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Becoming a Marine Biologist

Susan Parks might not be able to communicate with marine animals but she still listens in on their conversations. The marine biologist is studying how the endangered North Atlantic right whale communicates when finding and selecting a mate. "Marine mammals are exciting subjects to study in this area because most species produce distinctive sounds that may be used for communication," Susan explains online.

What She Does

Most of her time is spent in the lab (about nine to 10 hours a day, five days a week) analyzing data that has been collected. When she does work in the field (about one to three months a year) everything depends on the weather. In good weather she works long hours, in bad weather she might even have to stop working for a few days.

Susan is currently a graduate student in the M.I.T - Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program. "I took classes at M.I.T. for about a year and now I am working at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution that is both an educational and research institution." Susan takes courses, collects and analyzes her own data, helps advisors with research projects and applies for funding for her own research. She even gets to travel. So far she's been to Maui, Vancouver, London and Rome.

The Upside and Downside

"I like to be able to answer my own questions. It is particularly rewarding when other people are interested in the answers to the same questions or when the research can help with conservation and habitat improvement for the organisms I study." It's not all fun and games. "As a graduate student, sometimes the hours are long, the pay is low (about $20, 000 a year), and the respect of colleagues is non-existent. But it is really what you make of it. Most of the time I just feel very privileged to study behavior in right whales and spend time on the water observing an endangered species.

Course of Action

Susan knew she always wanted to work with the ocean, so in high school she took every math and science course. She received an undergraduate degree in Biology from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. and then went straight into the Ph.D. program at Woods Hole. "This much school (seven years at universities and counting) is not required for everyone wanting to become a marine biologist. You will need to find out how much education the job you are interested in will require," advises Susan.


If you're interested in getting a job in marine biology Susan says it can be difficult but it really depends on the particular job you are interested in. She suggests camps or internships which will give you an idea of what the job is about. She also recommends learning as much as you can about biology before you decide to be a marine biologist.

Check out where Susan works and other marine jobs www.whoi.edu.


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