Environmental Psychology Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Get the truth about salaries in the field of environmental psychology. Read the job descriptions and learn about education requirements and career prospects to decide if an environmental psychology career is right for you.
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Careers in Environmental Psychology

Environmental psychology examines the connections between human behavior and the environment. Compare common careers below:

Environmental Psychologist Environmental Health Scientists Environmental Planners
Career Overview Study human behavior in relation to natural and social environments. Study how the environment or ecosystems influence human health. Plan urban communities that minimize environmental impacts.
Education/Training Requirements Master's or doctoral degree. Bachelor's degree. Master's degree.
Program Length 2-6 years of graduate school. 4 years of undergraduate studies. 2 years of graduate school.
Additional/Other Training Extended internship in clinical or counseling psychology programs. Internships recommended during baccalaureate program. Internships can help students develop collaboration, analysis and decision-making skills.
Certification and Licensing Clinical or counseling psychologists require state-by-state licensing; certification is optional. Voluntary professional certification programs available. Michigan and New Jersey require licensing; certification is optional.
Experience Requirement Clinical and counseling work requires significant supervised clinical work experience. Not applicable. 1-2 years of relevant work experience in public policy, economic development or architecture.
Job Outlook for 2014-2024 Much faster than average growth (19%) for all psychologists* Faster than average growth (11%) for all environmental scientists* About as fast as average growth (6%) for all urban and regional planners*
Median Salary $70,649 (in 2016) for all psychologists** $66,250 (in 2014) for all environmental scientists* $67,244 (in 2016) for intermediate-level environmental planners***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com, ***Salary.com

Environmental Psychologists

According to the APA's Society for Environmental, Population and Conservation Psychology, environmental psychologists conduct research concerning human interactions with the environment. Environmental psychologists argue that interactions with the environment, both from natural ecosystems and human constructs like cities, influence the behavior and thinking of humans. Based on observations of these interactions, environmental psychologists develop theories on the impact of environmental factors like city design, climate change and natural disasters on human behavior and well-being. They also study how aspects of human psychology affect the environment.

Like all psychologists, environmental psychologists must gain an educational background in psychology. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all psychologists study human behavior through observation and interpretation. Common psychology fields include clinical and counseling psychology. Environmental psychologists can be clinical or counseling psychologists, though many with the job title of environmental psychologist work as researchers at universities, government agencies or private organizations. The APA states that unlike other psychologists who work in laboratory settings, most environmental psychologists work directly with communities concerning environmental issues.

Requirements

All psychologists need to hold a graduate degree. In the case of most environmental psychologists, a master's degree in psychology is sufficient for some job openings. However, the BLS states that all state licensing boards require clinical or counseling psychologists to hold a doctoral degree. If you want to work in a clinical or counseling setting, as well, you need to invest in a doctoral program. Doctoral programs require performing supervised clinical work in internships and practicums.

Doctoral programs also open up the possibility of academic positions. If you only want a master's degree, it's important to take courses in statistics, organizational psychology and research design. These courses can help you conduct research in environmental psychology.

Employers looked for environmental psychologists with these credentials, found in December 2012 job ads:

  • A New York university is looking for a director for its research institute to analyze environmental health trends. The director establishes and maintains the research goals of the institute and helps researchers with program investments. The research center highlights the intersection between environmental health and psychological health. Qualified candidates need to hold a degree in environmental health, public health or mental health and have at least five years of managerial experience.
  • A national research organization needs a psychologist trained in social and health psychology. The psychologist must research the reasons behind specific health trends. Environmental psychology methodologies and insight may be needed to conduct relevant studies for the research firm. The candidate must have a doctoral degree.
  • A Florida zoo association needs an environmental psychologist who can train the staff at the zoo. The environmental psychologist must be knowledgeable in conservation psychology and help staff understand and create information related to human-nature interactions. The environmental psychologist also will conduct studies that can be turned in to peer-reviewed journals. The candidate must have a doctoral degree.

Standing Out

According to the APA, environmental psychologists need to utilize the methodologies and insights of multiple disciplines to create their environmental theories. The APA suggests that students at the undergraduate level take classes in environmental science, geography or resource management. In addition, the APA suggests that you become active in environmental groups or circles. Participating in civic or volunteer groups, environmental conferences and workshops or community organizations focused on environmental issues acquaints you with these issues.

Environmental Health Specialists

According to the BLS, environmental health specialists are a type of environmental scientist focused on how the environment influences human health. Common activities for environmental health specialists include investigating how food and water supplies, air quality and the ecosystem impact public health issues. According to the Society for Environmental, Population and Conservation Psychology, environmental health specialists are considered members or associates to the APA if the specialists concentrate in psychological studies involving environmental issues, population and public health, the management of natural resources or demography.

Environmental health specialists collect pertinent data related to the environment, such as samples from the air, water or soil. In addition, environmental health specialists work with teams to develop plans to minimize the risks of affecting the ecosystem. According to the BLS, the majority of environmental health specialists work for private firms or government agencies. Specialists work in offices and laboratories and conduct fieldwork to collect samples or take surveys.

Requirements

The BLS states that most firms hire environmental health specialists who hold a bachelor's degree. A bachelor's degree in environmental or any natural science is preferred for these candidates. Environmental science programs stress resource management, environmental regulations and general education courses in biology, geology and chemistry. Computer modeling and statistical analysis skills are important in this profession, so coursework and an internship in which you can apply these skills would be beneficial.

Employers in December 2012 job ads looked for the following:

  • A city in Texas needs an environmental health specialist to analyze the ecological sustainability of the city. The candidate needs to uphold and execute all city ordinances, state regulations and federal laws concerning the environment. The candidate also needs to investigate and approve establishments in the city, such as restaurants or local businesses, for compliance with environmental and health codes. All candidates need a bachelor's degree and a Texas driver's license.
  • A Minnesota county needs an environmental health specialist to inspect private enterprises across the county. The specialist has the power to fully enforce environmental regulations across the county. The candidate needs a bachelor's degree, preferably in environmental science or public health.
  • A federal agency needs an environmental health specialist to fill a vacancy at any one of its regional offices. The candidate will work with local Native American populations to investigate the health relations between the natural environment and the infrastructure of their communities. Candidates should have a bachelor's degree related to environmental health science and related experience.

Standing Out

The BLS suggests that a master's degree in environmental science could promote you to a higher position or make you stand apart from competitors. A master's degree program would include more research opportunities and deepen your knowledge of specific issues in environmental health. In addition, the BLS states that working at the technician level gives you technical insight into laboratory work. The more technical work you're able to perform, the higher the likelihood that you'll be promoted to a managerial position.

Environmental Planners

Environmental planners are urban and regional planners who develop land that minimizes harm to the ecosystem. Urban and regional planners are developers who work for businesses and governments. Urban planners outline possible development plans for the land, while environmental planners are concerned about how much damage the development could inflict on the ecosystem.

Environmental planners create strategies that foster developmental growth on the land but minimize pollution, waste, resource depletion or animal and plant habitat destruction. The BLS states that the majority of environmental planners work for governments; however, non-profits, architectural firms and consulting firms employ environmental planners, as well.

Requirements

The BLS states that all urban and regional planners hold a master's degree. Urban and regional planning programs typically accept students with academic backgrounds in geography, environmental design or economics. Urban and regional planning programs offer concentrations in your specific niche in the field. For example, schools offer environmental planning concentrations or urban development concentrations with environmental planning courses.

According to the BLS, firms and government agencies that hire urban and regional planners expect 1-2 years' experience from internship work during college or work experience acquired in a related field, such as public administration or architecture. As of December 2012, only two states require licensing for urban and regional planners. New Jersey requires urban and regional planner licensing, while Michigan designates certification for professionals called community planners.

In December 2012 job ads, some employers looked for the following:

  • A Washington transportation construction firm needs an environmental planner for their projects. The environmental planner will communicate with local officials and scientists to see if construction areas can minimize their ecological footprint. The candidate needs a bachelor's degree in environmental science or engineering with 1-5 years of experience working with federal and state environmental laws.
  • A California transportation company needs an environmental planner. The planner will work for the company in constructing environmentally friendly construction plans for the entire region. The projects range from road construction to aviation. Candidates need a bachelor's degree and at least five years' experience.
  • Several Illinois counties need regional environmental planners to analyze and report on groundwater supply issues. This information is used by municipalities to make decisions regarding building and development contracts. Candidates need a bachelor's degree in geography or urban planning and a valid driver's license.

Standing Out

According to the BLS, urban and regional planners require excellent listening and management skills. Planners need to coordinate with government officials, civic groups, business leaders and community members to properly develop land. In addition to developing your listening and leaderships skills, you may consider gaining optional certification. The BLS states that the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) provides certification for graduates of bachelor's or master's degree programs in regional planning who also hold 2-4 years' experience.

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