Environmental scientists are also known as environmental specialists, environmental analysts or environmental health specialists. They research ways to minimize health hazards and environmental degradation using their knowledge of the natural sciences. Measuring and observing food, air, water and soil, environmental scientists determine the best methods to preserve and improve the environment.
Many environmental scientists work with local, state and federal government agencies, enforcing regulations that ensure a safe water supply, clean air and hazard-free soil. Others focus on human health, monitoring disease risks and providing information about health hazards.
Environmental scientists review standards and guidelines, collect data and investigate accidents that affect the environment. Consulting firms hire environmental scientists to help their clients comply with environmental regulations and policies. Engineering companies rely on environmental scientists to help them stay within the limits of environmental protection laws.
While many environmental scientists specialize in environmental ecology and conservation, fisheries science or environmental biology, others work on policy development. Still others hold managerial positions.
Nearly half of all environmental scientists are employed by federal, state and local government agencies.
The entry point for an environmental scientist job is usually a bachelor’s degree; some employers prefer candidates with master’s degrees.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that job prospects in the coming years will be favorable, particularly for environmental health scientists.
Work Environment for Environmental Scientists
Entry-level environmental scientists spend most of their time in the field. More experienced professionals may work mostly in offices or laboratories. Physical activity is generally required for this occupation, including working outdoors in adverse weather conditions. Some environmental scientists travel to meet clients on site. Most work 40 hours per week and overtime may be required.
Education, Training and Licensing
A bachelor’s degree in an earth science is the minimum requirement for most environmental scientist jobs. Many companies prefer to hire candidates with master’s degrees in environmental science. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, physics or the geosciences often need work experience before landing an environmental scientist position.
Bachelor’s degree programs include basic biology, chemistry and geology courses, along with data analysis and physical geography. Students interested in working in this field should consider courses in hazardous-waste management, geologic logging, environmental regulations and hydrology. It is also valuable to have an understanding of government permit processes and issues.
Business courses are helpful to provide a well-rounded background, especially when preparing for a consulting career. Finance, marketing and economics classes, combined with environmental science training, are valuable when competing for a wide range of jobs.
When pursuing a career as an environmental scientist, it is helpful to have good interpersonal and analytical thinking skills. Other valuable attributes are computer skills, digital mapping experience, computer modeling and data analysis experience, and excellent English language and grammar skills.
Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook and Earnings
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) records for May 2009 indicate that environmental scientists held approximately 83,530 jobs; most were with state governments and private consulting firms. Other jobs were with architectural and engineering firms, and local and federal government agencies.
The BLS predicts employment in this field will grow much faster than the average for all occupations. Job growth will occur as the result of increasing awareness of problems caused by environmental degradation, as well as continued stress on the environment by a growing population.
The BLS reports that environmental scientists earned a median yearly salary of $61,010 in May 2009. The middle 50% earned between $46,000 and $81,500, while the lowest 10% earned about $37,120. The highest 10% earned upwards of $107,190 annually.