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Careers in Environmental Research: Job Options and Requirements

Environmental research is generally a career field in which graduates of hard-science undergraduate and graduate programs can flourish. Continue reading for an overview of the education and licensure requirements, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

Getting a degree related to environmental research is helpful for people who want to seek a specialized career in an area of environmental science. Environmental chemists, conservation scientists, and environmental engineers are all career options that utilize environmental research in their studies and work projects.

Essential Information

Students can be awarded undergraduate or graduate degrees in fields that relate to or include elements of environmental research. The different degree levels, as with most scientific fields, correspond to levels of employment, salary, etc. Graduates with a good background in environmental sciences such as chemistry, conservation, and engineering can thrive in environmental research positions.

Career Titles Environmental Scientist Conservation Scientist Environmental Engineer
Required Education Bachelor's Bachelor's Bachelor's
Other Requirements N/A N/A Licensure recommended for advancement
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 11%* 7%* 12%*
Median Salary (2015) $67,460* $61,110* $84,560*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

Environmental research is a broad field of study that includes many of the major hard-sciences and, as a result, offers many diverse employment opportunities. The careers discussed below in environmental chemistry, conservation science, and environmental engineering all have hands-on and research components, making it possible for recipients of undergraduate and graduate degrees to find employment in the field. Read on for some information on these three specialized careers in environmental research.

Environmental Chemist

Environmental chemists conduct research to determine the effects that chemicals have on various ecosystems. These professionals travel to contaminated sites and collect samples of water, soil, air, plant life and other materials. They then determine which chemicals are causing problems. Environmental chemists often write reports that include information about their findings as well as recommendations on ways to cleanup or decrease chemical contaminants in various locations.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that employment for environmental scientists, the group that includes environmental chemists, could increase by 11% in the years 2014-2024. The median salary for environmental scientists was $67,460, per the BLS in May 2015.

Conservation Scientist

To protect natural resources, conservation scientists participate in field research to determine how resources are being used, which could include identifying how farmers utilize land for crops or how cities protect groundwater from contamination. Conservation scientists often supervise state and federal conservation efforts. They also verify that business organizations follow conservation laws, such as the laws that regulate dumping commercial waste.

Some conservation scientists work as consultants. During consultations, they may record land measurements, identify local plant life and take samples of soil, air and water. After conducting consultations, conservation scientists can make recommendations about which plants farmer should grow or how farmers should change animal grazing cycles.

Conservation scientists reported a median of $61,110 as of May 2015, the BLS noted. Their employment was predicted to see average growth, around 7% percent, from 2014 until 2024.

Environmental Engineer

Professionals in this field design equipment and facilities used for cleaning the environment or conserving natural resources. Environmental engineers review research about current environmental problems, such as air pollution, hazardous materials dumping or contaminated water sources. After reviewing the research, engineers identify possible solutions and create schematic blueprints of treatment facilities or equipment, such as water purification systems or air filtration devices.

Engineers are often involved in the construction and implementation of their designs. After the equipment or facilities have been constructed, environmental engineers inspect each location and often come back to conduct quality control checks. Many professionals travel to various environmental project sites to verify the progress of the project. Some environmental engineers also make sure that facilities operate in accordance with environmental protection laws.

Environmental engineers could see employment grow as much as 12% between 2014 and 2024, the BLS predicted. The median salary was $84,560 for environmental engineers in May 2015.

Environmental Research Job Requirements

Education

Records from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that while bachelor's degrees will help environmental chemists find entry-level positions, workers who wish to conduct advanced research projects often require graduate degrees (www.bls.gov). Conservation scientists and environmental engineers, however, generally only need bachelor's degrees to find employment in their respective fields.

Environmental chemists may consider undergraduate and graduate degree programs related to chemistry, ecology or biology. Conservation scientists often major in fields such as environmental science, forestry or conservation science. Environmental engineers may pursue environmental engineering degree programs, but mechanical, industrial or civil engineering programs may provide workers with the necessary training as well.

Licensing

Since environmental engineers often work as public consultants, the BLS points out that they will most likely require professional engineer (PE) licenses. Licensing procedures for engineers are different in every state, but usually engineers are required to have several years of experience prior to taking licensing exams. To build up experience, engineers-in-training usually work under licensed engineers. After meeting all requirements and passing licensing exams, professionals may have to complete continued education coursework as part of the annual license renewal process.

Environmental chemists use environmental research to study the effect of chemicals on the environment and require a graduate degree in order to work. Conservation scientists study the use of resources and enforce adherence to environmental regulations and require only a bachelor's degree. Environmental engineers may require licensing in order to practice their work in designing environmental conservation and cleaning facilities.


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