Thinking about becoming a marine biologist? Here at GTS we have interviewed a fellow GTS member and marine biologist, Rachel Hale from the UK, to tell us everything there is to know about marine biology a marine biologists salary, the steps to getting the right education to head into marine biology and much more.
Why marine biology
I always loved the beach and the ocean so I always wanted to do something with a marine flavour that would allow me to be outside doing fieldwork. I did an undergrad degree in Biology and kind of just fell in love with how weird invertebrates were so pursued working in that area after my degree.
How do you become a marine biologist?
The field is a scientific led area and as a result ground work in both experience and education is needed for marine biology. Rachel, after doing her undergrad in Biology wasn’t sure what to do or how to get a job so took advice from a project supervisor. Spending 9 months in a Invertebrate Department of a museum, giving skills, experience and more passion for this particular field.
It’s no easy feat to progress, Rachel knew more was needed so went on to do a masters in Marine Science.
Is the masters for this industry worth it? A resounding yes. It gave her the independence, support and freedom to flex her abilities in designing and running research projects.
Falling for the area of research she went on further to applying for her PhD which is required if someone wants to specialise in research. Enormous motivation, energy and love for the subject were needing while applying for the PhD, which took 18 months of patience and a job in environmental consultancy in the interim. Rachel highlighted that this is the worst part of the job. PhD project rejections, paper rejections, fellowship rejections, job application rejections, grant rejections. True to the passion of the job, Rachel uses them constructively
‘I just try to use the rejections to improve my applications and writing. I won’t say it hasn’t been hard sometimes. After getting the PhD I did 5 years postdocing and now, 17 years later, I finally have a permanent job in marine biology.’
Marine Biologist salary and the gender gap
Considering the effort Rachel has put in, you can see she has not gotten into marine biology to simply pay the bills. Adding ‘I’m not sure many do [get into marine biology for the money].’ She adds a potential benefit to a marine biologist salary is that ‘the pay scale and yearly pay increases are very structured so you can know what to expect.’
Openly she explains the salary break down, highlighting the fact it needs to be spoken about due to the gender pay gap. The academically led marine biology environment is still dominated by men at the higher levels, despite this she discussed the research cruises she did, which were primarily female.
Universities and institutions are definitely paying more attention to the principles of equality, diversity and inclusivity, having made progress but there is still a lot of work to do. Much of the work currently done is voluntary, under appreciated and falls onto women and minorities.
Working in consultancy after a master’s you can expect $22,000-$24,000 a year, between $34,000-$40,000 with contemporary contracts in post doc and around $48,000 in full time employment.
How often does diving play a role in your job and in the Marine biology world?
While working towards her PhD, during her postdocs and in her current job Rachel wasn’t required to dive. ‘Most of my work is focussed on sediment environments in the intertidal which I access on foot, or in the shelf sea and deeper which is accessed by taking samples from boats.’
This is the work she loves in the marine biology sphere. However, Rachel herself worked as a Divemaster on and off over the years and worked (unpaid) for a few conservation organisations, doing a lot of research focused diving.
There are several areas in marine biology which require thier employees to dive. A lot of the diving work that is undertaken for research isn’t always in a warm, coral reef environment. It can be in low visibility conditions, cold, in strong currents and can be very difficult. To get into a more diving based specialty, technical diving qualifications will absolutely play in your favour along with experience in diving in lots of different conditions.
What does a typical day look like?
This is one best things about the job. You have independence to set your own schedule and each day varies depending on whether you’re working in lab, the field, supervising students, lecturing, attending a conference, analysing data or writing reports and papers. Rachel adds ‘It is great to have so much variety. But the downside is that is always feels like there is so much work to do so it’s hard not to get swamped. '
What is the best thing about being a marine biologist?
Rachel says: From being surrounded by dolphins on a research cruise in the Celtic Sea (off UK), or casually being offered the opportunity to go to Hawaii for a conference and feeling super sciencey, along with getting to use the environmental beamline at the UK Synchrotron. Not to mention diving beautiful reefs in Wallacea, Indonesia all as a job!
GTS says: One of the core benefits to marine biology is travel while applying science-led skills. It seems Rachels highlights are fairly incredible to any sea-lover. This is all before adding she currently lives in New Zealand, having been given this chance because of her work in marine biology
Rachels advice to budding marine biologists
If you want to go into research I would say try to meet and collaborate with as many people as possible. Work on topics that interest you, but always be open to new ideas and opportunities. Be prepared for your career and your goals to change as you progress. I probably went into my undergrad hoping to scuba dive on coral reefs everyday only to end up working on intertidal mud and sediment biogeochemistry. Marine biology is competitive and I feel very lucky to have had the career I’ve had so far working in marine biology.
If you are wanting more information or inspiration for life as a marine biology feel free to check out Rachels social media.
Written by Phoebe Howlett who 4 years ago was diagnosed with an illnesses that made her so ill, they said she would never be able to recover to lead a normal life again. However, she completely changed her lifestyle; diet, exercise, and attitude to life and with these changes came her recovery. She now want to show that everyone can make the most of their life, creating The Chance of Choice to do so. Follow her journey on Facebook.