Of Interest to Young Adults
Here's some advice from Greg Szulgit, former Scripps graduate student.
The Scripps Institution of Oceanography Graduate Department Office
recently asked me to put together some information for young adults who
would like to know more about careers in the marine sciences. This may
not answer your questions exactly, but I think you will find it to be
Let me begin by saying that Biology and Marine Biology are very
large and diverse fields. Many of the questions I often hear have a broad
range of answers. It depends on how you direct your career. For instance,
many people ask me if Marine Biologists SCUBA dive often. My answer to
that question is, "It depends on what type of research they are conducting."
If that scientist is studying populations of fish around a coral reef,
then she/he would probably dive frequently. If, however, the scientist
was examining the chemical properties of a certain toxin, then they might
spend most of their time in a laboratory.
I would also like to point out that I am a research scientist.
Many Marine Biologists teach, manage fisheries, work in aquaria, etc., but I conduct
research. I will answer most of your questions from this perspective.
Q: What classes should one take to become a marine biologist?
A: Of course, lots of Biology; but you will also
need a basic understanding of science in general (e.g. Chemistry and
Physics) and mathematics (at least up to Calculus). Computer, technical/electrical,
and typing skills would also be helpful.
Q: What special attributes are necessary to be a successful scientist?
A: One has to be a curious and independent thinker.
A scientist does not accept a conclusion until he/she has enough evidence
to exclude all other possibilities. A scientist also has to be clever
and creative so that she/he can dream up experiments to answer her/his
questions. Additionally, a scientist must be a 'go-getter'. If scientists
conduct their own research, they cannot wait around passively for somebody
to tell them what to do. They have to take initiative.
Q: How will Marine Biology be affected by technology in the year 2001?
A: Computers are being used more often in all
fields of science as time progresses. The methods of collecting and
analyzing data are becoming more advanced, which is prompting a shift
in the areas of focus in Marine Biology. By the year 2001, I expect
there to be many more research positions occupied by microbiologists,
geneticists, and biochemists. In the past, these fields have been limited
by technology, but now they are rapidly expanding as new technologies
are developed and improved. Keep in mind that all of these fields can
be tied in with marine biological studies. Ecological studies may also
expand IF attention remains focused on preserving the "natural"
state of the environment and biodiversity.
Q: What is the entry level pay for a Marine Biologist?
A: I was paid $12,500/yr to attend graduate school.
Once I completed my Ph.D., I expected about $25,000/yr as an entry level
pay. According to the Occupational Handbook, the average biologist makes
about $31,300/yr. Most biologists with Ph.D.s (who often become professors
at universities) make from $40-50,000/yr.
Q: What are some good undergraduate schools for Marine Biology?
A: There are many excellent schools for biology
in the United States and other countries. There are several publications that
you can refer to for a list of colleges and universities that offer undergraduate
programs in Marine Biology. A good one to start with would be "Education
and Training Programs in Oceanography and Related Fields", published by Marine
Technology Society. This guide can be purchased from the Marine Technology Society at a cost
of $6.00. Please write to Marine Technology Society, 1828 L Street., NW #906,
Washington, D.C. 20006. Or contact them by phone at (202) 775-5966.
I feel that the most important primer for a career in Marine Biology
is to get as much research experience as is possible. It is important
for you to attend an undergraduate institution that is near a "hot
spot" in Marine Biology so that you can volunteer to work with
prominent scientists. There is a brilliant web page called Marine Biology WEB that provides many valuable resources. This includes
a link to a page called Marine Biology Labs and Institutes, which provides a listing of some
important "hot spots" around the world.
Q: What is the average number of hours per workday?
A: As an academically employed researcher, the
hours are highly variable. Research science is more of a lifestyle than
a job. Researchers have certain goals that they would like to reach
by certain dates, but most do not have specific hours which they must
work, Some work from 9 to 5. Most spend a few late nights or weekend
days in the lab each week. For the scientists that I have seen, the
average work week consists of about 40-50 hours. Of course, the hours
are longer when one is just starting out (e.g. graduate school).
Q: How many years in college are needed to become a Marine Biologist?
A: Lots. If you want to be a research scientist
and direct YOUR OWN research, a Ph.D. is almost required. After that
your job would require that you keep your brain 'turned on' to the learning
mode. In a sense, you would always be 'in school'. This is not as bad
as it sounds! I hated school when I was younger, but now I enjoy it.
I would strongly suggest not worrying about long-term commitments beyond
your bachelor's degree until your junior year of college. A lot can
happen between now and then, and you may be a very different person.
Q: Does being a Marine Biologist include being a teacher also?
A: If you work for an academic institution you
will probably be required to teach. Some institutions want their scientists
to concentrate on research and require very little teaching (one class
per year). Others would like a reputation as a teaching institution
and ask their scientists to do mostly teaching. There may be some which
require no research. I believe that both research AND teaching are necessary
fuel for a good scientist.
Now for the tricky part...
If you have assimilated what I have told you about being a good
research scientist, then you will not be accepting this letter without
scrutiny. These are the opinions of only one scientist. Do some of your
own research in the library. If you have a really good library near you,
ask the reference librarian to help you confirm or deny what I have told
you. You can also find information about careers in Marine Biology through
SIO's Careers in Oceanography, Marine Science and Marine Biology.
I would like to reiterate the importance
of getting involved with research projects. The sooner, the better. Each
opportunity that you create will lead to further possibilities, and you
can go very far one step at a time.
As a final word of advice, I saw a sign the other day which read:
There are three kinds of people in this world:
Join the first group, if you are not already a member. Treat your
life like you own it (because you do!)
- Those who make things happen
- Those who watch things happen
- Those who wonder what happened
Greg K. Szulgit