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Marine Scientist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a marine scientist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and employment outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

A marine scientist studies waterbodies, performing a number of duties that vary by the specific job. They may research, experiment, or create plans of action to improve and sustain aquatic life, health, and productivity.

Essential Information

Marine scientists study and analyze ocean ecology and aquatic life. Generally, they need to complete at least a bachelor's degree program in marine biology, marine sciences or a closely related field. Some employers may prefer to hire those who've earned master's degrees, especially for independent research positions.

Required Education Bachelor's degree is typical; master's degree required for some jobs
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 4% for all wildlife biologists and zoologists
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $59,680 for all wildlife biologists and zoologists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description for Marine Scientists

Marine scientists may be employed by government agencies, private companies and industry organizations, and the jobs they do may differ according to where they work. Some scientists may analyze marine water samples for contaminants. Others may use marine plants to create products for use. Still other scientists may work for zoos or aquariums, monitoring marine animals and conducting studies.

Marine Scientist Duties

Marine scientists may begin a new project by meeting with industry professionals and creating a plan of action. For example, marine scientists working in the petrochemical industry may coordinate with geologists and drillers in order to ascertain how long it may take to drill in deep water areas. Similarly, marine scientists working for government agencies may confer with private consulting companies on issues such as environmental habitats, pollutants and toxins.

Once a plan of action has been set, scientists may act as project managers, directing marine technicians and other staff members. Scientists leading an experiment may deploy technicians to ready laboratory equipment or prepare chemical compounds. As project managers, marine scientists may also create directives, such as aquatic conservation efforts, and implement action with the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies.

Marine scientists may also be employed by universities and other institutions to perform research. Topics may range from following the seasonal movement of animal species to analyzing fault lines on the ocean floor. Once research has been completed, these professionals generally write and publish papers on their findings.

Requirements for Marine Scientists

Marine scientists are required to have at least a bachelor's degree in marine biology, marine science or a closely-related field. After completing core requirements in biology, chemistry and physics, students delve into specialized topics such as aquatic animal biology, oceanography and toxicology. Additionally, bachelor's degree programs in marine biology often include courses in biostatistics that uses concepts from statistics to measure, estimate and analyze biological data.

Advanced Degrees

Some employers may prefer marine scientists who have completed a master's or doctorate program in marine biology. These programs allow students to conduct research and gain specialized expertise in topics ranging from marine ecology to marine mammal physiology. Individual research projects, a thesis or dissertation on a topic in marine biology may be required by some programs.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

As of May 2015, zoologists and wildlife biologists, including marine scientists, earned an annual median salary of $59,680, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A slower-than-average employment increase of 4% was predicted by the BLS for these scientists from 2014-2024.

A bachelor's degree in a marine-related field is required for all marine scientists, and graduate degrees are needed for higher positions, particularly those in research. A marine scientist focuses on ocean ecology and aquatic life, but their specific job duties are largely dependent on the type of employer (e.g., academia, government agency, private company).


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