Marine Biologist Education Requirements & College Majors: How to Become a Marine Biologist

Marine biology is not much different from the discipline of biology, but rather it’s the application of a variety of specialties to study certain organisms that live in an aquatic environment. Studying marine biology requires a deep understanding of the sea’s unique characteristics and inhabitants. It also studies the relationship that said organisms have with their marine environment.

The majority of a marine biologist’s time should be spent conducting research in the field, collecting data regarding underwater animal and plant species. Their data is analyzed in an office to further the understanding of said species and environments. In marine biology, there are a number of different specializations, ranging from the behavior of animals to marine biotechnology. Some marine biologists spend their time focusing on one or a species that thrive in a particular geographic area.

How to Become a Marine Biologist

The most important question you should ask yourself is whether you are truly interested in marine biology. Keep in mind that being a marine biologist isn’t always as sexy and dangerous as you might think. The road to becoming a marine biologist is a long, challenging one that takes years of studying, researching, and field work that many people are not cut out for.


Marine biology includes several sub-disciplines and a wide array of different career paths. When it comes time to choose, you have the option to become a microbiologist, a behavioral ecologist, a geneticist, a professor, or maybe even a combination of these. There are numerous paths and organizations that you could work for, so make sure that your dream to become a marine biologist isn’t just based on the romanticized fantasy that the media makes it out to be.

What You Need to Know

Whatever the specialty, marine biologists must have comprehensive knowledge in chemistry, biology, geology, ecology, and even physics. Skills in listening, communicating, critical thinking, and problem-solving are all required by marine biologists to succeed in their field. In addition, they must be adept in analytical software such as Visual Molecular Dynamics, as well as Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop. Of course, they must be able to use lab equipment such as centrifuges, pipettes, and microscopes for analytical purposes.

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree program in marine usually has required courses in subjects such as ecology, evolution, cell biology, and general biology. Elective courses – courses which allow students to focus on a specific area of interest – can include marine mammal biology, tropical ecosystems, vertebrate zoology, and fish ecology. In a biology program, students won’t focus specifically on marine biology, but they can take several electric courses that emphasize certain aspects of marine biology.

Those who wish to continue on to grad school should complete electric courses such as biotechnology, aquaculture, molecular biology, toxicology, and species-specific biology. In addition, they should have several hours of experience in volunteer work or an internship to start developing practical skills and knowledge.

Master’s Deg​ree

Some institutions offer both bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in the subject of marine biology so students won’t have trouble searching for another institution. In addition, they could potentially spend less time earning both degrees. In a master’s degree program, the curriculum will cover laboratory and research methods, equipment, and the art of scientific writing. Graduate-level courses may cover specific topics like shark biology, coral reefs, or plankton ecology. After earning a master’s degree, graduates should have chosen a specialization through the electric courses taken and thesis. Marine biologists with a master’s degree are eligible to earn higher-paying jobs as consultants, teachers, and/or researchers.


As a Ph.D. student, the path to becoming an independent researcher or holding a teaching position at the college level is open to you. The topics you will study in a doctoral program in marine biology can include phycology (the study of algae), marine microbiology, and fisheries science.

One of the most important parts of a Ph.D. program in marine biology is planning and conducting independent research. From this, you will have to write a dissertation which you need to present to a Ph.D. advisory committee. Other common requirements for earning a Ph.D. include teaching courses to undergrads and passing a series of qualifying examinations.

Read, Write, and Gain Experience

It’s highly unlikely that you can ever learn everything you’ll need to know about marine biology, even in the classroom at the university. You’ll have to spend hundreds of hours in front of your computer perusing the internet to find articles, research transcripts, and books about the latest developments in the field.

Most likely, as a marine biologist, you’re going to want to publicize your findings. This, of course, means you need to understand how articles are written and published. You will have to become an excellent communicator to get your ideas across in a given amount of words.

Marine biologists don’t just spend endless hours coming up with research ideas and publications, but they also have to get their hands dirty by jumping straight into the field (or ocean). You can do this by either collaborating with other researchers or by doing volunteer work.

Final Remarks

Becoming a marine biologist can take you several years to fully achieve. However, it’s important to note that your willingness to become a marine biologist should stem from a genuine interest in marine organisms and ecosystems. If you have a passion for this science then you can take the long years ahead full of different challenges in stride.

Although you can become a marine biologist with just a bachelor’s degree in the field, earning a master’s or even a Ph.D. in marine biology will give allow you greater opportunities to conduct research, to teach, and to hold onto a consulting position.

There are numerous schools all over the world that offer marine biology programs so you should put in the time and effort to research well which university will work best for you. If you’re looking to earn a bachelor’s degree in marine biology then schools like Northeastern University and the Florida Institute of Technology are great schools to look into.

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