Becoming an Environmental Engineer: Pros and Cons
Using a background in chemistry, biology, and math, environmental engineers strive to solve problems and issues related to the environment, such as contamination or energy efficiency. Keep reading to learn the perks and downsides to being an environmental engineer.
|Pros of Becoming an Environmental Engineer|
|Indoor and outdoor work environments offer variety in daily duties*|
|Opportunities for promotions and additional job responsibilities with experience*|
|Faster-than-average job growth (15% expected increase from 2012 to 2022)*|
|Above-average salary (about $83,000 as of May 2014)*|
|Cons of Becoming an Environmental Engineer|
|Deadline periods can be stressful*|
|May work at hazardous sites*|
|Licensure is required to work in this field*|
|Under most circumstances, U.S. citizenship is required if you work for the federal government*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
An environmental engineer might work in research, consulting, quality control, public health promotion, technology development, or academia. Within these career paths, there are a variety of focus areas, including waste disposal, water and air pollution control, recycling, ozone depletion, radiation protection, automobile emissions, wildlife protection, global warming, and acid rain.
When a hazard is presented, an environmental engineer evaluates the impact of the problem. Once the significance of the issue is determined, an environmental engineer can offer advice on how to contain and treat the issue. In some cases, an environmental engineer takes preventive steps by trying to analyze the risk and damage an area might be exposed to under certain conditions. Environmental engineers are also responsible for creating new technologies, like wastewater treatment facilities or low-emission vehicles, as well as working with other officials to create policies.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that environmental engineers made an average mean salary of about $86,000 as of May 2014. Environmental engineers who were in the top ten percent of wage estimates during this time made upwards of around $125,000 or more. As of 2014, the top-paying regions for environmental engineers were New Mexico, Alaska, California, Virginia and the District of Columbia. The top-paying industries were oil and gas extraction, wholesale electronics markets and support activities for mining.
Education and License Requirements
A Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering is the minimum education normally accepted for entry-level positions. In some cases, other relevant majors, like environmental health science or chemistry, can be suitable. In general, your undergraduate curriculum will be heavy in the sciences, math, and engineering. Completing some courses in the humanities is also advantageous since this is a field requiring teamwork and understanding of societal values. Course topics may include thermodynamics, hydraulic engineering, fluid mechanics, and biological processes. An engineering program provides you the opportunity to get experience in production and practical design work through laboratory coursework.
A graduate degree may be required for higher-level positions in environmental engineering. Your classes will expand on your undergraduate foundation and focus on more specific subjects. Some examples of course topics are hydroecology, aerosol pollution measurements, soil biochemistry, and microbial biotechnology. Lab work and original research are important components of these programs.
If you're planning on offering your services to the public, you must obtain a state license. You'll need to possess a degree from a program accredited by the Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), acquire four years of work experience, and pass two examinations. You can take the first test, the Fundamentals of Engineering, after earning your degree. Upon gaining several years of job experience, you're eligible to take the Principles and Practice of Engineering test and officially obtain your license and designation as professional engineer. Continuing education credits are required in most states to maintain licensure.
What Employers Want in Environmental Engineers
Effective written and oral communication skills are commonly requested. Professional certifications and experience in the field are additional perks employers consider to be highly valuable in applicants. Take a look at what a few real employers were looking for in environmental engineers on Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com in March 2012.
- An engineering consultant company in New York needed an environmental engineer who could perform fieldwork and had an interest in sediment remediation.
- A Florida business that works with major air programs required an environmental engineer with a background in air modeling. The candidate would study greenhouse gas levels and emissions and would be responsible for creating environmental reports.
- An environmental assessment organization in Iowa sought an environmental engineer to work with regulations and guidelines. At least two years of experience in pharmaceutical or chemical manufacturing was requested.
- In California, a manufacturer wanted an environmental engineer who had knowledge of wastewater treatments. The applicant needed to be familiar with regulations and programs related to environmental health and safety at the local, state, and federal levels.
- A solar electric business in Arizona desired an environmental engineer who could oversee multiple activities in a fast-paced environment, analyze information, and prepare reports.
- An environmental engineer job in Alabama called for someone who had experience in leak detection and repair. Chemical industry experience was required.
How to Stand out as an Environmental Engineer
Obtaining a professional certification is an excellent way to set yourself apart from other environmental engineers and move up in the field, according to the BLS. The American Academy of Environmental Engineers (AAEE) is a professional organization that offers the credentials Board Certified Environmental Engineer (BCEE) and Board Certified Environmental Engineering Member (BCEEM). Specialty areas of certification include industrial hygiene, environmental sustainability, solid waste management, and air pollution control. A general environmental engineering certification is also available
Typically, you need to have an appropriate degree, hold a valid state license (though a license is not required for the BCEEM), be engaged in the field of environmental engineering, and demonstrate good moral character in order to be eligible. Other requirements include possessing eight years of experience between your work and education along with passing oral and written examinations. Certification must be renewed yearly through the fulfillment of continuing education. Keep in mind that a certification like this requires certain fees to be paid.
Additional Occupational Opportunities
If you're interested in studying the Earth but you're not sure you'd like to design technology, consider becoming a geoscientist. A bachelor's degree is suitable for entry-level positions in this field, although a master's degree is preferred. A doctorate is necessary for higher-level research opportunities. Geoscientists study rocks, fossils, oceans, and the atmosphere. Like environmental engineers, they may focus on clean-up tactics or conservation; however, other geoscientists aid in the search for natural resources, like oil or groundwater. There are various specialties in the field, like magnetic geophysics, seismology, mineralogy, and even engineering geology. Job growth was expected to be faster-than-average, with a 21% increase between 2010 and 2020. The BLS reported that on average, geoscientists made about $97,700 annually as of May 2011.
If you're not so sure about the heavy math component of environmental engineering but you're interested in the topics of study, think about a career as an environmental scientist. In this role, you may focus on issues related to water, soil, food, or air. You could evaluate risks, write policies, and implement projects to preserve and clean the Earth. Issues like replenishment, recycling, conservation, and degradation are all examined by environmental scientists. Like the other careers mentioned in this article, an environmental scientist can get by with a bachelor's degree for entry-level vocations, while a doctorate is required for advanced research openings. The majority of jobs are found within government, and faster-than-average growth (19%) was predicted for the 2010-2020 decade. Environmental scientists made around $68,800 yearly as of May 2011, according to the BLS.