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

Heather Spence, Marine Biologist

“Ask a marine biologist” response (career)

1) Why did the study of marine biology even start?

In one word, curiosity. :) The history of marine biology is linked with the history of science in general, and with ocean exploration and observation. Aristotle is sometimes cited as the father of marine biology. I particularly like this quote of his – “The investigation of truth is in one way hard and in another way easy. An indication of this is found in the fact that no one is able to attain the truth entirely, while on the other hand no one fails entirely, but everyone says something true about the nature of things, and by the union of all a considerable amount is amassed.”
For a brief historical description check out: http://marinebio.org/Oceans/history-of-marine-biology.asp .

2) Since I live in Iowa and I can’t go out of state for college, what kind of college would be the best choice for me?

If you want to be a marine biologist, I would recommend an undergraduate school strong in the sciences, and particularly with a good foundation in general biology. This is what I did – I went to George Washington University for my BS in Biology, and I minored in Physics. GWU is landlocked, but I got a good foundation in Biology, science in general, and a well-rounded education. Most of my classes were with pre-med students, and I got interesting scientific perspectives I might not have had if I had specialized sooner. I did my senior thesis on a marine topic and had a marine biologist for my biology adviser. I specialized further in my Masters degree, in Marine Biology.

3) How long does it take to become a marine biologist? How much training would someone need?

It depends a bit on what you want to do. Four year undergraduate degree in Biology or related is pretty much a must. A masters degree (2-3 yrs typically) will get you pretty far, if you are interested in government jobs, or non-profits. If you want to design and direct your own research, you are going to want a PhD (3-7 yrs). You do not have to get a masters before getting a PhD, though many do. Additionally, you will need experience working on research – sometimes you can get this through school, sometimes you may need to organize this yourself and find internship and research assistant opportunities. And, keeping a full and varied life outside of science is important as well.

4) If I was a marine biologist, where would be the best place to live?

You do not have to live near the coast in order to be a marine biologist, though it doesn’t hurt :) You could live and teach in one place, and travel to a field location for research a month or more out of the year. Living and working near the ocean does help though, even if you are doing only lab work. It also depends on your research interests.

5) Lastly, do you like your job as a marine biologist?

Definitely! Probably the most common response I get when I tell people what I do is “oh, I was going to study marine biology, but…” and they are wistful. However I’ve never heard anyone say, gee, I wish I hadn’t become a marine biologist!

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2 Responses to ““Ask a marine biologist” response (career)”

  1. comment number 1 by: Alexus

    Hi im doing a report on marien biology and i have to interview someomne so heres my questions for you,

    1. What is the hardest part of being a marine biologist?

    2. have you ever almost got injured?

    3.Whats the coolest part of your job?

    4. Do you like being a marine biologist?

    5. whats the saddest part of you job?

    Thankyou
    Alexus

  2. comment number 2 by: Alyson

    Hello im a sixth grader at otsego junior high we are looking for future carrers for when im older i have a few questions if you are willing to answer.

    What is the hardest part of your job?

    Have you ever got injured from being a marine biologist?

    What is your favorite part of being a marine biologist?

    What was the saddest thing that has ever happened while being involed while being a marine biologist