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What courses should I take to become an Aquatic Biologist?

I've always loved the outdoors and freshwater life, what paths should I take to implement this into my career in the future.

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Kathleen’s Answer

Hi there, depending on where you are at in your academic journey here are a few great ways to start.

High school- biology and AP biology. You’ll need a solid framework for understanding aquatic life and biology in general. Chemistry and AP chem are also key because of the need to understand water quality and nutrient cycling.

I would also recommend a course on Botany or gardening which are more specific but sometimes offered at community centers. Aquatic environments depend on lots of underwater plants and algae and knowing about what it takes to keep these alive is very beneficial.

If you can, volunteer with organizations that work with Marshlands and lakes in your local area. Especially in the summertime when rains create seasonal ponds and lakes that are full of amazing creatures like newts, frogs and snakes. That will build a professional network who can help you get into this field. Best of luck!

Kathleen recommends the following next steps:

Biology courses
Volunteer with local environmental groups
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Gary’s Answer

Look at some colleges and what they require. I have BS from College of Fisheries at the University of Washington (now the College of the Environment). Univ. of California, Davis has some good environmental degrees, also Humboldt, and Santa Cruz.
Classes in the first year of college were Calculus, Biology, Chemistry, and Botany. Later, classes included SCUBA, Statistics, Hatchery, Resource Management, Economics, ....
Many of the basic classes can be taken at a Community College, at a lower cost, and possibly with a better student to instructor ratio. I had some classes in rooms with 500 and 700 capacity at the UW.
Best wishes,
Gary
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Randall’s Answer

Before I begin with some suggestions, I advise you store away this one thought. Of course it is a wonderful thing to choose and actually get a work environment which matches your favorite pass time activities but, based on my experience, work and fun are not always in the same bucket. I can identify with your enthusiasm for the great outdoors. So working with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in ecological impacts of silviculture seemed like a good hit for me. I ended up spending hundreds of hours in a windowless cellar lab identifying insects. You don’t know how it’s going to end up! Indeed I found laboratory work to suit me much better. I could control the experiments and schedule them to my convenience. But I still hike and kayak in my free time with great unimpaired freedom. Just a thought!

But no harm in going ahead with it. You might find field work much more suitable to your personality and I did! I would first consider a university/college with some field biology credibility. There may be others but usually it would be a land grant university. There is one in every state and in Massachusetts it is the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. It is likely they have a variety of major departments which may suit your career objectives. But don’t write them off if they don’t have a Department of Aquatic Biology. Usually you will find faculty expertise in aquatic biology under many different titles such as Entomology, Ecology, Zoology, etc. They may have research programs in estuary biology and wildlife management.

Chances are, you will be assigned to a faculty advisor. Be SURE to get thoroughly acquainted with your advisor! Often students to not realize how important this is! Be sure your advisor knows you and what you are interested in. Even though your advisor may lead you through a course regimen of core classes, which seem mundane, he/she can eventually direct you to people you really should know. You may change advisors and be on the look out for opportunities. Summer courses in exotic places may be hidden under the over burden and, if at all possible, you should take them. Be open minded, even if you do not need a work-study income you may be able to land a side job assisting a research professor with some sort of aquatic biology study, or something like it.

If you want to play a bigger role in how studies are conducted, you will want to get a graduate degree. I fancy an MS followed by a PhD but often folks are skipping the MS these days. You do need to be patient. You may stay at your undergraduate school but, by this time you will know a lot of people and the work they do. You may want to study under someone specific and if it is in a different school, then you go there! I got all my degrees in different universities. I specialized in aquatic invertebrate physiology and toxicology. I worked mostly with mosquitoes and midges.

In summary: Ultimately, you do need to enter a standard BS core curriculum in some major such as biology. There isn’t a simple formula such as selecting a few specific courses and then posting your “Aquatic Biologist” shingle outside your home office window. It is an evolving process which requires you to keep an eye out for opportunities when they arise and developing your professional network.
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Chethan’s Answer

Thanks for the question. I think that is a great field to 'dive' into. :)

The basics of biology will be super informative as you learn more about the living organisms. You can do some cross-learning with chemistry, limnology (inland waters). As you develop that foundation, you will likely want to learn more about botany, marine biology to start becoming a specialist.

Also, I encourage you to build your network and stay in touch with your teachers for workshops, seminars, and lectures to attend.
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