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Environment & Science

Marine biologists take vow of chastity, poverty. Otherwise, it's a great job.

Dr. Milton Love in his office at UCSB Aug. 26, 2011. The author of
Dr. Milton Love in his office at UCSB Aug. 26, 2011. The author of "Certainly More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast" was in no danger.
Courtesy Milton Love

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Career advice from Dr. Milton Love, an actual marine biologist at UCSB and author of "Certainly More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast."

It’s the time of year when high school student seniors, finally addressing what the hell they want to do with their lives, email me and ask about becoming a marine biologist.

So you want to be a marine biologist? Well, why don’t you just sit down, stop fidgeting, and let a real marine biologist give you some damn good advice.

First of all there are two really, really bad reasons to want to be a marine biologist.

Bad Reason Number One: "I want to be a marine biologist so that I can talk to dolphins."

When we real marine biologists hear this, our impulse is to thwack you a good one on your keister with a frozen haddock.

And why is that? It is because, and please listen carefully, while you may want to talk to dolphins, dolphins do not want to talk to you. That’s right. Mostly dolphins want to eat fishes and have sex with other dolphins. And that pretty much cuts you out of the equation, doesn’t it?

Just be honest with yourself. If you want to talk to dolphins you don’t want to be a marine biologist. What you really want to do is explore your past lives, get in touch with the Cosmic Oneness, and conduct similar-minded individuals on tours to Central America looking for evidence that We Are Not Alone.

Bad Reason Number Two: "I want to be a marine biologist because I want to make big, big bucks."

Okay, here’s the bottom line. By federal law, marine biologists have to take a vow of poverty and chastity. Poverty, because you are not going to make squat-j-doodly in this job. And just how squat is the doodly we are talking about? Well, five years after finishing my PhD I was making slightly less than a beginning manager at McDonalds.

And chastity? Well, who’s going to date someone who persistently smells like a thawed haddock with an attitude? Not even a dolphin.

But there are two really, really good reasons to want to become a marine biologist.

Good Reason Number One: "You can dress and act almost any way you want."

This is true. Marine biologists are almost entirely free of any of those silly restrictions that blight the professional landscape of our fellow proletarians. This is because no one really cares about what we do or what we say. You want to come to work dressed in scabrous khaki shorts and a torn black Sandman shirt? Fine. You want to grow a scruffy beard, get a tattoo of a gooseneck barnacle on your arm, or burp at inopportune moments? No problem, just do good work.

Good Reason Number Two: "If you like it, just do it."

Look, the reality is that you only go around once in life and if, by chance, you do come back, knowing how you have behaved in this life, you will undoubtedly come back as a slime mold. And most slime molds cannot be marine biologists ... unless they go into management. So just go out there and do what you enjoy. The ocean is an exciting, never-dull place that is perfect for piddling away your existence. And just think, you actually get paid to think cool thoughts and do cool things.

And so what if you will never have sex again?