Marine biology is a bit of a misnomer as a job title, according to the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC). In reality, the field of marine biology encompasses a number of different occupations. A marine biologist could be an ichthyologist and study fish, a fisheries biologist, a marine mammalogist or even a sociologist who deals with living marine resource issues. Educational requirements vary for these occupations.
Narrow Your Options
With such a wide variety of potential careers in the field, the first question you should answer is what sort of work you want to do in marine biology. Many positions in this field need strong computer skills. Others are oriented toward laboratory work, while still others focus on exploration, field studies, research or teaching. Ideally, you would begin to prepare for your desired career while in high school, with courses in basic sciences, such as biology, chemistry and mathematics.
Begin With a Bachelor's Degree
The minimum educational requirement for wildlife biologists -- which includes the disciplines common to marine biology -- is a bachelor's degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A bachelor's degree would provide the necessary academic credential for an entry-level job. Your course of study should include zoology, additional chemistry, physics, statistics and courses in aquatic sciences. English is also important, according to SWFSC, as most marine biologists need to write scientific papers. If you are able to go to school full time, you should expect to spend four years obtaining a bachelor's degree.
Get Your Master's Degree
In most cases, a master's degree is required for any sort of advancement in marine biology occupations. Masters-prepared graduates may be able to find work on a research team, although they cannot conduct independent research. The SWFSC notes that most of its biologists have degrees in biology and zoology, although a few studied biological oceanography, animal sciences or mathematics. A master's degree will generally take an additional two years of full-time schooling or longer if you study part time.
Go On for a PH.D.
A Ph.D. is really the best choice for many marine biology careers, according to the BLS. Although you don't necessarily need a Ph.D. for an entry-level job, you should plan to complete your Ph.D as soon as possible. The advanced degree opens doors for you in terms of the ability to perform independent research and to teach. The field is highly competitive, according to SWFSC, with many more scientists than jobs. A Ph.D. will increase your chances of finding employment. Expect to spend at least two additional years post-master's degree to complete a Ph.D. and longer if you are in school part time.
2016 Salary Information for Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
Zoologists and wildlife biologists earned a median annual salary of $60,520 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, zoologists and wildlife biologists earned a 25th percentile salary of $48,360, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $76,320, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 19,400 people were employed in the U.S. as zoologists and wildlife biologists.