Heather Spence, Marine Biologist
Orchestrating Coastal Marine Ecology Investigation and Outreach

Heather Spence, Marine Biologist

Marine Biologist Career

Question:
Good evening. My name is Vanessa and I was wondering if you could help me out by answering some questions. I am a high school student taking a few college courses and one of my college classes wants us to write a report. I am writing a report on a person in a career field of my interest so I was wondering if you can help me out. I would greatly appreciate any help or any contact information to other marine biologists. I would be glad if you can get back to me as soon as you can so I can turn my report in. Here are the questions that i need to ask:
1. What is the training involved in the job?
2. What is the starting salary?
3. What is the stress level involved?
4. What are the physical requirements/demands?
5. What are the downsides of the job and why do you feel the way you do about them?
6. What are the working conditions?
7.Is the job/field constantly changing? How?
8. Is there any opportunites to grow within this field?
9. Do you have any specific advice for anyone entering this field?
10. What are your specific job responsibilties?
11. What are the personal qualities necessary on the job?
12. What is your background (length of time in this field)?
13. What tasks do people on this job do?
14. What are the professional and other skills necessary to perform the job?
15. Is this field developing?
16. Are there any related occupations?
17. Are there opportunites for personal growth?
18. What is the work enviroment like?
19. Is there a lot of traveling or away from home time?
20. Is speaking a forgein language important in this field?
Thank you for all your time. I appreciate any help you can give me.
Sincerely,
Vanessa
Answer:

Hi Vanessa, glad to hear from you and good luck in your class and on your report. To answer your questions:

1) My training is a B.S. in Biology and a M.S. in Marine Biology, however there are some jobs that only require a B.S., or a B.A., and some that require a PhD.

2) Starting salary for Marine Biologists varies greatly depending on where you are working, and your academic background, and can range from volunteer to 50,000

3) There is a high level of stress in being a marine biologist. In research, a lot of things turn out in ways you least expected and if you have to quickly make adjustments. There is quite a bit of competition, as well. Also, my focus is in conservation biology, and this is a politically charged area. Another thing is, if you work in something you care about – and nobody would become a marine biologist for any other reason, certainly not for the money! – there is stress due to that, as well. But it is all worth it.

4) It depends on the type of work, and there are some Marine Biologists who mostly work in the computer or lab. However, field work does require physical demands, especially if you are diving, lugging heavy equipment, and spending long hours on boats or in the water.

5) Sometimes the job is discouraging, because progress can be slow and frustrating, and it seems like you aren’t getting anywhere and everything is going wrong. Also, a lot of your time is spent on administrative tasks and grant writing.

6) Working conditions vary depending on the stage of the projects – there are times in the field, working from boats, diving, gathering data. There are times analyzing the data, on the computer and in the lab. There are times presenting at conferences. A lot of time is spent on the computer, writing up results, proposals, etc.

7) The job and the field are constantly changing as new discoveries are made, and new technologies are developed. We know so little about the oceans, new discoveries are made every day.

8) There are as many opportunities to grow as you make them, you have to take the lead to determine where you want to go with your career.

9) Talk to as many people as possible to get different viewpoints and see what the options are. Then get a research assistant position to try out research and see if you like it. Also, don’t get discouraged if you find that one type of research isn’t for you, there are many different areas within Marine Biology.

10) Research (including methods development), educational outreach, fundraising, presentations

11) Organization, creativity, logical thinking process, passion. and a resilient sense of humor!

12) My last year of college I began working specifically on marine biology research, so I guess you could say I have 5 years in the field.

13) design research, meet with collaborators, write reports, write proposals, present to schools….

14) solid foundation in the scientific method, skills in communication

15) absolutely, see 7

16) sure, there are people in all kinds of marine biology fields, and related fields, such as aquaculture, physical and chemical oceanography, professional diving, underwater videography, science writing, etc

17) Definitely, you really get to know yourself and expand your abilities through working through the challenges of the research and the outreach to other scientists, policymakers and managers, and the community

18) see 6

19) Depends, but there can be if you are working in a field site away from where you live, and also going to conferences

20) In my case, yes, since I am working in conservation marine biology in Mexico. However, it is not necessary if you choose to only work in your country. However, I will say that English is the main language of scientists at meetings, and so even if it isn’t your first language, it is probably best to speak English in order to best participate in conferences, and to read the majority of articles about your field.

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