Environmental Scientist: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of an environmental scientist career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming an environmental scientist is right for you.
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An Environmental Scientist Career: Pros and Cons

Environmental scientists look for ways to solve the problems endangering the earth and its inhabitants by conducting research, interpreting findings and presenting this information to appropriate agencies. To determine if being an environmental scientist is in your nature, read the following pros and cons.

Pros of an Environmental Science Career
Opportunity to improve the state of the planet*
Mean annual salary was $72,050 in 2014, though there is the potential to earn more than $114,990, annually*
Full-time positions common*
Knowledge to solve large-scale problems affecting human health*
Healthy job growth (15% between 2012-2022)*

Cons of an Environmental Science Career
Grueling fieldwork, particularly in bad weather*
Irregular or long hours when conducting field work*
Graduate degree is necessary for many jobs (requiring 2-3 years for a master's degree and an additional 3-6 years for a doctoral degree)**
Experience as an assistant researcher or lab technician might be required for entry-level employment*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **University of California

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Environmental scientists must collect and analyze data from pollution emission measurements, atmospheric conditions and soil and water samples in order to determine how human activities affect the environment. They then relay the information to different agencies and to the public. Environmental scientists might also be asked to develop programs to decrease the impact of industry on the environment or outline production plans that cause the least amount of damage to the ecosystem. Along with research, environmental scientists perform environmental audits, investigate violations and give advice on the development and prosecution of regulatory cases. Evaluating and implementing environmental guidelines, policies and formal regulations also fall under the duties of an environmental scientist.

Career Specializations

Some environmental scientists might choose to focus their work in more specific aspects of the field. You can also enter into specialized areas by earning a degree in an area of life science or physical science and then center your work on solving specific environmental problems. For example, atmospheric scientists study ozone depletion, solar radiation and pollution. Environmental health specialists concentrate on the aspects of the environment that impact human health. Environmental protection specialists study the way human behavior affects the earth, and environmental chemists look specifically at how different chemicals affect the earth.

Salary Information and Job Prospects

As of May 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the mean annual wage for environmental scientists was $72,050. The lowest 10% made less than $39,730, and the top 10% made more than $114,990. According to the BLS, employment growth for environmental scientists was expected to increase by 15% between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than the average for all occupations.

Job growth in this field is due in large part to the increased awareness and concern regarding environmental issues. Additionally, as the global population continues to grow, there is more work involved in taking care of the earth. According to the BLS, the majority of environmental scientists are employed with private consulting firms or local, state or federal government.

Career Requirements

Education

The American Geological Institute advises that those who are considering a career in environmental science have a deep interest in science; they also state that a good education is one of the most important aspects of working in this field. Biology, chemistry, geography, math, statistics, physics, earth science as well as environmental science courses are typically included in required college coursework. To gain an entry-level position as an environmental scientist, a bachelor's degree is generally needed. You can earn your degree in environmental science or another related field, such as geosciences, biology or chemistry.

For advancement, and some jobs, a master's degree might be required. To obtain a job in postsecondary teaching or with some researching positions, you will likely need a doctoral degree. The time it takes to complete an advanced degree depends on if you are studying full time or part time, your experience and your previous coursework.

Important Skills

You can give yourself a leg up by developing qualities that can help you secure the job you want. Employers might search for candidates that possess some of the following:

  • Good communication skills to help you work with different groups of people
  • Detail-oriented for analyzing and interpreting scientific data
  • Ability to perform mathematical calculations
  • Public speaking skills to present and convince others of their findings
  • Keen problem-solving skills to find solutions to environmental and related human health concerns
  • Writing skills to clearly explain your findings, recommended solutions and the methods they used to reach such conclusions
  • Computer skills and knowledge of environment-related tools and technology

Job Listings from Real Employers

Many employers seek prospective employees that can perform field work as part of their job. Many job postings require, or prefer, candidates who have an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Hazwoper certification. As of April 2012, there were ample jobs available for environmental scientists. The following are examples of what some employers are looking for:

  • A company in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is looking for an environmental scientist with 6 years of related experience to prepare, evaluate and update environmental investigation and recommendation reports. Reviewing the progress of environmental improvement programs is also included in the job description.
  • An environmental solutions company in Ohio is seeking an environmental scientist to perform field sampling activities and assist in the preparation of documentation. Prospective employees must have at least a bachelor's degree in a natural science.
  • An international groundwater/environmental services company is searching for an environmental scientist to work in Puerto Rico. The selected applicant will be responsible for case management duties with several environmental projects. The candidate must be fluent in speaking and writing in French and English, since this job requires regular communication with local French consulting staff.
  • An environmental consulting business in Pennsylvania needs an entry-level environmental scientist to conduct technical and regulatory research to support projects and to create a Health and Safety Plan for each project. Documenting all field activities and writing the field portion of the final report is also part of the job requirements.

How to Stand Out

Since it is possible to enter the environmental science career field with one of several related degrees, taking additional courses in an area outside of your major but related to the field can give you an edge or help you learn skills in a certain aspect of this type of work. Degree concentrations in subjects such as biology, environmental policy and planning, waste management or Geographic Information Systems (GIS) might also be beneficial. Internships can also assist you in building industry connections and gain hands-on experience. Taking advantage of such opportunities can help you land a job of your choosing.

Develop Related Skills

Communication is a huge part of this line of work; therefore, you might consider taking public speaking and effective communication courses. Writing classes can be beneficial because the writing skills needed to document research methods, findings and solutions are also typically required. The BLS also advises students to take computer classes since most jobs involve frequently using computers.

Alternative Career Paths

If becoming an environmental scientist requires too training or is to broad of a category for you, there are other professions that allow you to utilize similar skills and knowledge and might be more appealing to you.

Environmental Science and Protection Technician

Environmental science and protection technicians usually work with environmental scientists to help improve the health of the earth. They monitor environmental conditions and look for sources of pollution. The educational training isn't as lengthy, and the responsibilities are fewer. They may be employed in labs, offices or out in the field. Fieldwork can be physically grueling and can result in irregular or long work hours. Job growth is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations at a rate of 24% from 2010 to 2020. The annual median salary for environmental science and protection technicians was $42,000 in May 2011, according to the BLS.

Geoscientist

Geoscientists study the past, present and future of the earth by examining physical aspects like its structure, composition and processes. Some geoscientists are involved with environmental preservation and protection and work to reclaim and clean up the land. Like environmental scientists, geoscientists can secure entry-level positions with a bachelor's degree, but the pay is significantly higher. The BLS reported the median annual salary in May 2011 was $84,000. Job growth was expected to increase by 21% between 2010 and 2020 (faster than the average for all occupations). Those considering becoming a geoscientist should be aware that the job often also requires a lot of time spent in the field, which may involve bad weather, strenuous physical activity and irregular work hours.

Hydrologist

If studying the function and properties of water and water cycles sounds interesting, then a career as a hydrologist is another option. Hydrologists examine things like the movement and distribution of water and how these factors impact the surrounding environments. They might work with biologists to monitor marine life or with policy makers to create plans for water conservation. To work in this profession, being comfortable in water is usually important - field work may involve collecting samples from streams and lakes. Although some entry-level positions can be obtained with a bachelor's degree, most jobs require a master's degree. Job growth is projected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations, 18% between 2010 and 2020, and the annual median salary for hydrologists was $76,000 in May 2011, according to the BLS.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Regulatory Science
      • Master of Science in Environmental Sciences and Policy
    Certificate
      • Certificate in Science, Technology, and International Security Studies
      • Certificate in Science Writing
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Environmental Policy and Management
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctorate: Management - Environmental & Social Sustainability
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Penn Foster Career School

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Career Diploma: Wildlife/Forestry Conservation
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA in Sustainability & Environmental Compliance
      • International MBA in Sustainability/Environmental Compliance
    Bachelor's
      • BS Environmental Science
      • BS Environmental Science in Geospatial Technologies
      • BS in Geosciences concentration in Natural Resources & Conservation
      • BA Anthropology w/conc in Environmental Sustainability
      • BS Env Science in Nat Resources & Conservation
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Excelsior College

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Social Sciences (Environmental Studies)
      • BS in Natural Sciences (Biology)
      • BS in Natural Sciences [Without Concentration]
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
      • HS Diploma
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    University of Florida

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    Cornell University

Featured Schools

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Science in Regulatory Science
  • Master of Science in Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • Certificate in Science, Technology, and International Security Studies
  • Certificate in Science Writing

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • Bachelor: Environmental Policy and Management

Which subject are you interested in?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctorate: Management - Environmental & Social Sustainability

Are you a US citizen?

Penn Foster Career School

  • Career Diploma: Wildlife/Forestry Conservation

What is your highest level of education?

Southern New Hampshire University

  • MBA in Sustainability & Environmental Compliance
  • International MBA in Sustainability/Environmental Compliance
  • BS Environmental Science
  • BS Environmental Science in Geospatial Technologies

What is your highest level of education?

Excelsior College

  • BS in Social Sciences (Environmental Studies)
  • BS in Natural Sciences (Biology)
  • BS in Natural Sciences [Without Concentration]

What is your highest level of education completed?

Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

What is your age?