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How to Become a Phycologist

Majors Overview December 12, 2012

Pre-requisites of a Phycologist

A biological scientist who specializes in the study of phytopankton and algae (a sub-discipline of botany) is known as a phycologist. Phycologists may publish academic papers based on the findings of research conducted by them. Phycologists are expected by employers to hold a master degree or higher.

The most common educational qualification required is a master degree in biology or phycology; some employers require candidates to have a doctoral degree. A phycologist must have writing, speaking, problem-solving, math, interpersonal, critical thinking and analytical skills. They must be able to use investigative lab equipment such as lasers, centrifuges, spectrometers, light compound microscopes, and light-scattering devices. They must know how to use word processing software, graphics and photo imaging software, and analytical and scientific software (Sources: O Net OnLine, Phycological Society of America (PSA), U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)).

The following is a step-by-step guide to becoming a phycologist:

Stage One: Earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Phycology

A prospective phycologist usually begins their journey in a career as a phycology by earning a bachelor degree, often in biology. Coursework generally includes subjects such as mathematics, lab work, computer science, statistics, chemistry and biology. Also, elective courses in subspecialties of biology are offered at some schools. Prospective phycologists can target courses in ecology, environmental science, plant diversity and botany. Students can garner hands-on experience through participation in an internship program in phycology or biology while still undergoing their degree program.

Stage Two: Pursuing Graduate Studies

Students who have earned a degree in botany can expect to find jobs; however, if they wish to specialize in phycology, they will need post-baccalaureate education. A phycologist can improve their research experience with a master or doctoral degree in phycology. The course that ends in a dissertation or thesis will require the student to engage in extensive fieldwork. Prospective phycology students must target a school that offers a program in marine biology or botany and has faculty from the phycology field. Doctoral students usually participate in a post-doctoral research program of two to three years. Students stand to gain by joining the Phycological Society of America (PSA) or other professional organization; such membership will allow them to employ various benefits and professional resources that can improve their chances of success in the profession. Such benefits include access to academic publications and newsletters, opportunities to network, and job postings. Students can use a sponsorship program, ran by the PSA to avail a stipend to pay for travelling to the annual meeting of the PSA, apart from access to research grants and tuition assistance.

Stage Three: Obtaining a Job

Phycologists holding a master degree can get jobs at educational institutions, research labs (funded privately), and (state or federal) research institutions. The nutritional benefits of seaweed and algae are given prominence in recent years that lead to more macroalgae forms being developed; phycologists can seek jobs at such agricultural facilities. Prospective phycologists with a doctoral degree and publishing experience are likely to have a wealth of job opportunities including faculty positions and funded research.

Stage Four: Exploring Career Advancement Opportunities

Publishing experience can help phycologists who works at a college get promoted to senior-level research positions. Pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and law firms are potential employers of phycologists and provide them consulting positions on certain grants or projects. As more qualified applicants try for jobs in the field, there will be greater competition seeking government funding for research (source: U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics (BLS)).

Job growth in the physical and life sciences are projected to increase at a rate equivalent to the average for all professions, during the decade from 2010 to 2020. Continuing education though not mandatory will help enhance a phycologist’s career prospects. Students can obtain a list of universities around the world that offer advanced continuing courses and workshops in the phycology field. Also, attending an annual conference held by the PSA may help in the continuing education effort.

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