Pros and Cons of Becoming a Wetland Scientist
As a wetland scientist, you would study the flora and fauna of wetlands and might enjoy the chance to impact policies, enacting real changes regarding wetlands protection. Size up the benefits and disadvantages of a wetland scientist career by checking out the chart below.
|Pros of Wetland Scientist Careers|
|Above-average median annual salary (about $66,000 for environmental scientists in May 2014)*|
|Affecting public policy regarding wetland protection*|
|Furthering scientific research related to wetland environments*|
|Opportunity to engage in hands-on research with freedom of independence*|
|Cons of Wetland Scientist Careers|
|Graduate education and years of experience required for some positions, such as project manager, independent researcher or college professor*|
|Fieldwork may be located in remote and challenging environments*|
|Difficult physical work and long hours when carrying out hands-on research*|
|Long-term survey-based research may be tedious*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Wetlands, as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are places where water is near the surface or covering the soil for the majority of the year. In the U.S., they are found in both in coastal areas and inland flood basins. As a wetland scientist, you would study the special conditions that allow animals and unique plant life - called hydrophytes - to thrive there, in addition to learning about the factors that alter these ecosystems. Like other environmental scientists, wetland scientists participate in a variety of activities that further the cause of environmental knowledge, protection and conservation.
You might strive to preserve ecological sustainability of wildlife, maintain cleanliness of water resources, remove pollutants from the wetlands or implement remediation projections. You would likely use tactics like extensive scientific monitoring and analysis. Your work may involve collecting soil samples, tracking aquatic wildlife and migratory birds, monitoring chemical composition of the wetlands, surveying land and producing reports. Experience with geographic information systems (GIS) and other computer modeling programs may be required for your work. After gathering information, you would compile your data into reports and use your research findings to inform others and urge policy development.
State governments and consulting firms were the leading employers of environmental scientists as of 2014. You might work in research or oversee private development in accordance with EPA preservation and conservation regulations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of environmental scientists was predicted to grow 15%, an average rate, between 2012 and 2022. The growth rate specific to wetland scientists is not available at this time.
Salary information for wetland scientists specifically also doesn't currently exist. According to 2014 BLS data, environmental scientists earned a median annual salary of about $66,000. In 2015, Payscale.com reported the median annual salary for environmental consultants - about $51,000 - and environmental project managers - about $64,000.
Most jobs require a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a science field. Possible majors include wetland science, environmental science, biology, botany, ecology, hydrology or soil chemistry. Graduate education programs may offer you more opportunities to specialize in wetland science as well as provide the added level of experience and expertise many employers are looking for. Here is a sample of undergraduate and graduate degree programs throughout the country that offer wetland science studies:
- BS in Coastal Environmental Science with minor option in wetland science and management
- MS in Coastal Marine and Wetland Studies
- MS and PhD in Environmental Technology with a specialization in wetland science
Some of the subjects you may study include wetland hydrology, wetland delineation, wetland soil biogeochemistry, wetland plants, the problem of wetland loss and wetland restoration initiatives. You can learn about the characteristics of deltas, salt marshes and estuaries. At the graduate level, you have more opportunities to carry out research, preparing you for future work duties.
Skills and Abilities
As derived from multiple online employment listings and the BLS, you should be comfortable in the wilderness and able to hike in rough conditions with equipment. Gaining fieldwork experience is very important to finding jobs. Employers may also request that you are familiar with GPS, laboratory equipment and maps. In addition to scientific training, wetlands research requires a high degree of written and interpersonal communication, legislative knowledge, strategic decision-making abilities and project management skills.
Real Job Listing for Wetland Scientists
Employment opportunities are available through the government, universities and private organizations. Jobs with a couple specific duties or wide-ranging responsibilities may be advertised. A bachelor's degree in a relevant field is usually required, although a master's degree may be preferred. Here are some real examples of wetland scientist job opportunities listed through the Society for Wetland Scientists in March 2012:
- A Montana government-funded natural lands agency sought an experienced wetland field ecologist to collect vegetation, identify plant life and utilize GPS. A bachelor's or master's degree in a field like natural resources or ecology was required. Season work paid $13-$15 per hour.
- A university cooperative project desired a wetland field technician to monitor greenhouse gases in Nebraska wetland areas. The pay was $9 an hour.
- The U.S. Geological Survey in the Chesapeake Bay area was looking for a wetland research professional to work as a project manager. This person would be responsible for collecting sediment, performing surveys as well as managing GIS and modeling equipment.
- A private, small business military contractor in Maryland desired a senior environmental analyst with 8-12 years experience. The job duties involve reviewing environmental statements and policies. The salary was $65,000-$80,000 per year.
How to Gain an Advantage in Your Career
According to the BLS, proficiency in utilizing geographic information systems (GIS), working with computer modeling applications, and analyzing data are valuable career skills that can help you stand out in the environmental science field. You could learn these skills through your coursework or through internships.
Alternative Careers in Wetland Science
If the possibility of long days of fieldwork wading through wetlands in less-than-pleasant conditions seems daunting to you but you're still interested in wetland conservation and preservation, you have some other options. Careers in education or environmental advocacy can provide ample opportunity to promote public awareness and public policy reform, with some more time on dry land.
Environmental Science Professor
For this career, your work typically combines research duties with teaching ones. Though you may still be visiting the wetlands periodically, you will spend much of your time educating and mentoring the next generation of environmental scientists, including those focusing on wetlands. A PhD degree plus research experience is typically necessary for a faculty position at a college or university. Career and salary prospects look good. Per the BLS, the median annual wage of environmental science professors was about $75,000 in 2011, while employment of all postsecondary teachers was expected to increase about as fast as average, at 17%, between 2010 and 2020.
You may find that extensive research does not satisfy your desire to affect public policy. If you're legally and politically minded, think about becoming an environmental lawyer. Organizations engaged in environmental activism need qualified litigators to affect public policy. High education is also required for this career - you need to earn a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. You may also need have some interdisciplinary academic experience in environmental science. For lawyers in general (specific statistics on environmental lawyers aren't available), average growth of 10% was forecasted for the 2010-2020 decade, but the median salary is high - about $113,000 in 2011, per the BLS.