Environmental Science is a diverse field that offers a diverse selection of career choices. Whether it’s an environmental scientist or specialist who works in a lab or a natural resource manager who looks after the distribution of the Earth’s precious materials, a career in environmental science is for the environmentally-minded individual who wants to make a difference on our planet. Since education and concentrations possess such a strong influence over the type of job that you will be eligible for post-graduation, it’s important to do research and select the appropriate specialty as per your interests in this field.
Much of the determination for these occupations is supported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ reporting of total number of jobs, growth rate and employment change.
The following are five of the most popular career choices:
An environmental scientist’s duties vary, but it isn’t uncommon for them to conduct experiments with dyes in bodies of water to test how chemicals might disperse during a toxic spill and come up with ways to minimize damage, create maps and/or graphs that illustrates the effects of air pollution over time that helps other officials make better informed decisions about environmental laws, evaluate the affect humans and wildlife have on one another, monitor water qualities at beaches, lakes and ponds to ensure it is containment free and keep people and wildlife safe from exposure to harmful toxins and more.
Many environmental scientists work for local, state, and federal governments, ensuring that environmental regulations are followed to limit the impact of human activity on the environment. Others monitor environmental impacts on the health of the population, checking for risks of disease and providing information about health hazards. Environmental scientists also work with private companies to help them comply with environmental regulations and policies.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the 2015 median salary was $67,460 with a Bachelor’s degree. The projected growth is 11% or 10,200 jobs added/changed through 2024 to the existing workforce of 94,600.
2. Environmental Engineer
Environmental Engineering is the branch of engineering concerned with the application of scientific and engineering principles for: 1) protection of human populations from the effects of adverse environmental factors; 2) protection of environments, both local and global, from the potentially deleterious effects of natural and human activities; and, 3) improvement of environmental quality. It can also be described as a branch of applied science and technology that addresses the issue of energy preservation, production asset and control of waste from human and animal activities.
A career in environmental engineering combines the basic principles of engineering with the fields of biology and chemistry to solve environmental issues. Duties involve providing means to reduce waste, improve recycling, enhance the preventative measures taken to ensure public health and manage air pollution. In this endeavor, these engineers prepare, review and update environmental investigative reports, design projects that lead to the preservation of the environment. They may also be involved in water reclamation facilities, analyzing scientific data and providing technical support on environmental mediation projects and advising corporate and government agencies about cleanup protocol for contaminated areas.
According to Salary.com, as of July 20145, the salary range for a newly graduated environmental engineer with a Bachelor’s degree was $44,722 to $69,808. Most entry-level positions require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree (B.S.), usually in environmental engineering, civil, or chemical engineering.
3. Environmental Biologist
Environmental biology is very similar to ecology in that it deals with the ecosystem and the wildlife that inhabits it. However, environmental biology focuses more heavily on the biological aspects of any given ecosystem, therefore the duties that are placed on an environmental biologist are more directly related to biology. The entry-level requirement for an environmental biologist is a Bachelor in Environmental Biology or another biological, environmental or natural science with extensive study in biological sciences.
Some of the tasks that an environmental biologist may perform are:
- Plan and conduct biological experiments followed by field and lab operating procedures
- Manage biological and project timelines using scientific methods, statistical tools and extensive biological knowledge
- Present findings of experiments to stakeholders and colleagues
- Identify project challenges and effectively overcome them without sacrificing time or resources.
- Work with a team and peer review data for the confirmation of accuracy and assurance of scientific integrity
The BLS does not report data specific to this job classification, however the most pertinent data would be that for environmental scientist (see above).
4. Environmental Geologist
Environmental geology, like hydrogeology, is an applied science concerned with the practical application of the principles of geology in the solving of environmental problems. It is a multidisciplinary field that is closely related to engineering geology and, to a lesser extent, to environmental geography.
This specialty combines the core foundation of environmental science and places particular emphasis on the study of geology and applying it to real-world situations. An environmental geologist may spend the majority of his/her career serving as a consultant, helping to prevent the contamination of soil and groundwater by calculating the proper location for new landfills and planning for waste disposal underground.
An increasing number of schools offer undergraduate majors and graduate degrees in environmental geology. However, many environmental geologists have more general degrees in geology. Coursework includes instruction on the fundamentals of geology such as structural geology and geochemistry, as well as coastal geomorphology, streams and flooding, soil science, natural hazards, waste disposal, climate change, environmental science, and mathematics.
Again, the BLS does not provide statistics on this specific occupation, but it does report details on Geoscientists. This profession is stated as having a 2015 median salary of $89,700 with a Bachelor’s degree. The projected job change rate is 10% or 3,800 jobs. There were 36,400 employed as Geoscientists in 2014, according to the BLS.
5. Environmental Biotechnologist
Environmental biotechnologists combine biology and engineering to develop and use processes that remediate contaminated sites. For example, there are a variety of microbes, fungi, and bacteria capable of consuming pollutants and breaking them down into harmless components over time. Environmental biotechnologists identify, use, and develop appropriate microbes for remediating a particular area, and the pollutants unique to it. Contaminated soil may be remediated on site, or placed in containers and hauled away for treatment.
Environmental biotechnologists apply biological processes to technology to create more sustainable societies. For instance, they may:
- Convert plants into biofuels
- Create plant-based bioplastics
- Discover or engineer plants or microbes optimized for processing environmental contaminants, or for treating toxic waste or sewage
- Use geographic information systems (GIS) to map contaminated sites and the distribution of pollutants
- Develop remediation plans for particular sites that adhere to environmental regulations
- Create processes to turn waste to biogas or other cleaner energy sources
- Create cleaner industrial activities by replacing chemicals with biological processes
Education and training requirements vary greatly depending on the type of position. While careers in biotechnology have typically required Master’s and Doctoral degrees, the rapid growth of the field has opened up opportunities for those with bachelor’s and associate’s degrees.
While data on this particular occupation hasn’t been collected by the (BLS), the occupation of environmental scientist would likely be the most relevant for comparison.
Since Environmental Science is such a broad field with career choices from K-12 education, to writing on the subject, to environmental law. When contemplating this occupation, it’s important to develop a focus, a deep knowledge of a skill that will make you more attractive as a job candidate. Examples include programming (learn a language), geographic information systems (GIS) experience, database management, statistics, field experience, surveying, chemistry analytical techniques, and electronics, to name a handful.