Case Study: Marine Biologist - Elizabeth

What do you do?

I am an academic marine biologist. As a university lecturer, my time is divided between teaching and research. During the school term, I can be found in the lab or classroom, while in the summer I am out doing fieldwork at research stations all over the world.

As part of my research, I have worked with fish, crabs, clams, mussels and many other underwater animals.

The area in which I specialise is marine bio-molecular ecology. This means that I study marine ecology using new techniques in molecular biology.

One example of these new techniques involves using DNA information to track the migration of animals, rather than physically 'tagging' them.

What is your background?

I grew up in Australia and my school had a marine biology course that included lots of field trips to the sea.

This early experience, combined with the help of a few really good science teachers, made me want to study marine biology at university. I went to university and eventually earned my PhD in England.

What characteristics do you need to be successful in your job?

Organisational skills and the ability to do lots of tasks at once are very important.

As a lecturer, you are responsible for doing research, teaching, marking essays and meeting with colleagues and students - often all in the same day.

Marine biologists at universities should also be good administrators because they usually manage postgraduate students, research assistants and secretaries.

What other jobs could you do using the skills from this job?

The biological and ecological knowledge you gain as a marine biologist could be used in many ways. You could work as a school biology teacher. You could also become a journalist and write about scientific news and issues.

Marine biologists have also been known to work as environmental consultants or become assessment biologists for government departments that manage fish stocks.

What changes will there be in the future?

If global warming becomes severe, more marine biologists will be needed to study the resulting ecological changes. Rising water temperatures will force some fish stocks to move or even become extinct.

For example, tropical fish will have to move from the equator towards more temperate zones, perhaps causing some marine life to become extinct.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?

The toughest part of working as a marine biologist at a university is the hours. It can be very difficult to balance my teaching and research activities without working more than 60 hours a week. If you work more than 60 hours a week, it can take a serious toll on your family life.

Are there many opportunities to enter this career?

Many biology students become very interested in marine biology but I'm afraid that there are few opportunities, with strong competition for each vacancy.

You really must get a good degree and then some hands-on research experience in a lab or in the field, even if it's in another area of biology.

What do you like about your job?

Without a doubt, the best thing is going on field trips. The sheer diversity of marine life is breathtaking.

What do you dislike about your job?

Well, the worst thing about my job is the long hours. If you've got a big lecture for the next day, you could easily work until one or two o'clock in the morning.

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

Get as much experience as you can. Try to find out what research your lecturers are doing and volunteer to help out - believe me, they will be grateful for it!

A day in the life

9:00 am - 9:30 am

Preparing equipment, organising other scientists and students, walking from the field station to the beach, putting on scuba gear, assigning tasks.

9:30 am - 10:30 am

Collecting animal samples under water (could be fish, crabs, clams, mussels, etc).

10:30 am - 11:00 am

Organising samples, taking a break.

11:00 am - 12:00 pm

Collecting more samples.

12:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Organising samples, walking back to the field station, placing samples in tanks, eating lunch with other scientists.

2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Doing data analysis on the computer.

3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Setting up a laboratory experiment.

4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Tagging animal samples for a lab experiment.

5:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Monitoring the results of a feeding experiment from the previous day.

6:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Working on the computer, writing a research paper.

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