Getting Started with Marine Sciences

Career Paths
Marine Sciences
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A career in the marine sciences means having a career in marine biology, oceanography, ocean engineering and related fields such as ocean filmmaking, ecotourism, marine education, marine law, and aquaculture, specializing in marine or freshwater.  There are numerous areas of extreme specialty in the marine sciences including marine biotechnology, which studies pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, and chemicals created from marine sources as well as marine pollution control, genetically engineered marine organisms, and biofouling prevention (how to keep biological agents from fouling structures, equipment, and gear).

You can also study marine ecology, aquaculture (which is the study of raising fish and plants for food and other sources), marine toxicology and cleanup, and marine mammal study (which looks at bioacoustics, vocalization and population dynamics).  Working in marine science doesn’t necessarily mean that you must work on one of the US’ main coastal areas.  You can work in freshwater areas as well.   

Some marine scientists work in colleges or universities, others work in industry, and still others work for major organizations that have interests in marine science.  You can work for the government as well in areas of marine science that are related to national or state interests. 

Career Paths in Marine Science

As a postgraduate marine scientist, your career path would involve studying water life in freshwater and marine locations.  You can do pure or applied science for a corporation.  You can also study oceanography, which does limit you to working on the coast or off-coast on a ship or boat.  You would study all aspects of the ocean, including weather, currents and the physical aspects of the ocean.  Finally, you can follow an engineering path and study ocean engineering.  This involves the use of engineering principles in the creation of technology that is ocean-driven. 

Careers in Ocean Science

Large Institutes

Woods Hole Marine Biological Lab: This is an international educational laboratory that boasts the oldest privately run marine laboratory in the country.  More than 275 staff scientists work in areas of ecology, developmental marine biology, microbiology, molecular evolution, neurobiology, global infectious disease and sensory physiology.  Students come from around the world to study there by the thousands, and it has a robust educational program. 

Scripps Institution of OceanographyAffiliated with the UC San Diego, it is one of the oldest and largest research centers for ocean science, earth science research, marine education and public service.  It hires graduates in the fields of marine biology, chemistry, geology and the geophysical study of the oceans and the earth.  It aspires to be an international leader in marine basic research and developing scientists in the marine field, and in advancing the cause of science need for a sustainable balance between human activity and our nearby natural environment. 


There are programs in marine biology and the marine sciences at UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Barbara, Rutgers’s University and the University of Texas.  There you could do basic research in the ocean sciences and would be involved in teaching undergraduate students.   Other universities and colleges that have marine biology programs where you could do basic research or teach in the field include:

  • Barry University in Miami
  • Boston University
  • California State in Long Beach
  • Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina
  • College of Charleston in South Carolina
  • Cornell University
  • Eastern Connecticut State
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • University of Connecticut in Groton. 


NOAA: This is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  This governmental agency deals with the preservation and management of ocean resources in both coastal and deep waters.  It provides products and services which promote safe navigation, supports coastal communities, mitigates coastal hazards and helps sustain marine ecosystems.   It has a method of observing ocean systems which is part of the total Global Earth Observation System of Systems, which uses 21st century technology to protect, predict and observe the earth, including its oceans. 

Navy: The US Navy has a Marine Animal Program which studies the military use of marine animals, particularly bottlenose dolphins and California Sea Lions.  It trains animals to guard ships and harbors, in mine protection and clearance and in equipment recovery. 

Pacific Northwest National Lab: This national laboratory is located in Richland, Washington, and is a part of the US Department of Energy.  It is managed by the US DOE Office of Science.  It performs research in the marine sciences for the government, universities and industry.   It has numerous programs, including one related to fuel from biological resources and the effects of energy on the environment. 


There are many small companies in the marine biotech industry. Some examples are:

Azantis, Inc. is the fastest growing small business in the Nutraceutical Industry with Krill Oil, having tripled sales in 2009.  Their core products are focused on a range of omega-3 phospholipids and fatty acids, derived from marine and other sources, which are used in food, supplements, medical foods, and prescription products.

Algenol commercializes the use of hybrid algae to make ethanol, and high-value organic green-chemicals directly from carbon dioxide, water and sunlight.  It has invested $40 million in research and development and has built a team of more than 100 scientists and engineers working in fully equipped biological research and engineering laboratories and specialized algal growing facilities.

Associates of Cape Cod, of Falmouth, Massachusetts, with 80 employees, is a leading research lab, manufacturer and distributor of blood extracts from horseshoe crabs for the biomedical


Resources for finding Jobs in this Area

You can find jobs at any of the major sites listed above, including the NOAA, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratories.  You can also find ocean-related jobs at Sea Grant Marine Careers.  There is a good job board in marine-related jobs at Ocean Careers.


Job positions vary with the area you are planning to work in. You would be an instructor or professor at any university or college. You would be a research marine biologist at one of the major institutes.  You could also be a “project manager” or senior scientist at any of the above places.  You would be a Marine Engineer in the Industrial Sector. 


The pay varies from about $50,000 to $100,000 or more and is higher in the private sector where marine engineers are being employed.

What would a Job in this Field be like?

A person hired as a post graduate in the field of marine science may use bench skills if they are studying the microbiology of the ocean.  There may be a great bit of field work if areas studied involve marine life in situ or the collection of species of marine life.  There may be a lot of time spent on a boat at sea.  As a researcher, you will be working with a team and will need to have good communication and writing skills, especially if you are writing for grants.  There may be extensive travel because the ocean is a big place and there may be species in areas outside your immediate realm.  In some cases, you need to be an excellent researcher.  If you are working in the area of marine engineering, your engineering skills need to be as strong as your marine skills.  It is a competitive field, in that there is a lot of undergraduate interest in it but when you get to the post graduate level, there are fewer jobs available.