The career benefits of studying marine biology in the field

While some fields of study can be taught exclusively from the books, others benefit from an element of experiential learning. If you’re interested in marine biology, getting out in the field is a sure-fire way to elevate your career prospects. Deakin’s Warrnambool campus is uniquely placed with easy access to the perfect learning environment.

Cal Smythe, a current student in the Bachelor of Environmental Science (Marine Biology) moved from Melbourne to experience the practical learning opportunities on offer. ‘Warrnambool is a high energy coastline with lots of diverse species. From a location perspective it’s great because you’re right there – you’re in the environment.’

While the move initially felt daunting, it took Cal no time to settle in. ‘I was nervous about moving to Warrnambool. I didn’t know anyone at all and at first I thought “What have I done?.” Within about a week I’d met everyone on res (residential college) and now I’m closer with my friends in Warrnambool than I am with my friends back home in Melbourne.’

Developing a toolkit of practical skills

Ben Woolcock, one of Cal’s classmates, also moved to Warrnambool for the course. ‘We have practicals in the lab every week and we’re always learning to use different tools and identify species by their scientific names.’

Peter Mitchell, a graduate of the marine biology research Masters says, ‘In terms of applied skills, Deakin Warrnambool has some great things to offer – the research aquariums are an incredible asset and a world-leading facility and the survey vessel is also brilliant. Not many other universities give students the chance to get in the field and collect data with such high quality equipment.’

Cal and Ben were equally impressed when they went out on ‘Yolla’, the research vessel. Ben says, ‘Having an opportunity to use Yolla was a highlight of the course so far. We went out on the Hopkins river and did water testing, dissolved oxygen, temperature, salinity. We also looked at the depth and took sediment samples.’

Peter speaks highly of his time at Deakin. ‘What is also really valuable is the applied skills that students can learn. Software and data skills are key for many employers so learning to use GIS software and statistical programmes was very valuable.’

Having an opportunity to use Yolla was a highlight of the course so far. We went out on the Hopkins river and did water testing, dissolved oxygen, temperature, salinity. We also looked at the depth and took sediment samples.

Ben Woolcock

Bachelor of Environmental Science (Marine Biology) Student

Gaining industry experience while studying

Another bonus of studying somewhere that is renowned for its natural marine environment is the possibility of gaining relevant part time work that will give you an advantage over other graduates.

Ben says, ‘There are definitely a lot of job opportunities. I’ve got two jobs at the moment and both of them have come through my studies so far. I’m a dog handler for the Middle Island Project – a project that uses maremmas to look after the penguins in Warrnambool.’

Ben’s second job is at an abalone farm in Port Fairy where Cal also works.

Turning your skills into a career

Since graduation, Peter has been working as a habitat mapper and spatial ecologist at Cefas (Centre for the Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) in the UK and abroad. ‘When I returned to university I wanted to acquire a solid foundation in GIS and statistical modelling. Through my research project I was able to learn these skills that I now apply every day in my current position.’

Peter found employment as a result of the research he had done in his course at Deakin Warrnambool. ‘I was also fortunate enough to present my work at a conference which is where I met an employee of Cefas which ultimately led to me applying for this role.’

The opportunities to get out in the field have continued into his career. ‘I am regularly at sea as part of my position. Often this is on the research vessel Cefas Endeavour but sometimes it’s a smaller craft. It is always a highlight to go to sea, whether it is in strong winds in winter in the North Sea or under beating sunshine in the tropics. You never know exactly what you will find and the comradery with your colleagues means there is never a dull moment.’

According to Peter, the skills taught at Deakin are highly sought after in industry. ‘Many countries are implementing marine protected areas to conserve important habitats or species. They therefore wish to know what is living on the seafloor, what condition the habitat is in and whether it’s changing over time. The work I do supports those projects by providing baseline data with which to make management decisions with.’

Developing and following your passion

Peter considers himself lucky to have a passion that translates so well into exciting career options. ‘Marine biology is an enormously diverse and growing field. I play with maps all day but share an office with people whose focus range from how many cod there are in the north sea, to quantifying carbon stored in mangrove swamps, to minimising the impacts of aggregate dredging.’

If you’re considering a career in marine biology, Peter suggests getting a taste of many fields of work as possible in order to find out what really interests you. ‘Deakin Warrnambool was great because the small campus size means the staff can afford to be really engaging and they have a real interest in the success of their students.’

Find out more about the opportunities at Deakin Warrnambool