
- Stream and reservoir ecology
Ph.D. in Aquatic Science
Ph.D. in Aquatic Biology programs focus on sustainable aquaculture. These degree programs are primarily designed for students intending to lead research projects or become professors. Within the program, students tailor their curriculum to meet their personal needs. Students must complete an original research project culminating in a dissertation that must be approved by and presented in front of an academic panel. Graduate students participate in original research projects and specialized coursework in aquatic biology. Coursework includes:
- Global aquatic resource studies
- Water resource integrated management
- Microbial aquatic ecology
- Aquatic macrophyte ecology and management
- Polluted aquatic resource restoration
- Human disease and aquatic health ecology
Bachelor's degree holders are qualified for entry-level research and consulting positions. Typical career fields include:
- State wildlife, fisheries and natural resource departments
- Research and analysis of environmental issues for private consulting firms
- Public and private hatcheries and hydroponics
- Water pollution research for municipal departments
Ph.D. graduates can find career opportunities at local, state and federal inspection organizations and federal regulatory research facilities, as well as in museums and academia. Possible job titles include:
- Biological scientist
- Aquatic researcher
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2015 aquatic biologists, who are included in the wildlife biologist category, earned an average yearly salary of $64,230 and were employed mostly by state and federal government agencies. Overall employment of wildlife biologists grew at a slower-than-average rate of 4% between 2014 and 2024. Environmental scientists made an average annual wage of $73,930 as of May 2015, with a projected growth rate of 11% from 2014-2024, which is faster than average compared to other professions.
Students can study aquatic biology at the undergraduate or the graduate level. Bachelor's programs give an introduction to the field alongside broader topics in related disciplines, while master's and doctoral programs allow students to conduct specific research.