Environmental Scientists Job Description, Salary and Education Requirements

By applying their knowledge of the natural world and its processes, environmental scientists and specialists work to develop programs that protect the environment and promote health in the general population.

By U.S. News University Directory
Posted 2010

Environmental Science Job Description
Environmental Science Job Description

What do environmental scientist do? The work of environmental scientists and specialists covers a variety of different areas. Many are employed by state of federal governments and play a vital role in the development, implementation, and enforcement of regulations designed to protect and preserve the environment. Others work for private businesses and institutions to help them stay on top of the latest rules and legislation and ensure they are in compliance.

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While most environmental science jobs focus on the natural environment itself, some workers specialize in the subfield of environmental health, which examines the impact of environmental issues on the health of the population.

Environmental scientists and specialists must have a thorough understanding of issues like conservation, replenishment, and degradation. They must also be able to carry out studies, compile findings into a useful form, and clearly communicate those findings to their superiors or the general public.

Environmental Scientists Job Summary

  • A little under half of all environmental scientists and specialists are employed by local, state, or federal government agencies.
  • There are and should continue to be good job opportunities for environmental scientists and specialists.
  • Some entry-level jobs in this field require only a bachelor’s degree; but in order to attain higher-level positions, applicants will usually need to have some sort of advanced degree.
  • Environmental scientists and specialists can specialize in particular areas of the field like environmental chemistry, fisheries science, or environmental ecology.

Work Environment for Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Work settings for environmental scientists and specialists vary depending on their role. Those with less experience often do much of the field work, while more senior members of the team concentrate their time in a lab or office. Some field work can involve significant physical activity, requiring those workers who perform it to be able to handles the rigors of different climates and terrain.

Environmental scientists and specialists may have to travel to gather data and observe conditions in other parts of the world, or to meet with potential clients. Some put in long hours to meet strict reporting deadlines, while others may feel the pressures of trying to obtain funding for new research.

Career Path - Education and Training

The first step towards a career as an environmental scientist or specialist is often a bachelor’s degree in environmental science or a related earth science. In order to obtain this degree, students must complete coursework at a college or university in a variety of subjects, such as geology, chemistry, biology, hydrology, fluid mechanics, environmental legislation, and hazardous-waste management.

While the completion of a bachelor’s degree is often enough to qualify for entry-level jobs in the field, many environmental scientists and specialists hold a master’s degree. Although graduate degrees typically require at least two years to complete, applicants who hold advanced degrees will have a distinct advantage when it comes to looking for environmental jobs and moving up in the field.

In addition to a formal degree, workers in this field must be able to work well as part of a team and have strong observational and analytical skills. Environmental scientists and specialists frequently use computers in office and lab work, so proficiency in digital mapping, computer modeling, remote sensing, and other technologies can help applicants land a good job. In addition, strong written and oral communication abilities are required, as specialists in this field often have to prepare reports and give presentations.

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Environmental Jobs Outlook and Earnings Potential

What is the jobs outlook for environmental scientist? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 88,740 people were employed as environmental scientists or specialists as of May 2014. Job opportunities in this field are expected to grow much more quickly than the national average for all occupations over the coming years, with the best opportunities being in local and state government.

How much does an environmental scientist make? BLS findings indicate that the median annual income for environmental scientists and specialists was about $66,250 in May 2014. Earnings ranged from $39,730 at the low end to $114,990 at the high end, with the middle 50% of professionals in this field making between $49,570 and $87,980.

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