What Should I Expect from a Marine Biology Major?

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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 13 January 2019
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A marine biology major is one way to get started working in a scientific field involving oceans. As oceans cover approximately 66 percent of the Earth's surface, they are a vital component to any of Earth's systems, often affecting weather, economies and transportation routes. Marine biology looks specifically at the animals in the ocean, and how changes in the ocean may affect them. Thus, those who pursue a marine biology major will likely need to have education in several other scientific disciplines as well.

Students interested in a marine biology major should understand that it is a rather narrow discipline that is not offered by all schools. Marine biology courses may offer different specialties, such as open ocean biology or biology around coastal areas. Further, marine biology schools may require students to spend at least one semester at sea. If that is something you cannot do, then it may cut down on the choices you have.

Many students earning a marine biology major are required to collect samples from the ocean, observe wildlife in its natural environment, and will need to be able to dive in order to do that. There may be some disciplines, such as molecular biology, that do not require as much field work, as long as there are dedicated collectors in the field. Still, those who can dive should have an added advantage, both in the curriculum and in the workforce.


A marine biology major also needs to understand that the field is not exclusive to other scientific fields. A student studying marine biology is also required to take courses in physics and chemistry, both of which are very important to the ocean, and the things living in the ocean. Normal biology courses will likely be a prerequisite to many of the advanced marine biology classes.

As with most majors, a student with a marine biology major will likely be required to write a senior thesis that explains and analyzes a specific issue. These papers are often very research intensive, with students not only being required to use outside sources, but also conduct their own experiments and observations. Many marine biology schools consider this paper so important that an entire class in one semester of the senior year is dedicated to working on it.

After graduation, marine biology jobs may be found in many different areas. Private companies, especially those related to fishing and natural resources, may offer marine biologists jobs to help make sure the resources remain sustainable. Governments may also hire marine biologists to help with sustainability issues, or help investigate regulatory violations. Universities and some non-profit organizations also employ marine biologists to help protect the environment, to further a particular cause, or to further the science itself.



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