How To Become a Marine Biologist in 6 Steps (With FAQ)

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 19 March 2023

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Marine biologists study, research and understand marine life and the ocean's ecosystem. Those who are passionate about discovering new species and caring for animals can be successful as marine life scientists. If you are interested in marine biology, you may want to learn more about what aquatic biologists do. In this article, we explore how to become a marine biologist and answer some frequently asked questions about this profession.

Related: How To Become A Marine Engineer (With Essential Skills)

How to become a marine biologist

The exact steps to become a marine biologist may vary depending upon your desired level of expertise and what you plan to specialise in. However, here are some steps you can follow to build a career in this field:

1. Determine if it is the best career for you

The first step to becoming an aquatic biologist is determining if it is the best career path for you. Consider the substantial amount of education necessary, the options for work and the structure of a marine scientist's work. To become a biologist, you likely need at least a bachelor's degree in a related field, but you may need a more advanced degree depending on your career goals. The government, research facilities and aquariums are among the biggest employers for marine life scientists, so it is likely you may work in one of these environments.

Related: Guide: How To Choose a Career

2. Define your career goals and plans

Once you are certain marine biology is best for you, it is beneficial to define your goals and make a plan to achieve them. Depending on what you want to accomplish in your career, you may need varying levels of education, experience and dedication. For example, if you want to work with dolphins and other sea creatures in a training capacity, you may only need a bachelor's degree. If you want to conduct research, however, you may need a more advanced degree and may need to devote more time to your efforts.

3. Pursue a bachelor's degree in marine biology

You need at least a bachelor's degree in marine biology to receive offers for marine positions. In order to get admission to a bachelor's course, you must have studied biology, chemistry and physics as compulsory subjects in your higher secondary. Try securing above 50% marks in your 10+2 exam, as many graduate schools select candidates based on their higher secondary results. While pursuing your bachelor's degree, you can complete internships or add to your skills by studying an additional language.

4. Gain experience in entry-level positions

After earning your bachelor's degree, you can gain experience in entry-level positions. Prepare your resume, cover letters and consider requesting letters of recommendation from instructors. Depending on your career goals, you may not need any further education. While gaining experience in an entry-level position, you can earn additional certificates or participate in specialised training for certain equipment, environment or handling of species. You can also use this time and experience to help you determine an area of specialisation within marine biology.

Related: 10 Resume Writing Tips To Help You Land a Job

5. Further your education and experience

If you are interested in conducting research or leading teams of biologists, you may need to earn an advanced degree. Depending on your situation, you may choose to pursue a master's degree while maintaining a position as an aquatic biologist. This can help you develop both your applicable skills and knowledge. Some organisations or companies may assist you with the cost of your education if you commit to a position with them after obtaining your degree.

6. Refine your career path and consider research

As an aquatic biologist with an advanced degree, you can choose to develop your own research teams, apply for grants and pursue leadership positions within research facilities or sanctuaries. Consider further refining your speciality and developing your professional relationships. For example, you may choose to focus on a specific ecosystem or commit to developing a solution for a specific disease. You may also choose to study marine microbes rather than plants, animals or other life.

Related: How To Become a Microbiologist: A Complete Guide

Qualifications for becoming a marine biologist

You need a bachelor's degree, such as BSc in marine biology or a related field like oceanography, marine science or earth science. After completing your bachelor's degree, you can pursue a master's degree, such as MSc in marine biology. These degrees can help you land an entry-level job in a biotechnology company. However, if you want to work as a professor or do your own research in marine biology, you typically need a doctoral degree, such as MPhil or PhD in marine biology.

Your skills outside of marine knowledge and scientific reasoning can help you find success in marine life sciences. Important skills include problem-solving, analytical thinking and interpersonal skills.

What does a marine biologist do?

Aquatic biologists study oceans and marine life, including plants, fish, whales and dolphins. These scientists are passionate about marine life and ecosystems. These are some of the common duties for a marine life scientist:

  • Gather data: They can study ecosystems and species, gathering samples from the bottom of the sea and other areas to discover more about marine plant life and animals. Life scientists map the distribution of species, diseases and movements.

  • Study behaviour: A marine scientist observes marine organisms' behavioural patterns, diseases and the effect they have on the larger environment.

  • Monitor inference: They study how human activity and pollutants can affect marine life and ecosystems. An aquatic biologist can perform testing on samples to determine the level of pollution and suggest methods for reducing it.

  • Explore and discover: Aquatic scientists can lead expeditions to discover water plants, animals, bacteria and other life. They can study these organisms and publish information about them in research papers.

  • Encourage preservation: Life scientists invest in the ecological future by encouraging actions to preserve marine life. For example, a biologist may advise against harmful fishing habits or adding chemical pollutants to the water.

  • Design experiments: To test the effectiveness of solutions to pollution or disease, biologists can design and conduct experiments. This may include clinical trials in which they treat diseased animals or attempt to reduce invasive species.

Marine biology FAQ

These are some frequently asked questions about becoming a marine life scientist:

How long does it take to become a marine biologist?

The time it takes to become an aquatic biologist depends upon your desired level of expertise and what you want to do. You can start an entry-level job as a marine life scientist after acquiring your bachelor's degree in marine biology, which takes three years. However, if you choose to undergo a master's degree, advanced training and doctoral degrees, you may need another two to five years of education.

What are the career prospects for marine scientists?

Aquatic biologists who specialise in research often find employment with laboratories, universities and private companies. Those who wish to work closely with marine life may find positions with nonprofit organisations, sanctuaries and aquariums to be more satisfying. Biologist career opportunities are also available in government sectors, providing counsel for ecologically friendly government action.

What can you expect from work as a marine biologist?

The nature of your work depends on your chosen specialisation within the field of marine biology. University work is office or laboratory-based, with opportunities to conduct research abroad. If you want to work closely with animals, consider working in aquariums or nature sanctuaries. If you are passionate about discovery, athletic and fond of the ocean, you may lead expeditions to explore areas of the ocean and discover new species. Leadership can be an important quality for those seeking to guide teams of marine life scientists or design experiments,

Related: Top Qualities of an Outstanding Leader

Do aquatic biologists need special certifications or licences?

There are no special certifications you need to become a marine scientist. However, since you may need to swim, dive or sail on open water, it is recommended that you get open water certified. This can teach you how to operate while you are on the ocean so that you can work in a safe environment. Getting open water certified can also grant you the ability to go scuba diving, another common requirement among marine researchers.

How should I choose which schools to attend for marine biology?

There are many schools that offer programs in marine biology. Consider all relevant factors before committing to a school. Research the program they offer, look at the coursework you may study, analyse the cost of the program, and determine if it is close to where you want to live. You may also want to consider the school's proximity to the ocean as it may affect the availability and ease of hands-on excursions and study programs.

Do marine life scientists get paid a lot?

A marine scientist's salary depends on their education level, specialisation, experience and where they work. Salary expectations also differ based on whether you are working in a non-profit organisation, government sector or private sector. The private sector may offer higher salaries than other employment options. The average salary for a marine biologist is ₹19,084 per month or ₹2,69,546 per year.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

Explore more articles