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Marine Biologist Training & Qualifications

Marine biologists are known by many names, and the jobs and duties associated with marine biology can change depending on the definition. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a marine biologist studies saltwater organisms.

Marine biologists are sometimes called oceanographers, who study the ocean floor and other physical characteristics of the oceans. The training and qualifications needed to become a marine biologist vary depending on the job.


The Bureau of Labor statistics lists a number of certifications and degrees needed for a career in a marine biology.

Most scientists in any field of biology, including marine biology, need a doctorate of philosophy (PhD) to work in research and development positions or to hold administrative or leadership positions in research or academic programs. This degree can be specifically geared toward marine biology, or it can be based in biology in general, depending on the type of work the applicant is searching for.

For some applied research, product development, inspection or management jobs, a bachelor's or master's degree may suffice. These positions can include teaching at the secondary level (high school or early college) and assisting in labs as a technician.

Areas of Study

The Bureau of Labor Statistics and researchers at Stony Brook University in New York advise that taking courses in general science can serve a potential marine biologist better than specialising.

Professor Jeffrey Levinton from the Ecology and Evolution department at Stony Brook advises that undergraduate students are better served by taking core science classes in biology, physics, chemistry and engineering as well as mathematics classes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics adds computer science to that list of classes, with the continued evolution of technology. Students can consider minoring in marine biology or taking a few classes, but the main focus should be on general science.

This basic foundation of sciences, mathematics and computers will prepare students for an overall career. Graduate school programs will focus on the marine specialisation but may not be supply the basic requirements learnt at the undergraduate level.


On top of the basic science, mathematics and computer classes, Levinton advises that students take time to learn to write well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics concurs, citing the ability to communicate clearly in writing and orally as a key qualification for biologists.

Marine biologists are often required to work in teams for research and conservation projects. Effective communication with other members of the team will make this work easier on all those involved.

The bureau also states that marine biologists be ready to work independently. Again, good communication will make a difference because biologists must give and follow instructions effectively. Marine biologists in management positions must also understand the legal and economic aspects of their work.