So you want to be a marine biologist…?

I’m not a marine biologist, but I sometimes get asked by kids what they should do if they want to become a marine biologist. So here are some ideas.

A marine biologist, to my mind, is a scientist with a specialisation in anything in the sea. But its a pretty broad topic and can range from studying the physics of filter feeding zooplankton, to the genetics of bottlenose dolphins, to the conservation of corals, or the ecology of barnacles. But the important bit is the science bit. What you really want to do is get involved with some science, some data collection to see if you like it. Luckily there are numerous ways you can do that.

1. Get involved with some “citizen science” projects so that you get an idea what data collection is like. There are so many to choose from, and you will be making a real and valid contribution to actual research, and be able to see how your data compares to other people’s data, and how it all fits together. Here are some examples.

a) Soil and earthworm survey and there are lots of other resources at the Opal website

b) Evolution megalab (snail hunting!)

c) Conker tree alien moth survey (with its own iphone app)

d) Butterfly conservation survey

They may not be marine, but they will give you an idea of what it’s like to collect field data.

2. Get interested in natural history. Join your local Wildlife Trust which will have kids activities, go to museums (I spent a lot of my childhood at Tring museum which is brilliant and free). Look at the diversity of fish, learn about the evolutionary history of the earth (most of which happened in the sea) and get a feel for the diversity in the sea.

3. Get a seashore guide like this and head to the coast, get rockpooling and try to identify the things you find. See if you enjoy it!

4. Choose your A-levels wisely. Science is about data. Do Biology, Maths and Statistics, and learn to code.

5. Go to the best University that you can, which has some members of staff that do research that looks interesting (check the University’s Research pages, as well as the pages for Undergraduates). On the other hand, don’t limit yourself too much- the same general principles apply whether you are dealing with fish, bacteria, worms or birds.

6. Try to get some extra experience while at University- do a research project in your final year, volunteer in the holidays, and generally try to make yourself stand out from the crowd (as well as making sure you get a 2:1 or a 1st)

7. Apply for a PhD in the best lab you can, doing a project most relevant to your interests. Don’t just wait for adverts, get in touch with people whose work you are interested in and develop ideas for projects with them.

Recently, Jarrett Byrnes made this, which is very appropriate:

Title: Marine Biologists. Series of 6 photos with captions "What my mom thinks I do", "What my students think I do", etc.

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