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Marine Biology and Oceanography Careers: Job Options and Requirements

Marine biology and oceanography is generally available as both a graduate and undergraduate degree program. Continue reading for an overview of the training, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

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Since less than one-third of the Earth's surface is made up of land, there is plenty of room for the study of marine biology or oceanography in areas such as research, education, public policy and aquarium administration. In some cases you'll need a master's degree, but you can get into the profession with just a bachelor's degree. Once you get to the doctoral level, fellowships may be available to you.

Essential Information

Marine biology and oceanography careers involve occupations in academia, biotechnology development, aquarium curating and public policy. The completion of a bachelor's degree program is sufficient for many careers. Leadership and chief research positions require the completion of a doctoral degree program.

Career Titles Researcher Aquarist Science Writer
Required Education Bachelor's degree Master's degree Bachelor's degree
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 10% (for all geoscientists) 8% (for all curators) Decline -9% (for all reporters and correspondents)
Median Salary (2015)* $89,700 (for all geoscientists) $51,520 (for all curators) $37,720 (for all reporters and correspondents)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Graduates of marine biology and oceanography degree programs can go into a number of different careers in different fields. They can use their knowledge of the ocean and its life to pursue a wide variety of jobs.

Public or Private Researcher

Universities, government agencies and conservation groups employ marine scientists to study and promote understanding of marine life or the chemical, physical and geological characteristics of marine environments. Job descriptions vary by industry.

For example, oceanographers specializing in aquaculture may study the effects that farming fish, shellfish and seaweed has on the surrounding environment, while marine biologists develop more efficient and environmentally sustainable farming methods. Governments employ oceanographers to study the effect of pollutants on coastal waterways and marine biologists to study the toxicology of the wildlife within those zones.

Private firms employ marine scientists to develop new products or processing methods. For example, a marine biologist at a pharmaceutical company may develop new drugs based on the disease-resistant compounds found in marine species. Oil and gas drilling companies retain oceanographers to help locate new reserves or develop more efficient drilling methods.

Requirements

Completion of a bachelor's degree program in biology or oceanography can be sufficient for employment as a laboratory technician or other entry-level positions; however, most research scientists pursue an advanced degree. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of most occupations, coursework in chemistry, physics and mathematics can prove beneficial. Additional coursework in business management and marketing can provide a basis for the administrative duties involved with some businesses.

The education and training for a specialty field is typically offered within a master's degree program in marine biology or oceanography. Faculty and chief researcher and development positions require the completion of a doctoral degree program.

Job Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that from 2014-2024, marine biologists, who are included within the occupation category of zoologist, could expect employment growth of 4%. New jobs will arise in part from the need to monitor the effects of climate change on ocean life and sea levels. In May 2015, the BLS further reported that zoologists and wildlife biologists earned a median annual salary of $59,680.

Oceanographers, also called geoscientists by the BLS, are expected to experience 10% growth in jobs during the 2014-2024 decade. As in marine biology, this increase is partly due to the need for environmental monitoring and protection. Geoscientists earned a median annual salary of $89,700 as of May 2015.

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Aquarium Curator, Aquarist or Exhibit Coordinator

Exhibit coordinators oversee the work of researchers, aquarists and designers to create products for zoos and aquariums. Similarly, curators manage an institution's collection of marine life, and may act as a liaison between their organization and academic researchers and conservation groups.

Aquarists go into the field to collect specimens for aquariums and zoos, and also care for the specimens and maintain their exhibits. Duties include the day-to-day feeding of animals, implementation of disease treatments and general cleaning of tanks.

Requirements

Most employers require the completion of a biological sciences or related bachelor's degree program. Additionally, aquarists and those directly overseeing aquarists are required to have scuba certification.

Job Outlook and Salary Info

During the 2014-2024 decade, the BLS projects 8% job growth for curators, including aquarium curators, due to the continuing public interest in science and nature. The profession is small, however, so competition for any new jobs is expected to be fierce. The BLS reported in May 2015 that curators in general earned a median annual salary of $51,520. Major employers were museums and similar institutions, as well as colleges and universities.

Education Specialist

Aquariums hire education specialists to teach visitors about the institution's wildlife and research programs. They may lead trips into the field, tour visitors through their institution and visit schools. They may also accompany aquarists into the field to assist with specimen collection.

Requirements

Employers may prefer students who have completed a bachelor's degree program in biological science. An education degree program supplemented with science courses may suffice.

Science Writer

Science writers cover research advances and biotechnology developments. Their primary goal is to help the public understand complex and challenging scientific issues. They generally work as journalists or for scientific institutions, such as research foundations and aquariums, where they compose press releases and develop materials for exhibits.

Requirements

Completion of a bachelor's degree program is generally required. The Council for the Advancement of Science Writing recommends that students pursue a science bachelor's degree program supplemented with journalism coursework or a journalism program supplemented with science classes.

Job Outlook and Salary Info

As of May 2015, science writers, which fall under reporters and correspondents according to the BLS, worked mainly in the print journalism industry, such as for newspapers, periodicals and book publishers. They made a median annual salary of $37,720 per year.

Congressional Aide

Marine scientists can contribute to the public dialogue and legislation of marine issues by working as a policy expert. Members of Congress retain legislative aides to brief them on specific issues and communicate with constituent groups, such as marine biology conservation groups or pharmaceutical companies.

Requirements

There are no strict requirements to become a congressional staffer; however, general expertise on several topics is expected. Marine scientists can gain policy experience by participating in a fellowship, such as the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Dean John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship or the American Association for the Advancement of Science's (AAAS) Energy, Environment and Agriculture Fellowship. Marine scientists must be pursuing a graduate degree to be eligible for the NOAA Fellowship, while the AAAS requires individuals who have earned a Ph.D.

A bachelor's degree might be sufficient for some careers, such as research assistant or science writer, you'll need a master's degree to be considered for a position as a full-fledged researcher, while chief researcher or a faculty position call for a doctorate. NOAA and AAAS fellowships are available for doctoral candidates and those who have earned their doctorate, respectively.

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