As many different career opportunities as there are in the marine field, especially the "related fields," there are almost as many different pathways to achieving such a career. Underwater filmmaker Bill Lovin's career path is one example. His advice to aspiring underwater filmmakers: "First, learn to be the best diver you can be, completely at home in the water. Second, don't major in film or television in college. Take marine biology or journalism or even business. Learn a lot about a lot of things. . . You will have to make your job because there are few (perhaps no) jobs out there at any given time."
Similar advice is offered by William Spitzer, director of education at the New England Aquarium, who was trained as an academic scientist and holds a Ph.D. "In working in science education," he says, "it really does help to understand science from the point of view of a scientist. However, I also had to learn a lot of staff and project management skills along the way to be effective in my job. I created my own career path based on my interests in science, social and community service and education, and the environment. My advice is to follow your heart; find ways to pursue what you care most about and create your own path."
If you like to write and you have a love for the water, ocean, or environment, a career in environmental reporting, science or technical writing, communications, or public relations may be worth exploring. If you are a "people person," enjoy teaching and public speaking, and don't mind working long hours, a career in marine education may be for you. Even in the field of education, you can choose between formal education (a classroom or academic setting) and informal education (for example, aquaria, museums, nature or science centers, parks, or wildlife refuges). If you love fish and have considered a career as a doctor, perhaps you should consider becoming an aquavet or an aquaculture veterinarian, as Myron Kebus of Wisconsin did.
Or, if you're torn between your interests in law and the marine field, consider a career in environmental or maritime law, or coastal or ocean policy. As the number of environmental regulations continues to grow, the need for people who understand the science behind the regulations will increase. Science -- and an understanding of the way science works -- is crucial to determining the success or failure of regulations or policies designed to protect the environment. Education plays a critical role as well, and can serve as the link between the need for such regulations with the outcomes and benefits, or, conversely, the need to update, revise, or do away with regulations that prove ineffective.
Margaret Goud Collins works in policy overseeing the US involvement in an international non-governmental research organization. "As the world becomes more technically oriented and population and development pressures push the limits of the natural order. . . the need and relevance for scientific input is growing," she explains. "The capacity to model natural, social, and economic systems is making predictive capability more useful for policy makers [and] globalization is opening opportunities around the world," she says.
When thinking about careers, work environment is an important factor to consider. Marine-related job opportunities exist in virtually every setting: within government, private industry, academia (schools, colleges, universities), business, and non-profit organizations, to name a few. The positions available may be similar, but the actual day-to-day responsibilities can differ greatly, depending on which avenue you choose. For example, a ship captain could choose to work for the federal government commanding a U.S. Navy ship, for a private oceanographic research institution commanding a research vessel, or for a museum or aquarium commanding a visitors tour boat. While the job title may be similar, the job description could vary greatly.
Another thing to consider is where you'd like to work. Not all marine-related jobs require you to live at the coast, though many opportunities will be near it. Locations around freshwater, such as rivers and lakes, also offer similar career opportunities.
And, don't forget, the best job will be one that combines your interests and skills. Consider what makes you happy. Do you like: working independently or do you prefer being around others? working at your own pace or in a more structured environment? flexible hours or a typical work day with a lunch hour, paid vacations, and sick time? traveling or staying close to home? supervising and leading others or reporting to a supervisor? working in a team setting? being outdoors in all weather conditions, inside at a desk, or a combination?
Having a career that makes you feel good about yourself and your responsibilities is very important. After all, it wouldn't be enjoyable to get up and go to work every day if you didn't like what you were doing. As one marine educator states, "I studied marine biology in college, but I found that my interest did not lie in the hard-core science aspect of this field. I began taking courses in education and I discovered that working with people was of much greater interest to me than working in a laboratory. I investigated museums and aquariums, and found that most of them have education departments that teach about the marine world. This is the perfect setting for me. I have the opportunity to share my delight and interest in marine science with people while at the same time being surrounded by the animals and environment that I have always loved."
Just as learning about the different fields of oceanography is important to scientists and technicians who conduct marine research and strive to understand how the oceans work, learning all you can about the marine environment is important in marine-related careers as well. A career in any aspect of marine science involves a life-long learning process. Because oceanography is a relatively new science, there is a great deal yet to be discovered and understood. What an exciting field to be in!