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How Do I Become an Aquatic Biologist?

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  • Written By: Kenneth W. Michael Wills
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 13 July 2014
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If you enjoy studying the plant and animal life that is found in aquatic environments, you might consider becoming an aquatic biologist. To become an aquatic biologist, you will need an advanced college degree, strong research skills, solid communication skills and a passion for aquatic life forms. Taking the right courses as early as high school will provide you with the foundational knowledge required to complete the advanced educational requirements and successfully secure a position in this field.

An aquatic biologist is often confused with a marine biologist. An aquatic biologist focuses on life forms in a freshwater aquatic environment, and a marine biologist studies life forms in a saltwater environment. Regardless, the job title can have different meanings, depending on an individual’s career aspirations. Some individuals entering this field might want to manage aquatic wildlife, and others might want to study water-borne microbes. Nevertheless, the main goal of someone who wants to become an aquatic biologist is to study, observe and interact with aquatic life forms and the environmental factors that affect them.

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Aspiring to become an aquatic biologist begins with a curious mind and a fierce determination to find solutions. In high school, this means that science classes and math classes are very important. It’s not enough to ask the questions, but rather conclusively show the answers. Therefore, students will need a strong foundation in biological and chemical sciences to understand how living organisms function. Students must also learn advanced mathematical applications to understand how to interpret, compile and manipulate data.

At the undergraduate level in college, students will need to earn a bachelor’s degree to qualify for an entry-level position related to the field or prepare for graduate study. At this level of study, students normally do not specialize in aquatic biology, nor will an undergraduate degree prepare a student to become an aquatic biologist. Instead, students usually will follow a degree program in biological sciences, focusing on courses in chemistry, biology, engineering, computer science, physics and mathematics. This builds on the information learned in high school and gives students the basic knowledge required for field applications and specializing at the graduate level.

Students at the master’s and doctorate level specialize in aquatics biology. Not all universities offer graduate study specializing in the field, so students will need to research universities carefully and enroll in a strong program dedicated to the field. At the graduate level, students can expect to study in the classroom, conduct research in a laboratory and apply research in the field.

A master’s program usually will last two years and will culminate in a thesis. A doctorate can take six years to complete and will culminate in a dissertation. Earning a doctorate will give a student the best opportunity to become an aquatic biologist.

Upon graduation, students are prepared to enter the workforce as an aquatic biologist. As of 2011, the field of aquatic biology offered limited opportunities, with far more graduates than positions available. Although there is a demand, this field is still a small field under the purview of biological sciences. This means that coveted research positions are highly competitive and securing a doctorate does not guarantee a position. Instead, while earning a doctorate, students should focus research on issues that matter in the field of aquatics biology, which will afford students the best opportunity to demonstrate ability in making valuable contributions to the field.

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