Education and Training: College
Salary: Median—$51,080 per year
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Environmental scientists work to regulate, control, and prevent air, land, and water pollution. They conduct research to find pollutants or hazards in our environment and then propose a plan to eliminate them, all the while maintaining a balance between the needs of the natural environment and the economic needs of workers and industries.
Environmental scientists usually specialize in a particular aspect of the environment, such as land conservation, hazardous or toxic waste removal and disposal, groundwater contamination, acid rain, or wildlife preservation. They may do environmental impact studies or design monitoring systems. Others may work with civic groups and political leaders to solve environmental problems in the community. Their work may involve preparing for and attending public hearings or appearing before legislative committees or in court.
Environmental ecologists analyze the complex relationships between organisms and their environments. They may study the influence of such factors as pollutants, rainfall, temperature, and changes in population of organisms on the environment and recommend ways to preserve the ecosystem. Environmental chemists investigate the toxicity of various chemicals and analyze how they might impact humans, animals, and plant life. Ecological modelers utilize systems analysis, computer techniques, and mathematical modeling in order to gather information on the ecosystem.
Environmental consultants work for the government or for private companies to study a particular environmental problem. They advise their clients on how best to deal with the problem so that environmental damage and financial loss are kept to a minimum. Environmental advocates compile information on environmental problems that the country faces and disseminate it among the public. They work to pressure the government and businesses to take action that will protect the environment and prevent further damage. They may work directly with members of Congress or state legislatures to help write and pass laws to protect the environment.
Environmental scientists may work for the federal government, usually in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Department of the Interior. State and local governments also hire environmental scientists. They may also work at mining, chemical, and oil corporations, architectural firms, nonprofit environmental organizations, and environmental consulting firms, where they advise businesses how to comply with environmental policy.
Education and Training Requirements
The minimum requirement to work in this field is generally a bachelor's degree in environmental science, which concentrates study in such areas as biology, chemistry, and geology. A master's degree in the natural sciences has become more important for those who aspire to prominent positions within the field. Business and finance courses will be helpful for those interested in management positions. Advanced computer skills are also vital—especially knowledge of computer modeling, digital mapping, and Geographic Information System (GIS) and Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. Most environmental scientists continue to take courses in order to keep abreast of the latest developments in the field.
Getting the Job
Visit the college placement office or talk to professors for job leads. Apply directly to companies in industries that have an effect on the environment. Interested candidates should also apply to environmental consulting firms or to government agencies after taking the necessary civil service tests.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Environmental scientists can advance to the position of project director or move into a management position. Those with some experience in the field can become independent consultants.
Job opportunities are expected to grow as fast as the average through the year 2014. Because of complex laws that regulate environmental quality, companies will need experts to conduct impact studies on these issues.
Environmental scientists generally work out of a central office, writing reports, analyzing data, or working in a laboratory. However, in the course of their research they may have to visit particular field sites. In those cases they may have to work in all kinds of weather and under difficult circumstances. Work hours may be irregular.
Where to Go for More Information
Institute of Environmental Sciences andTechnology
5005 Newport Dr., Ste. 506
Rolling Meadows, IL 60008-3841
National Association of Environmental Professionals
P.O. Box 2086
Bowie, MD 20718
Society for Ecological Restoration International
285 West 18th St., Ste. 1
Tucson, AZ 85701
Earnings and Benefits
The median annual salary for an environmental scientist is $51,080. For those working in the federal government the median salary was $73,530 per year. Environmental scientists working in management or consulting earn a median salary of $51,190 per year. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the starting salary for graduates with a bachelor's degree in environmental science averaged $31,366 per year. Those employed by industry, government, or consulting firms receive paid vacations and holidays and health and life insurance.