The Work: Scuba diving to check the health of Caribbean reefs; buzzing above Baja Sur to tally migrating gray whales; scraping lobster larvae from the seafloor; negotiating humane fishing practices with Maine lobstermen; tagging Stellar sea lions in Alaska; serving as one of three federally appointed delegates on the Marine Mammal Commission; consulting for eco-tour companies and aquariums.
Time Outside: 30 percent fieldwork, 70 percent hustling grants and teaching.
Payback: $25,000-$33,000 for nonprofit and government work; $40,000-$80,000 for university professors and researchers; $60,000-plus for independent consultants.
Prerequisites: Get your toes wet working for nonprofits, zoos, or aquariums (a B.S. in ecology or biology is your ticket). To secure high-paying research grants and prime teaching positions, you'll need an advanced degree. Check out the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (907-474-7289; www.sfos.uaf.edu:8000) and the University of Mary land (301-405-6938; www.mees.umd.edu).
Networking: The American Society of Limnology and Oceanography hosts annual symposia and publishes a journal eight times a year (800-929-2756; www.aslo.org).
Peon to Pro: Seven years in the trenches from B.S. to grant-winning Ph.D.
Drudge Factor: It's not all bikinis and bare feet; there is sea lion scat to collect and rotting jellyfish to analyze. "I necropsy lots of corpses," says Kate Wynne, a marine mammal specialist at the University of Alaska. "And some of them are the smelliest dead things going."
Outlook: You could sink or swim. Competition for whale and dolphin research dollars is intense, so consider focusing on little-studied algal blooms or invasive organisms like pfiesteria instead.