by Tania Militello

You want to swim with dolphins, talk to the manta rays and plunge into warm, crystal clear tropical waters? Interesting…

I really love this job, and I know for sure that all marine biologists feel the same. However I sometimes get the feeling that most of the students and young “marine biologists to be” do not quite know the real meaning of being a marine biologist.

Recently we had the amazing chance to have young Seychellois marine enthusiasts to join our team based at Four Seasons Resort Seychelles. Fred from Island School Seychelles, a Save Our Seas Foundation project, spent a week with us, while a group from the University of Seychelles joined us for a day.

It was a great experience both for them and for us; we had the chance, through the eyes of these young students, to realise just how much work we carry out, how many skills are required to accomplish our daily routine tasks, and how little people generally know about what the job really entails.

And that inspired the subject of this blog!

There is no denying that it is true, this is one the best jobs in the world. We often live in breathtaking places and sometimes we do have the chance to get close to amazing marine creatures. But, the glamour is just a part of the story. Generally the smallest part! Despite what people think, swimming with dolphins is not exactly what all marine biologists do. It’s like judging a book by its cover.

So, together with my colleagues, WiseOceans Marine Educators Jo and Charlotte, we decided to make a list of the things you don’t know about this job. So, here it is, our top nine things you never knew about the life of a marine biologist!

1. Marine biologist have to study a lot to get where they are. And they keep on doing it. All life long. All. Life. Long

Marine biologists are super knowledgeable professionals. Most of them have a degree or two, often a Masters and a PhD. They have spent an age in the university library; while the rest of the world was clubbing, playing football, singing, they have learned to appreciate the “wonders” of chemistry or a math formula. And, if this is not enough, they know that they will keep on studying for their entire life if they want to keep up with the pace of science. Something to think about before you enroll in a marine biology course – the studying is for life!

2. Marine biologists spend more time with their laptop than their wetsuit

Field work can be glamorous and fun, but what those amazing National Geographic documentaries do not show is that field work is just a small part of the game. A marine biologist’s best friend is not a dolphin, not a colleague, not a starfish, but his or her laptop. Always on marine biologist’s side, on the beach, under the sun, with 33 degrees, full of sand, these laptops are invaluable tools and the companion of many adventures!

3. Marine Biologists are obsessed with data collection and data analysis

Databases, statistics and excel are an integral part of marine biologist’s daily life. What else can I say? That’s it. In most cases, over the years they also develop a pretty crazy passion for it. Yes, we do get excited about data; some kind of weird survival instinct perhaps?!

4. Marine biologists work in harsh conditions too!

As much as we would like to tell you that the life of a marine biologist is filled with all-year round sun and crystal clear waters, we know from first-hand experience that field work can mean being freezing cold, lashed by the rain and seasick on a boat for hours at a time. Not to forget that studying the sea could mean also studying the Artic, the Baltic Sea, the Irish Sea and so on! And anyway, even those who, like us, are working in tropical waters sometimes have to face bad conditions: storms, monsoons and rainy seasons are just as much a part of the game as sunshine.

5. Marine biologists are patient people and always have a ‘Plan B’. Sometimes a ‘Plan C’ too

As glamorous and fascinating as field work can be, it can also test a marine biologist’s nerve. In fact, they might spend months onboard a research vessel, and come back with no useful data, simply because the creature they were looking for decided not to show up. And when you are on a boat every day, looking for something that does not show up, glamour and excitement are increasingly harder and harder to find…

6. Marine biologists are simple people, drive by passion and dedication rather than anything else

If you want a career in marine biology because you think you are going to be featured on David Attenborough next series and make lot of money, think again. Many opportunities, especially at the beginning of our career, are voluntary and their purpose is only to gain field work experience. And even later, the money is the last thing marine biologists look for when they pick a job.

7. Did we mention the amount of time spent on databases, R and Excel!?

8. Style is not and cannot be a marine biologist’s priority

For those working in the tropics, the sun will play havoc with their skin and hair, and staying stylish can be a challenge. Plus you don’t have time anyway!

9. Some marine biologists don’t put their feet in the water for months, but rather spend most of their life in the lab

When I was still a Masters student researching brittlestars (so many years ago!) I spent most of my time in the University’s basements, alone in the dark, working night and day at the ultramicrotome, making millions of slices of little brittlestars’ arms and watching them on the microscope. The closest experience to swimming in the sea was changing the filter in the lab aquarium…

However! We also have another list…

  1. Marine biologists really can save the planet (one step at a time). Their research, their passion, their effort in sharing their knowledge about marine life can shine a light on different ways to save it and really inspire the change
  2. Some, like us, truly are lucky enough to work at least for a part of their lives in beautiful tropical locations, diving and snorkelling with sharks, mantas and schools of fish everyday
  3. Being a marine biologist means meeting a lot of interesting and inspiring people from all over the world
  4. Marine biologists know that everybody is envious of their job, even if those people don’t really know what it means!
  5. The view from my office this morning!

And if you STILL want to be a marine biologist, take a look at the WiseOceans Careers section of the WiseOceans website and sign up for our free weekly newsletter, full of marine conservation jobs, expeditions, internships and courses.

It’s the best job in the world and I would, of course, highly recommend it!”

Tania Militello

We also have lots of great career advice, including our Interview with WiseOceans series, where you can read how marine science and conservation professionals got their dream job:

An Interview with WiseOceans

Top Five Pieces of Advice for a Career in Marine Conservation

15 Skills to Help You Stand Out From The Crowd