“You’re studying marine bio? That sounds like fun.”
Yep. You’ll hear that nearly every time you tell people what you study. And, yes it is fun, but there is some stuff you should know. Like any science, marine bio involves heavy amounts of chemistry, physics, lab work, and field work.
College can be an invigorating opportunity to meet new people, form connections, study what you want to study, and revel in the freedom of adulthood. Doing all of this with your major in mind, though, is key.
The School Side of Things
1. Take advantage of office hours and befriend your professor and TAs (or, at the very least, let them know you exist).
Some classes can be enormous, while others feel like an awkward one-on-one student teacher conference. With those large classes, it can be alienating at times and difficult to not get swallowed up in the sea of people. Even if you don’t have a question about your assignments or grades, office hours can be a great time to make that humongous class feel smaller, ask about research opportunities, or even share an article with your professor that you find interesting. Professors are just waiting for someone to come by and distract them from the hundreds of emails in their inbox.
If you ever feel nervous or embarrassed about office hours, bring a friend. Having a friend tag along is what finally motivated me to use office hours, and I recommend this to anyone looking for that extra push.
2. Try to get all your pre-reqs done early, so you can actually get to studying marine bio.
As someone who transferred my junior year, I can’t stress this enough. No one wants to take general ed classes as an upperclassman when they could be taking more interesting field trip classes or lab classes. (TRUST ME, the upper level classes for marine bio can be really fun. We’re talking about classes where you draw fish all day or even classes where you get to study critters in tide pools.)
3. Have a 4-year plan and be ready to change it on the fly.
Things can change. Classes can get rescheduled to the next Fall or canceled altogether, teachers can retire, program requirements can shift, or your own interests may evolve. There are even situations where certain classes are only offered every other year. Make sure to brainstorm early what classes sound intriguing to you, and come up with your plan for taking them. Every year of undergrad, I made it a habit to visit the student advisor and double check I was still on track with my degree. Knowing exactly what is ahead can alleviate a great deal of college stress.
4. Get help before you need it.
On almost every college campus, there are free tutoring tools, and even if your college is lacking in those resources, there is an array of useful online tools, such as Khan Academy. During my time at the University of Washington and at UC San Diego, I used tutoring offered through my individual classes and through the library. Tutoring can be immensely helpful when you’re prepping for exams or just trying to make sense of homework assignments. Be ahead of the game, and access these resources before you find yourself crunched for time.
Network, Network, Network
5. Get to know your classmates who are studying marine bio.
You’ll see your classmates everywhere you go. Even at the largest universities, marine bio departments feel like small, private colleges. Introducing yourself to the person next to you can do wonders for building friendships and networking. You already have something in common—you’re both studying marine bio—so run with that, and ask them more about themselves and their interests. I met some of my best friends doing this. As you meet more people in your major, you will start to feel even more part of your community.
6. Attend mixers with faculty and industry professionals.
Mixers are a valuable tool for getting to know your professors and potential employers better. Bring a friend with you if these mixers seem intimidating. Knowing one other person there can help you get over the nervous sweaty palms and the thumping in your chest.
When I went to a faculty mixer, I had some nerves, but the minute I settled in, I felt surprisingly comfortable. My impression was this mixer would feel exceptionally formal, but once we all started talking, it felt like I was casually speaking with friends, instead of professors. Professors are just like you and me. Don’t let the daunting PhD titles deter you from seeing the actual person. Be yourself, and share your passions. These mixers are a time for authenticity.
7. Make your LinkedIn already.
This is an easy thing to push off, especially when you’re still a student and haven’t quite taken off your floaties yet. LinkedIn is a wonderful way to keep in touch with people and keep an eye on the news in your field. Set aside a day to write and publish your LinkedIn profile. Then, add all the new friends you’re making!
8. Ask classmates what their plans are.
This seems simple, but it’s actually one of the best things you can do. Everyone has a different plan for their future and career. Ask around, and see what people plan to do during or after college. You might come across ideas you had never even thought of before.
9. Research the surrounding area early on and regularly.
Figure out where all the aquariums, zoos, or research centers are, and keep Indeed on your browser toolbar to see what’s happening in your field. Learning about the opportunities in your area is the first step in finding a great position. If you’re looking to get off to a good start, I suggest volunteering at the local aquarium. This is not only a great way to meet people, but also a great opportunity to figure out what aspects of marine bio you enjoy most.
10. Try out research.
I suggest everyone look into research at one point or another, even if you don’t think it’s for you. Some people find their calling in research, while others run as fast as they can in the other direction. Giving everything a shot can be one the best ways to see what you actually like and dislike. I worked in research for about 2 years, and it was absolutely one of the best things I did. It helped me figure out what parts of marine bio I enjoyed and what parts I wasn’t as passionate about. With this hands-on experience, I feel far more knowledgeable about what I want to study in grad school and what careers appeal to me.
If you would like to learn more about undergrad research, read this article here.
11. Get out of your comfort zone and start studying marine bio abroad.
Traveling the world can be one of the most rewarding parts of studying marine bio. It’s one of the few majors where you will live and work in some of the most stunning, scenic places. The summer after my senior year I traveled to Costa Rica to research endangered sea turtles (check out the program, BIOMA, if you’re interested). This experience offered me the unique fieldwork expertise I was desperately trying to gain from classes. It’s one thing to talk about fieldwork in a classroom, but an entirely different thing to do it in real life.
12. Join a marine bio club or start one if it doesn’t exist.
Joining any club can be a great way to meet people and gain leadership skills. If your college has a marine bio-related club, I highly suggest you attend a meeting and introduce yourself. At UC San Diego, I walked into our school’s marine bio club without knowing a single person, and I left not only as secretary of that club, but also with a whole new group of friends.
Enjoy the Little Things
13. Visit your local aquarium.
Bask in the beauty of marine bio, and enjoy all the fascinating creatures your local aquarium has to offer. The aquarium is a fun, interactive way to spend an afternoon, and it can be a gentle reminder of why you’re studying marine bio.
14. Take up water activities, like surfing, snorkeling, or scuba diving.
Chances are your new marine bio friends, enjoy the water. Ask people to go surfing, snorkeling, or scuba diving. This is an engaging way to stay social, while also enjoying your major. Check out your local area to see if you can join snorkeling tours, take surfing lessons, or get certified for scuba.
15. Read magazines and books focused on marine biology.
Reading about ancient fish, rogue waves, or the magnificent minds of octopuses can not only be fascinating, but can also be great conversation starters with your marine bio friends or professors. Read outside of class often. Reading for pleasure can advance your knowledge in ways classes or field trips simply cannot.
At the end of the day, college is a reflection of the effort you put in and the chances you take. If you feel like you’re in a rut, try breaking the pattern with something new. Marine bio is one of the most captivating fields, and it’s just waiting for people to ask the big questions and pave their own path.
If you’re looking for just the right college to study marine bio, read this article.