Become an Environmental Scientist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Research the requirements to become an environmental scientist through this video. Learn about the job description and duties, and see the step-by-step process to start a career in environmental science. View article »

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  • 0:03 Environmental Scientists
  • 0:55 Enroll in an…
  • 2:15 Build a Career
  • 3:07 Consider a Graduate Degree

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Video Transcript

Environmental Scientists

Environmental scientists apply scientific research and methodology to study and address environmental problems such as pollution, conservation, sustainability, and resource replenishment. In many cases, report and grant writing are required.

The majority of these professionals work full-time for state governments, though they can also find employment with local governments, consulting services, and engineering firms. Work is completed in offices, laboratories, and occasionally outdoors. Job duties performed in the field can sometimes be physically demanding, particularly in inclement weather.

The median annual salary for environmental scientists is $67,460 as of May 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Now let's take a look at the steps involved in becoming an environmental scientist.

Degree Level A bachelor's degree is required for entry-level jobs
Degree Field Environmental science or a related field such as biology, chemistry or geoscience
Experience None necessary for entry-level positions
Key Skills Analytical skills, interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, speaking skills and writing skills; ability to use analytical, database, compliance and mapping software (e.g., ADMS pollution modeling software, Ecotech WinAQMS, Waters eLab Notebook, RockWare ArcMap); expertise with tools such as air samplers, radiation detectors, water analyzers and soil sampling apparatuses
Salary (2015) The median salary for environmental scientists was $67,460 in 2015

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ONet OnLine

Step 1: Enroll in an Undergraduate Degree Program

Nearly all jobs in the field require at least a bachelor's degree. Study of environmental science provides a broad introduction to natural sciences and includes a variety of science courses in areas like chemistry, earth science, geography, and physics. Students may also take courses in social sciences and the humanities. Environmental scientists must be able to communicate the results of their research to non-scientists, so courses in communication and technical writing are important as well.

Success Tips:

  • Complete an internship. Internships can be found with research institutions, government offices, and private agencies, and some college programs in environmental science include an internship in the curriculum. Interns learn how to apply knowledge and skills developed in a degree program. They may be part- or full-time, and some may provide pay. Completing an internship is not required for an entry-level job, but it can strengthen a candidate's application.
  • Focus on course choices. Students in bachelor's degree programs in environmental science should take courses in which they gain experience with computer modeling, data analysis, and geographic information systems. Knowledge in these areas will prepare students well when they begin to seek employment.

Step 2: Build a Career

According to the BLS, job growth in environmental science is expected to hover around 11% between 2014 and 2024, with these prospects largely being awarded in the private sector. Environmental scientists can seek employment with private companies looking to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency's regulations while conducting research on their client's behalf on the environmental impact of their projects.

Success Tip:

  • Continue education in sustainability. With more and more social and political movements aimed at curbing climate change, environmental scientists are in a unique position to utilize their knowledge of common pollutants, toxins, and methods of increasing sustainability towards assisting organizations, private firms, and government agencies to reduce their resource consumption and carbon footprint.

Step 3: Consider a Graduate Degree

While a bachelor's degree is the base level of education needed for an environmental scientist job, some employers may prefer or require applicants to have graduate degrees. Graduate degrees may also be essential for advancement in the field. Students in master's degree programs are typically required to complete advanced coursework, as well as perform research and write a thesis based on this research.

Additionally, research management and education roles usually require a Ph.D. Graduate students seeking doctoral degrees work on independent research in an area of interest and write and defend a doctoral dissertation. They are also typically required to complete graduate-level coursework. Positions that combine teaching with research are available at many universities.

In summary, the steps to becoming an environmental scientist include enrolling in an undergraduate degree program and completing an internship, building a career and staying up-to-date on pollution management and sustainability, and considering earning a graduate degree in the field.

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