Tip #1: Get familiar with the basics early – Take as many advanced science and math classes as you can in high school and do some reading/studying of your own. Another great way to get started is to participate in and attend science fairs even if they are not required! Teens just like you are accomplishing some incredible things!
You can also start preparing by attending Teen Marine Biology Summer Camps, such as the ones Sail Caribbean offers, in order to get a taste of what it’s like. You will have the opportunity to meet real Marine Biologists on our staff!
Tip #2: As soon as possible, get out in the field! Volunteer, intern or work at a zoo, nature center, park, aquarium, vet clinic, or local research or conservation project – anything that will help you gain some real world experience and perspective. Schools and employers want to know that you have more than ‘book smarts,’ and ultimately you want to narrow down what you do and don’t like. Besides, it’s rewarding and fun!
Tip #3: Be as informed as possible before diving into a program. All degrees and careers have stereotypes associated with them, and the last thing you want is to make a big decision based on an assumption (For example, as a Marine Biologist you may be more likely to dissect dolphins than train them!). Make sure you take the time to really figure out what is most appealing to you and the realistic steps required to reach your specific goal. If you want a Marine Biology degree, start by getting an idea of which courses you should take and what type of program/school best suits your interest.
Tip #4: Don’t be afraid of hard work (sometimes in small spaces)! The fun and excitement come from the field, where you happily get dirty, muddy, fishy, cold, hot, and tired as you make your observations and collect your data. The true reward comes when you are back in the lab analyzing your data, publishing your findings, and providing tangible results that can help change the world!
Tip #5: Find a mentor who has experience in your area of interest and who you are comfortable asking questions. Find someone in your community, staff from a marine science program you attended, or check out some of the many online mentor programs that are out there.
So, hold onto your fins straps and dive in! Ask questions and take advantage of the opportunities you come across, even when they aren’t exactly what you originally expected – sometimes you’ll be pleasantly surprised and you will always learn something valuable. A career in Marine Biology can take you to some spectacularly remote places or right into your back yard, and you will meet phenomenally passionate and interesting individuals all along the way. You will work hard, you will face challenges and frustrations (that’s science – that’s life), and if you stick with it you will make a difference!
Please send me any questions and/or comments you have. This is a great venue to share your goals and dreams with others.