How to find the right master program?

Recently, we’ve personally been asked questions from undergrad students wanting tips on how to find the right master program in marine mammal science. We are here to tell you it’s ok to have it not figured out yet.

What you need to know is that there is no secret magic recipe to become a whale scientist. And that’s what so cool about the whole field. People come from different horizons, different paths. You’ll get there. You have to remember our field is HIGHLY competitive. So the best/most unique you are in what you do, the better.

As a little help, here are a few tips on how to find the perfect master program for YOU if you want to work on marine mammals.

Credit: Pixabay

1- There are different types of master programs

Some are mostly taught classes, some that are mostly research. Europe and North America are very different as well, and so far they are the only continents we personally have experience with. Europe usually has either all classes programs or part classes, part thesis programs. North America has a lot more research programs (with only a couple of classes). Try to think about what you want from your master’s program. If you want a program that is more research-based, we would suggest connecting with potential advisors way ahead to get some cool projects and someone to help with your application. We actually have another post on MSc Vs MPS.

2- You do not have to go into a specialized marine mammal program

Let’s say you want to work on whale culture and languages (like the god of sperm whales, Dr. Hal Whitehead). It is not necessary to come out of a super fancy marine mammal program. You just have to be super good at acoustics and be able to transfer this skill to whales. Now we’re not asking you to ditch every marine mammal program. They are really good and for some disciplines, and they are really useful. We are just saying that skills are transferable and that it won’t close doors for you if you chose a master program that has nothing to do with marine mammals to start with.

3- GPA is important but…

Your undergrad program and grades will be very important, but your research experience will most likely count for a lot. Yes, grades are important, your rank within your class will be very important as well. Remember, it’s a competitive field, and many applicants have good transcripts. Many people want to works on marine mammals, they are sexy species. Our advice is to start volunteering/doing internships as soon as you can. They will be highly considered when you apply for a graduate program/job.

4- Do you want mobility to be an important part of your program?

If your goal is to move around, we recommend international master programs like the MER master program or the IMBRSea master program (for Europe). Both are very similar. They involve choosing one school/country for each semester of taught classes (3 semesters total) and then 1 semester of master research/thesis. You can choose your classes in each university which makes these two masters the most versatile and “à la carte” programs in Europe. They are not marine mammalogy programs, but they have classes on marine mammalogy. Another way to include travel into your program is to collaborate with colleagues on a research project and get to go out in the field or go do your thesis (or a part of it) in another country.

5- You want to choose a marine mammal master program

If you want a specialized marine mammal program, there is a wide variety of them. You might be a little lost on which one to chose, so we would advise looking at the classes taught or at the faculty working on marine mammals. You might want to do a thesis/volunteer at a lab. In this case, it will be better to be getting to know the professor through the program as you will be most likely be sitting in their class. One great and famous (and super competitive) program is this one in St Andrews.

6- You do not mind choosing a non-marine mammal specific program

If you do not want to choose a marine mammal specific program/can’t get into one, you can always go for a marine science program or even a biology/biochemistry/physics program, as long as the skills can be transferred to marine mammals. This is when internships and volunteering experiences come in handy as well.

7- Funding

Do your research about available funding/internships in advance to figure out where you could potentially study without accumulating crazy debts… If you have a cool advisor, they’ll likely help you navigate the crazy world of funding/grants/scholarships, etc.


Are you ready to find the right master program? You’ve got this!


Anaïs is the founder of Whale Scientists. She is a PhD student at McGill University working on killer whale ecology and pollution. You can read more about her here.

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