Career as a Marine Biologist

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Jane Brown spends most of her working time swimming in a large pool with sharks. She is assistant curator of the world's first submarium, which is a mix of an aquarium and interactive ocean experience based in north-eastern England.

What are your responsibilities?

I am responsible for the day-to-day running of the husbandry department – caring for all the marine animals. The animals cover all the different kinds of creatures you find in the ocean – including fish and sharks.

Do you have a typical day?

The routine jobs range from feeding the animals, diving, maintaining filtration systems and water testing – essential for fish health and water quality. Sometimes I work with the press and the public telling them about our unusual work, conservation issues and the displays.

What equipment do you use?

Diving equipment, which is regularly maintained, many kinds of tools such as pipe fitting equipment and watertesting equipment. Microscopes and computers are used to help us maintain vital animal records. We use a giant underwater hoover-type machine and washing up brushes to clean the artificial corals and rock waters.

Do you actually swim in the tank with sharks?

Yes. Diving with sharks is the highlight of my day. I've researched sharks in the wild in the Bahamas, and diving with our large collection is just as exciting! We hand feed the sharks to ensure they have a carefully balanced diet and can check their wellbeing close up.

How did you get into your job as a Marine Biologist?

I worked in another aquarium whilst I was studying. It was a weekend job as a guide and I was working with the public. Then I volunteered for a summer working with the aquarist department. As a result I was then offered full-time aquarist work after I graduated in marine biology. I was promoted at a later stage to my present position.

What hours do you work?

Normal hours are 8.30am-5.30pm and I work one weekend in three. I often have to work late waiting for animal deliveries. I am on call at least two nights a week in case of any emergencies involving the animals.

What are the skills and qualities needed for a career in marine biology?

Having the right attitude. You have to be passionate enough about the job to be willingly flexible about working conditions and hours and have an understanding of biology. Diving ability and experience is useful and, as with all activities associated with animals, patience and attention to detail is essential.

Jane's route

  • Scottish S Grades (GCSEs)
  • Scottish Highers (A Levels)
  • BSc Hons Applied Marine Biology

Jane's tips

  • Be genuinely interested in the whole aquatic environment – not just about whales and dolphins.
  • Show that you are keen – volunteer as much as possible, there are many people who want this kind of job so you need to prove yourself.

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Marine biologist salary

  • An entrant with a first degree will start at around £12,000, rising to around £20,000 for an experienced senior scientific officer.
  • This may be enhanced by various allowances.

Becoming a marine biologist

  • A degree may not be essential to obtain work in an aquarium but competition is so intense that entrants may find that promotion prospects are limited without one.
  • Many universities offer first degree courses in biology and oceanography or related areas such as marine biology, applied marine biology and marine environmental chemistry.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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