How to Become a Marine Biologist

Career Path Guide

To become a marine biologist, you need to begin by determining if a career in this field is right for you.


If you're interested in a lucrative career that involves adventurous field research, the ability to apply scientific principles and allows you to study organisms in their natural habitat, then this profession might be a perfect fit for you.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to succeed in a career as a marine biologist. We've also included helpful occupational information, such as a general job description, a list of job duties, an overview of salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more! 



Education Needed to Become a Marine Biologist

To gain an entry-level job in marine biology, you need to have a bachelor of science degree in marine biology or a related field such as biochemistry, biology, botany, ecology, microbiology or zoology.


Depending on the requirements of the employer, a Master’s degree in marine biology is typically sufficient for many applied research positions. To become a marine biologist who works in research and university teaching positions a Ph.D. in marine biology is needed.


Marine biologists must also complete continuing education throughout their careers in order to keep their skills current stay up to date with advancements in the field.





General Job Description

Marine biologists are responsible for understanding marine life by studying the distribution, abundance and life histories of animals and plants in the sea, and how these aspects are governed by environmental factors.



Typical Job Duties

• Conduct research for the purpose of understanding the various forms of life that dwell within the sea

• Conduct controlled experiments and observe how certain factors work within that environment

• May work in a laboratory or in the field for the purpose of conducting experiments and observation

• Analyze and interpret findings

• Prepare reports based on findings

• Identify and classify forms of marine life



Who Employs Marine Biologists?

Marine biologists are hired by a variety of organizations, although their ability to find work may depend greatly on where they live. Larger cities near the east and west coasts of Canada and the United States typically employ the most marine biologists.


Marine biologists who have a B.Sc. may be employed as technicians, biologists or educators by the following types of organizations:


• University research laboratories

• Industrial research centres

• Private companies, such as seaweed growing companies

• Government research laboratories or marine stations

• Marine biology consulting companies

• Aquariums and zoos

• Non-profit environmental advocacy organizations

• Eco-tourism companies





Marine Biologist Salary

The actual wages and salaries of marine biologists can vary greatly, typically depending on the following factors:


• Their level of education and experience

• The amount of responsibility inherent in their job

• The size and type of their employer

• Whether they work part-time or full-time hours

• The structure of their financial benefits package, if they have one

• The region in which they work

• Their salary negotiating abilities

• Many other factors


Marine Biologist Salary in Alberta: According to the 2019 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, the average salary level of Albertans working in the “Biologist” occupational group is $92,613 per year.


Salary - British Columbia: According to WorkBC (Province of British Columbia), those working in the “Biologists and related scientists” occupational group earn an annual provincial median salary of $74,277.


Salary - All of Canada: According to ECO Canada, a marine biologist in an entry level position can make around $44,000 per year in Canada. With several years of education and experience, they tend to make between $64,000 and $78,000 per year.


Salary - United States: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Americans working in the “Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists” occupational group is $63,420 per year.



Characteristics of Successful Marine Biologists

To become a successful marine biologist, there are certain personality traits you need to have, including:


• An interest, curiosity and appreciation for different forms of marine life

• An interest in the scientific process

• Ability to use logic and reasoning to solve problems

• Enjoy conducting research and synthesizing information

• Must enjoy working with specialized equipment and instruments

• Stamina and endurance, applicable to long hours of fieldwork

• Attention to detail and excellent observation skills

• Must have an inquiring mind, and enthusiasm for work

• Must be committed to producing unbiased research results

• Strong organizational skills and ability to keep detailed records

• Ability to excel in a team environment and effectively deal with difference in opinion



Work Environment Typical to This Profession

The work settings, conditions and duties of marine biologists can vary greatly from one assignment or one employer to the next. Below are examples of the primary types of settings for marine biologist careers:


Office: Marine biologists working in an office setting provide advice and counsel to businesses, environmental groups or government agencies. Marine biologists that work in office settings typically work during normal weekday hours.


Classroom: Marine biologists that work as teachers or professors in a classroom setting do so to conduct lectures, grade papers and advise students. They have working hours that can fluctuate from very few hours a week to a very heavy workload. They may work normal weekday working hours with extra hours put in for preparing lesson plans, grading papers and performing other duties during evenings and weekends. Some marine biologists that teach in universities and colleges may teach classes exclusively, or they may be involved in research as well.


Laboratory: These marine biologists spend the majority of their time conducting, documenting and analyzing research in a laboratory setting. Working in a laboratory typically involves working with hazardous organic materials and inorganic chemicals. Marine biologists who conduct laboratory work typically work during normal weekday hours.


Field work: Field–based marine biologists are involved in the identification and documentation of species, ecosystems and habitats, as well as the collection of biological samples. Marine biologists who perform work in the field are subject to a variety of weather conditions and work hazards. Their work may also involve being inside of aquariums or traveling for long periods of time on research ships and vessels.


Please Note: Marine biologist duties may vary; a marine biologist who conducts fieldwork also likely spends a great deal of time in a laboratory or office setting when they are not busy with a fieldwork assignment



Careers Related to This One

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to "marine biologist", as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.




Molecular Biologist






Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a marine biologist:


Occupations in Alberta: Biologist.” (March 31, 2019). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved March 1, 2020.

Life, Physical, and Social Science:Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists.” (September 4, 2019). United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved March 1, 2020.

Explore Careers: Biologists and related scientists.” (December 11, 2018). WorkBC website - Province of British Columbia. Retrieved March 1, 2020.

Career Profiles:Marine Biologist.” (n.d.). ECO Canada website. Retrieved March 1, 2020.



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Scholarships for Becoming a Marine Biologist

Scholarships in Canada and the United States listed for majors that apply to becoming a marine biologist can be found on our Biology Scholarships page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!




How to Become a Marine Biologist



Relevant University Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for getting into this line of work. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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