Marine Biology Advising Guide

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What is Biology?

In the most general terms, Biology is the study of life. Biologists investigate the structure, function, growth, evolution and distribution of living organisms. There are many fields of biology, each of which consists of multiple subfields.  These major areas include:

  • Biochemistry: the study of the chemical make up living things
  • Bioinformatics: the study of biological data
  • Botany: the study of plants
  • Cellular biology: the study of the basic cellular units of living beings
  • Ecology: the study of how organisms interact with their environment
  • Evolutionary biology: the study of the origins and changes in the diversity of life over time
  • Genetics and Molecular biology: the study of heredity and control of gene expression
  • Physiology: the study of the normal functions of organisms and their parts
  • Zoology: the study of animals, including animal behavior


What is the Marine Biology Concentration?

The Marine Biology Concentration allows Biology majors to take specialized upper-level coursework in marine-related subjects that will prepare them for graduate programs or jobs on marine career paths.  Students choosing this concentration must meet the same general requirements as other Biology majors, but will take some of their upper-level coursework at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab or some other marine laboratory. 


Senior Thesis Program:

The Biology Senior Thesis Program offers bright, academically motivated undergraduate Biology students the opportunity to develop research and communication skills in preparation for a graduate or professional career.  To apply for admission to the program, a student must:

  1. have earned a 3.25 GPA or better in biology courses attempted 
  2. have earned a 3.0 GPA or better overall. 
  3. obtained a recommendation from a faculty member.

In addition to fulfilling the requirements of the standard biology program, Senior Thesis students must:

  1. participate in the Undergraduate Senior Thesis in Biology Program for three terms: this may include summers
  2. complete a minimum of two semesters (6 cr) of directed research, three of which must be Honors Research (BLY 499)
  3. present a research prospectus including an introduction, proposed methods, and relevant literature citation (The prospectus must be submitted and approved by the advisory committee during the first term of participation in the program.)
  4. complete a written thesis, which must be approved by the advisory committee.
  5. present a oral defense of the research project in an open forum in the Department of Biology
  6. make a poster presentation at the USA Annual Research Forum or the UCUR Annual Research Forum

Students participating in the Biology Senior Thesis Program who have a 3.5 GPA will also be eligible for University Departmental Honors status.

Biology students who are part of the Honors College will meet requirements for the Undergraduate Biology Senior Thesis as well as those of the University's program.


Career Opportunities in Marine Biology                                        

Marine Biology is a very broad umbrella. Students choosing this path may end up as biological technicians, fishery biologists, marine mammologists, microbiologists, oceanographers, or even mathematicians.

Employment in Marine Biology is highly competitive and the supply of students trained in this area far exceeds the demand.   Federal and state governments are the major employers in this field, but even with these employers, there is a limited supply of jobs. Other employers include aquaria/museums, colleges and universities, and private research laboratories or consulting firms. An area of keen student interest is in the study of fish and marine mammal population dynamics.  Students will need a strong background in advanced mathematics and computer skills in addition to course work in zoology and aquatic sciences to be competitive in the job market.  To be successful, you will need to do well in all of your courses, not just those upper-level courses you will take at a marine lab.

As a marine biologist you may…

  • specialize in environmental cleanups, marine conservation or the rehabilitation of injured marine animals.
  • conduct scientific experiments on-site and / or in a lab.
  • study the behavior, genetics, origins and diseases of marine plants and animals.
  • observe and analyze data pertaining to marine environments. 


Salary Trends in Marine Biology

Graduates with B.S. degrees in marine biology-related areas have starting salaries averaging $39K per year; mid-career salaries range from $70-$90K. 

Salaries will vary greatly depending on geographic location, job type, and the experience and education required for entry-level positions. High salaries are often found in private industry and government agencies. Jobs in nonprofit groups or academic institutions may have low salaries, but many biologists find great personal reward in working for organizations that are conducting basic research in areas of interest to them and affecting change through advocacy of environmental or social issues. 


High School Preparation for Marine Biology

To successfully compete for jobs in marine biology, knowledge in a number of areas within biology as well as other sciences and mathematics is required.  For example, to have a functional knowledge of marine mammals, one must also know a great deal about evolution, physiology, ecology, and even behavioral psychology. Marine ecologists must have skills in statistical analysis.

Here are two important things that you can do that will help you to know whether biology is the right career path for you and to prepare you for that career…

  • Take courses in math and science. Marine Biology (and Biology as a whole) requires a solid understanding of math, chemistry, and physics. Taking these courses in high school will prepare you for the coursework you will take in college. Even if you want be a marine or a field biologist, you will need take math, chemistry, and physics courses in college and successfully complete broadly focused biology courses before you will take specialized upper-level biology courses in the program.  Also, exposure to these other fields of science allows you to explore the wide range of potential cross-disciplinary career paths open to you.
  • Talk to professionals with backgrounds in marine biology Talk to marine resource managers and other professionals in your local community.  Come to visit the Biology department here at South or contact researchers at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab.  We have scientists with backgrounds in microbial, plant, fungal, and animal biology, ranging for bioinformatics to ecology.  They can answer questions you might have and give you a better idea of exactly what awaits you as you move through your degree and on into the workforce.


How to get a Concentration in Marine Biology

Students desiring to have a Marine Biology Concentration will major in Biology and must meet the general requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Science as other Biology students.  These include:

  1. At least 37 semester hours of biology, including:
    1. a “C” or better in BLY 121, 121L, 122, 122L (8 hours)
    2. a “C” or better in BLY 300, 301, 302, 305 (12 hours)
    3. at least 20 hours of biology 300-400 electives (20 hours)
  1. Chemistry 131, 132, and 201
  1. Physics (114, 115) or Geology (111 and 112).
  1. Mathematics through Calculus I (MA 125) or Pre-Calculus Trig and Statistics (MA 115 and ST 210)

The Marine Biology Concentration requires that eight credit hours of elective courses must be taken at the Marine Environmental Sciences Consortium (MESC) at Dauphin Island or other pre-approved marine lab. MESC courses are offered in the summer semester. The department recommends that students select elective courses from the following: BLY 367, BLY 368, BLY 369, BLY 370, BLY 371, BLY 372, BLY 430, BLY 451, BLY 466, BLY 471, BLY 472, BLY 474 and BLY 475. Other pre-approved elective courses, such as BLY 490 Special Topics, may also be accepted on a course-by-course basis.

The most current information about MESC course offerings can be found in the Dauphin Island Sea Lab Summer Bulletin that is published in January of each year. Students may request a copy of the Bulletin by contacting the Registrar, Dauphin Island Sea Laboratory, 101 Bienville Blvd., Dauphin Island, AL 36528; (251) 861-2141, X 2256 or download it from


Special Programs, Co-Ops, and Directed Studies

Getting hands-on experience as an undergraduate is highly beneficial.  As you contemplate taking on Biology as a major, you no doubt have an idea of what it is like to be a Biologist.  This conception may have come from your coursework in high school, programs you saw on television or articles read on the internet.  As is the case for all professions, Biology can be a lot of fun, but also requires hard work and patience.  An excellent way for you to determine if the realties of Biology match your expectations is to get some hands-on experience in the lab or in the field.  In addition to labs that are associated with many of our courses, you can also get practical experience by working in faculty labs, assisting with their research, or potentially on a project of your own design.  This is done through directed studies (BLY494).  You can apply up to 6 hours of directed studies to your 300-400 level BLY course requirements.  Not only will this give you practical experience, but can also provide you with professional connections that will help you to get position after you graduate.

We also have a Senior Thesis option for well-qualified majors.  This option requires a four semester commitment an expanded research project.  With a sufficient GPA, this option also allows students to graduate with University Departmental Honors.

Co-op and internships are periodically available from outside the department for Biology students.  Some regularly offered programs include Disney internships, and summer research programs sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Dept. of Energy, and Oakridge Laboratories.  Check the Biology website for current listings.


Study Abroad Opportunities

Since Summer 2015, the Biology department has offered international courses for both majors and non-majors. These courses are located in Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands.  See the Biology website for more details.

Studying abroad is an exciting and meaningful experience that will contribute to your academic and personal development.  Participating on a study abroad program can be one of the most profound decisions of your college life, and can lead to many new and interesting opportunities.  It can help develop your critical thinking skills, sense of independence, and confidence.  When you depart on your study abroad program, you will go with excitement, trepidation, and uncertainty about the world and your place in it.  When you return home, your deep connection and affection for your host culture will be overwhelming, and will only be matched by a newfound respect and appreciation for your home.

Study abroad is the opportunity for USA students to spend time in a different country while earning credit towards your degree through taking classes, interning, volunteering, and more.  There are many different types of study abroad available to you at USA. They include faculty-led programs, international exchange programs, and direct-enroll and affiliate programs. 

Students on faculty-led programs will travel as a group led by USA professors and take classes in various locations. All courses taken on these programs are USA courses and offer USA credits that will apply to your degree. International Exchange programs are partnerships with specific universities around the world with which USA has a special, reciprocal relationship. Students enroll directly at the host university, and students from the host university attend USA. USA affiliate programs allow students to enroll at a partner university or program through a third-party provider. GPA requirements vary by program.

You should think of the Study Abroad Office as a one-stop shop for information related to your study abroad experience. The Study Abroad ( team is excited to assist you as you navigate through the process of choosing a program, and will help you from the advising stage until you return from your program.  You can get started by coming to meet with an advisor during Walk-In Advising hours. During an advising session, you can gain general information about the many programs available, how the application process works at USA and general guidance on where to begin.

Be sure to visit the OIE Study Abroad website at to begin your research.  The website contains information on how to get started, financing your program, and a comprehensive list of pre-approved study abroad programs and partners. While researching a passport or visa programs, consider the following: eligibility requirements, location, course offerings, and costs.  You should also meet with your faculty advisor for assistance in selecting a program based on courses related to your degree.

Studying abroad can be one of the highlights of your university career, giving you wonderful and challenging experiences that will allow you to grow both academically and professionally. Where will you study abroad?


Academic Plan

Following an academic plan will help you stay on track to graduate in four years. 

To see a sample academic plan for this major, please click here.  Degree plans provide only a suggested schedule; make sure to meet with your academic advisor to find the actual schedule that is right for you.


For More Information

Call the Biology Department to set up an appointment with the Department Chair, Kelly Major, at (251) 460-6331.

You can find us on campus at:

Department of Biology
Life Sciences Building (LSCB)
Mobile, AL 36688
(251) 460-6331

Department website