Aquatic Science Careers

Aquatic science encompasses a range of disciplines concerned with the oceans, rivers, lakes, etc, their geology and composition, and the life forms that live in them.

Marine biology is a major area, being the study of marine organisms, their behaviours, and their interactions with the environment. Specialisations within aquatic science can centre on a particular species, organism, behaviour, technique, or ecosystem. There are many divisions of marine biology - for example, marine biotechnology, where scientists develop and test drugs derived from marine organisms.

Oceanography is another huge area. Marine geology and geophysics concern the study of the sea floor's formations, composition and history. Physical oceanography concerns the interaction between the sea, weather and climate, and between the ocean and its boundaries (land, sea floor, and atmosphere). Chemical oceanography is the study of the formation of seawater and sea floor sediments, relationships between chemical compounds, action of chemical inputs to the ocean (including pollution), and how the chemistry of the ocean affects or is affected by biological, geological, and physical factors.

Ocean engineering links the marine science disciplines, because ongoing developments in instrumentation and equipment design have revolutionised the entire field of oceanography. Ocean engineering is a combination of different engineering fields, being a mix of mechanical, electrical, civil, acoustical, and chemical engineering techniques and skills. Fields include coastal engineering, offshore engineering, and underwater engineering.

Aquaculture concerns the management of fisheries and hatcheries, where fish eggs are incubated and hatched, before the growing fish are released into the wild or sold to fish farms. Farmed species might be fish, eels, crustaceans, shellfish, algae, turtles, etc. Marine biologists, engineers and technicians are involved in aquaculture work.

Major employers of marine scientists include colleges and universities, state and federal government agencies, and research and testing firms.

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General duties for aquatic science careers

Marine scientists are involved in many areas of study that vary according to specialism and employer.

Marine biologists and oceanographers may be involved in:

  • Collecting samples and data from aquatic locations, using specialised equipment and techniques.
  • Analysing samples using sophisticated instruments and techniques.
  • Conducting research aboard vessels.
  • Analysing life forms and constituents present in the water.
  • Analysing data through statistical and numerical models.
  • Conducting laboratory tests on samples.
  • Analysing and interpreting sample data.
  • Conducting simulations of marine phenomena using computerised or numerical models.
  • Attending scientific conferences associated with oceanography.
  • Writing proposals to obtain research funding.
  • Lecturing to university courses and running field trips.

Ocean engineers may be involved in the following areas:

  • Designing and operating aquaculture equipment.
  • Developing offshore protection systems.
  • Designing harbours and ports.
  • Dealing with civil engineering issues in the coastal environment.
  • Designing steel jacket structures and platforms.
  • Pollution abatement.
  • Environmental remediation.
  • Utilising ocean resources.

Aquaculturists specialise in the culture and breeding of fish and the operation of fish farming operations. Regular tasks may involve:

  • Managing brood stock.
  • Designing, constructing and maintaining the farm or fisheries.
  • Keeping records of breeding programmes and collecting data about stock.
  • Monitoring water quality and controlling disease.
  • Monitoring and adjusting conditions in pools using meters and other equipment.
  • Using oxygen meters, salinity meters, pH (acidity) meters, etc.
  • Assisting with nutritional experiments and methods to control parasites, etc.

Would a career in aquatic science suit you?

To become a marine scientist, you should have strong mathematical and scientific skills including observational, practical and research abilities. An accurate and meticulous approach is critical, as are good physical health and fitness for fieldwork. Strong communication skills and the capacity to work alone or in teams are also important.

Marine sciences can be very painstaking, due to the fact that much research is concerned with small organisms. They are also repetitive due to the need to collect data over time. To conduct research, you first need at least a bachelor's degree with a specialisation in a marine science. This would enable you to work as a technician in a lab or on ship running samples, or to work under the supervision of a scientist. The need to have a basic understanding of other areas requires ongoing study throughout your career.

The hours are long, and the years of training required is extensive. Although much work is laboratory based, fieldwork can involve several days to months at sea, often in remote locations and demanding conditions.

The main focus of your work is often going to be research, so you need to be inclined towards this before starting your career. You will need a doctorate before being qualified enough to be hired by a university, government, or private research organisation.

Salary and prospects for aquatic science careers

Marine science requires a strong existing interest because pay levels are not that high. Scientists receive much on-the-job training, combined with short course attendance, self-managed learning, seminars and conferences.

Much work is on a contract by contract basis, with jobs limited to a few organisations. More posts are available overseas at post-doctorate level, usually on collaborative projects. Self employment or freelance work is sometimes possible.

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