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Marine Science - Looking for Deeper Involvement

“A vision of adventure and discovery attracts thousands to marine sciences, so dedication is required to ensure career fulfillment.”

The study of marine sciences is rewarding and fun as an end in itself, and moving on to employment can be even more exciting and productive. The field is extremely competitive, however, and prospective employees must plan ahead, choosing their degree subjects with care and being prepared to work hard to progress. In order to become a professional, it is necessary to have relevant training, either through further education or experience gained in the field or laboratory. Whichever route you are taking, be prepared for many years of hard but enjoyable and rewarding work before you reach your goal.

The Marine Conservation Society, as the UK’s national charity for the marine environment and its wildlife, receives an enormous number of letters asking for advice on how to go about embarking on a marine science career. There are many opportunities, at all levels of ability, and you don’t have to be a graduate biologist, experienced sailor or SCUBA diver to become a ‘marine scientist.’

Pathways to Success
A career in any aspect of the marine sciences will have begun at school, with choices of subjects at GCSE/Standard Grade, ‘A’ levels/Higher Grades made with thought towards future goals in education and employment.

The main training options are:

  • Full time education to first degree level or above at University or College of Higher Education;
  • Part time education and training (usually in the form of day/block release) coupled with a job giving relevant experience;
  • Self-education (Open University, Open College, Adult Education Courses) coupled with voluntary involvement to gain practical experience.

Whether you want to be a marine biologist, oceanographer, hydrographic surveyor or specialist in conservation of marine habitats and species, ideally you will have studied the correct degree course to suit your plans for future employment. As a graduate in unrelated disciplines, you may find it difficult to go on to further study, though holders of a scientific or geography BSc (or equivalent) may be welcomed onto an increasing number of applied MSc courses, both taught and research based, available at many British Universities. Open University courses are another option, and vocational qualifications such as BTEC have become popular.

To the Next Frontier... and Beyond
Following graduation, students with degrees (normally first or upper second class) may decide to embark upon a period of supervised research or training for a higher degree:

  • MSc - examination following taught courses. One or two years full time with submission of a thesis, or part time.
  • MPhil - Two years full time with submission of a thesis.
  • PhD - Submission of an original piece of research in the form of a thesis, three years full time or five years part time
  • DSc - awarded for a candidate’s contribution to the advancement of science on the strength of 7-10 years research and publications.

Embarking upon research for a doctorate means long hours of study and research in the field and laboratory. By the time you have completed your doctorate, you will be well on your way to becoming an ‘expert in your own field’ – but you will also be poorer than your peers who gained employment straight after University!

Whether you have embarked on research for a higher degree, or decide to seek employment following graduation, you will need to discover the opportunities available to you:

Marine Biologist and Oceanographer
Research on marine ecology, physical processes, water resources, fishery science, the effects of pollution and the amenity value of water is carried out in various Government establishments. Research and development is also carried out in departments of universities in the UK and overseas. Grant-aided and component bodies of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), include the Marine Biological Association and Institute of Oceanographic Sciences. English Nature, Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Department of Environment Northern Ireland, regional Water Authorities and the Environment Agency also employ marine biologists for research and laboratory analysis.

Many establishments do not specifically employ marine scientists, but require experts in mathematics, physics and computing who can apply their knowledge to similar studies. Many research and consultancy establishments rely heavily on modelling techniques and geographical information systems as a means of studying and forecasting oceanographic processes, so a sound background in IT is vital.

Environmental Scientist
Environmental Scientists are becoming increasingly sought after, particularly in the study of pollution and water quality. Competition for employment is high - those with a strong background in chemical/biological analysis and computing are in a favourable position to gain early employment with organisations such as the Environment Agency, environmental consultancies or research establishments.

Fisheries Scientist
Most employment is with MAFF/CEFAS and DAFS laboratories, and marine biological research stations. If you like the idea of overseas work, the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) sometimes employ fisheries scientists, as do national government departments.

Coastal Zone Manager
The importance of CZM is becoming increasingly recognised by coastal local authorities and agencies. Opportunities might include Projects Officers to compile and implement estuary and other coastal management schemes, recreation or port management. A great deal of tact and diplomacy is needed to reconcile the many uses of the coastal zone.

Marine Conservation Officer
Be warned - employment opportunities are limited. To get employment in this area, you will need academic qualifications, relevant voluntary experience and a great deal of patience. It can be worthwhile writing to organisations you would like to work in, enquiring about any vacancies or voluntary work that you could help with.

Whichever route you may follow into a marine science career, remember that commitment is essential, voluntary work will give you an edge - and don’t be afraid to try your luck, as job specifications may not be as strict as they appear. The world’s surface is seventy percent ocean – there remains much to be discovered by the keen graduate.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) runs volunteer survey projects in the UK, and produce a range of resource materials. Students qualify for discount membership rate of just £10. MCS can be contacted at:

9 Gloucester Road


Richard Harrington
Marine Conservation Society


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