How To Become An Environmental Scientist
Career Video: Environmental Scientist
Environmental scientists determine dangers to the Earth’s environment, which include pollutants and hazardous practices. Their goal is to decrease the impact of these dangers and to work to eliminate them. They are concerned with pollution, recycling, clean energy, and waste reduction.
If you want to be an environmental scientist, it is important to exhibit specialized qualities and skills:
- a drive to improve environmental quality
- keen observation and analytical skills
- an ability to effectively communicate (listen, speak, and write)
- curiosity and problem-solving
- an understanding of systems and cause/effect relationships
- aptitude for math and sciences
Why Become An Environmental Scientist
People who want to become environmental scientists should want to improve human interaction with the Earth. Pollutants and hazardous materials are created through the production of many goods. It is the environmental scientist’s job to determine the effects of those practices and materials, and to find a solution that limits their impact on the Earth and all living creatures.
Environmental scientists can focus their energy in a number of sub-fields:
- Climate-change analysts study how climate changes and how this effects various ecosystems
- Environmental health specialists study how the environment effects human health
- Environmental restoration planners figure out how to turn a contaminated area (land or water) into a clean resource
- Industrial ecologists work with various businesses and industries to ensure they have a limited negative impact on the environment
- Environmental chemists study the chemicals in the environment and how they affect various ecosystems
Environmental Scientist Work Environment
Some environmental scientists work in the field, collecting samples, monitoring activities, and consulting with clients. Many study samples and reports in a laboratory setting, where they find solutions to many environmental problems. A number work as instructors and technical writers for colleges and universities. It is possible to do all three, although many will work more in one setting than the others.
When working in the field, environmental scientists can identify a problem (pollution source) and determine what action must be taken. They plan the scientific investigation into the causes and effects of a particular business practice or even natural environmental threats. They may act as a project manager to plan the sample collection process—food, water, soil, rock, air—and can conduct surveys regarding the problem.
In the laboratories, researchers analyze the samples and surveys. From there they try to determine what is threatening the environment and what people can do to change course (limiting the impact or eliminating it all together). This information will be shared with clients, which include private business owners, government agencies, and colleges and universities. The researchers often prepare reports and presentations to inform others of the problems and possible solutions.
While work as a college instructor or university professor is more limited, many environmental scientists blend their roles–going back and forth among researcher, writer, and teacher. Many colleges and universities are leading the way toward public discourse on the subject of climate change and environmental hazards.
Environmental Scientist Salary
The median annual salary for all environmental science jobs is $67,460 (May 2015). Salary, hours, and benefits depend upon your employer, although most environmental scientists work as fulltime professionals. They can work for federal, state, and local government agencies ($99,260); management, scientific, and technical consulting services ($68,410); and engineering services ($67,830). Others may work for private businesses or with legislators to help steer environmental policy decisions.
Environmental Scientist Career Outlook
There are great opportunities in environmental science. This field is expected to grow employment opportunities by 11 percent from 2014 to 2024. Most of these opportunities will be as consultants for private businesses as they become more concerned with complying to environmental regulations. Population growth and the public’s increasing awareness and need to remain healthy will create many career openings.
One of the fastest growing industries is harnessing energy, and environmental scientists could find many job opportunities in this area. As technology advances and humans require alternative and sustainable sources of energy, the need for safe and effective methods will be the key to responsible growth.
Environmental scientists can work in many places to ensure health and safety:
- Landfill operation and oversight
- Soil and water conservation
- Reclamation of contaminated lands
- Land use planning
- Recycling and reducing waste
- Political action and lobbying
- Waste treatment and disposal
- Wetland protection
- Industrial compliance and hygiene
There is no limit as to what an environmental scientist can do!
Environmental Scientist Degree
There are jobs available for nearly every type of educational achievement.
Step 1: Get a bachelor’s degree. A degree in environmental science, geology, or earth sciences can help you get many entry-level positions. Most people with a bachelor’s degree can conduct field work, especially for local, state, and federal government agencies. Private industries are always looking for individuals to help them with compliance. Working in land trusts and consulting can always be a great way to gain experience if you plan to get a graduate degree.
Step 2: Get a master’s degree. A master’s degree in environmental science can lead to management opportunities in private industries, government agencies, and non-government, non-profit organizations. Many people with master’s degrees can become high school teachers or adjunct instructors at community colleges.
Step 3: Get a Ph.D. People who want to conduct independent research or teach at a collegiate level must get a doctoral degree. A doctorate in a specified field can lead to career opportunities at NASA, the USDA, the EPA, and at various think-tanks and organizations.