Should I Become an Environmental Specialist?
Environmental specialists are scientists who observe the impact of a population on the environment, identify problem areas and recommend solutions. Many specialists work for the government to ensure that specific regulations regarding air, water and soil are met. The job might appeal to those who feel comfortable working out of doors and are passionate about helping the environment.
This is not an entry-level position; individuals must often put in a few years of experience working as environmental research assistants or laboratory technicians. However, these individuals tend to make higher-than-average salaries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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- Environmental Sciences
- Environmental Studies
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree for entry-level positions; master's degree typically required for advancement|
|Degree Field||Environmental or natural science, such as chemistry or biology|
|Experience||Environmental specialists typically begin their careers in entry-level positions, such as field analysts and research assistants, and are promoted as they gain experience|
|Key Skills||Analytical, communication, problem-solving, writing and speaking skills, working knowledge of specialized graphics and compliance software, familiarity with environmental science tools|
|Salary (2014)||$66,250 per year (Median salary for all environmental scientists and specialists)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014); O*Net Online
Step 1: Pursue a Bachelor's Degree
Environmental specialists need a good understanding of environmental and natural sciences, which they can gain through bachelor's degree programs in environmental science or a related science, such as geology or biology. Students may take courses in biology, physics, hydrology and watershed sciences, chemistry, soil science and data analysis. Through this broad exposure to many of the sciences, prospective environmental specialists learn a variety of means to analyze the impact of human population growth on the environment and recommend ways to reduce that impact.
- Work at an internship. Internships are an excellent way for prospective environmental specialists to get their foot in the door and learn how to apply skills learned in the classroom. Many colleges and universities offer college credits for internships.
Step 2: Gain Job Experience
After earning a bachelor's degree in a related science, individuals may qualify for entry-level environmental specialist jobs. Many environmental specialists begin their career as a lab technician or research assistant and move up to lab or project manager positions as they gain experience. Environmental specialist and scientist positions can primarily be found within governmental agencies, federal agencies and nonprofit organizations; however, some environmental specialists also work as private consultants.
Step 3: Pursue a Master's Degree
Though not required, many employers prefer to hire candidates with a master's degree in environmental science for advanced positions, according to the BLS. A master's degree program can build on the knowledge gained from a bachelor's degree program and may focus study on one or more aspect of environmental science. Graduate courses will typically depend on the student's concentration, but may include urban ecology, alternative energy, engineering, forestry and aquatic ecology.
Step 4: Advance by Specialization
After completing a graduate degree program, environmental specialists and scientists typical choose a career and advance or complete more education according to their area of specialization. For example, those who have some business experience and have taken courses in finance or economics might consider work as a consultant, while prospective specialists who are interested in journalism and working with the public might consider a career in environmental education and communication.
Environmental scientists with a master's degree can often find work at the state or federal level, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or fishery and forestry departments. Those who are involved in research or consulting most often advance to a managerial position, where they must be proficient in grant and technical writing to fund their activities. If the policy-making and legal aspects of environmental management are appealing, an environmental specialist might also consider pursuing a law degree, where they could apply their background in environmental science to work in the private and public sector of environmental policy.
- Consider a doctoral degree. Programs, such as the Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Science, can prepare graduates for research and academic careers.