Environmentalist Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a career as an environmentalist. See job field descriptions, career growth and salary information to see if a career in environmental science is right for you.
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Careers as an Environmentalist

Many of these environmentalist-friendly jobs revolve around conserving land and water resources as well as containing the effects of pollution and industrial waste. Use the chart below to learn more about specific jobs that might suit an environmentalist, including environmental scientist, geoscientist, hydrologist and environmental protection technician.

Environmental scientist Geoscientist Hydrologist Environmental protection technician
Career Overview Conduct research on air, soil, water or food Conduct research on natural resources Study water resources Assist environmental scientists
Education Requirements Bachelor's/master's degree Master's/doctoral degree Master's degree Associate's/bachelor's degree
Program length 4 - 6 years 4 - 8 years 6 years 2 - 4 years
Certification/Licensure N/A License required in some states License required in some states N/A
Job outlook for 2012 - 2022* Above-average 15% growth, 13,200 additional jobs Above-average 16% growth, 6,000 additional jobs Average 10% growth, 800 additional jobs Above-average 19% growth, 6,200 additional jobs
Approximate Median Salary (2014)* $66,250 $89,910 $78,370 $42,190

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Environmental Scientist

Environmental scientists collect samples and record data related air, soil, water, or food supplies. They then use this data to assess threats to resources or ecology and develop preventative measures. In addition to providing information for the general public, environmental scientists provide guidance to government officials and businesses.


Environmental scientists often conduct long-term research projects that may include extensive field research. Most positions require at least a bachelor's degree and applicable experience in field and laboratory research. According to the Occupational Information Network (ONET), 71% of surveyed professionals earned a bachelor's degree, while 16% earned a master's degree. Your college program will include training in geographic information systems (GIS), including computer modeling. Your work will likely require analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as excellent writing skills for report documentation.

Here are a few real job postings for environmental scientists from November 2012:

  • An energy company in Houston, Texas, seeks an environmental scientist to provide ecology consultation. A Master of Science (MS) or doctoral degree is required in eco sciences or marine sciences, along with three to five years of experience in petroleum industry.
  • A Hawaii engineering firm seeks an environmental scientist to help industrial clients safeguard and restore impacted natural resources. A Bachelor of Science (BS) in environmental, civil, chemical or geotechnical engineering is required, plus a minimum of three years related experience.
  • A contracted engineering firm seeks an environmental scientist/biologist to conduct analysis/fieldwork in support of a national environmental policy act. A BS or MS is required in a scientific discipline, plus two years of experience in wetland delineation and habitat assessment.

Standing Out

As an environmental scientist, you may aim to advance to positions in project leadership. A college education that includes GIS training, including specialized topics such as hazardous waste containment and disposal and air quality, may prepare you for leadership positions. You will also want to gain field and laboratory experience through field analyst or research assistant positions. University research management positions will require an advanced degree in specialized areas of environmental science.


Job duties for geoscientists may include collecting soil and mineral samples, performing laboratory tests and preparing reports for government agencies or private industry. You may also analyze aerial photographs in your research. According to the BLS, 22% of geoscientists are employed in engineering services and 19% are employed in the oil and gas industry. Based on BLS 2010 data, 30% of all professionals are employed in the state of Texas.


Many states require licensure for geoscientists. Eligibility requirements include obtaining a bachelor's degree with appropriate coursework and gaining a minimum amount of supervised experience. Many positions require engineering education and experience. Other specialized geoscientists may require an educational background in oceanography, geochemistry or geophysics.

Here are some real job listings for geoscientists from November 2012:

  • A federal nuclear waste review board seeks a senior geoscientist. A bachelor's degree in hydrogeology, geochemistry or related geosciences discipline is required. Advanced degrees are preferred. Successful candidates must be able to communicate results to board members, U.S. Congress and Secretary of Energy.
  • An environmental consulting firm seeks a senior geoscientist to provide liability solutions for clients. Candidates must have a Bachelor of Science or Master of Science in hydrogeology/geology with 15 years of professional experience in site remediation.
  • A Houston energy company seeks a development geoscientist to provide integrated seismic and geological interpretation for potential Gulf of Mexico oil reserves. A Bachelor of Science in geology or a related field is required, along with five years of professional experience.

Standing Out

Specialized academic training may provide you with a competitive edge when searching for professional opportunities. Bachelor's degree programs that provide training in petrology or mineralogy, as well as computing and scientific communication, can prepare you for the complex tasks of various positions. According to the BLS, while geoscientists should expect above-average job growth from 2010 - 2020, the best prospects may be for prospective geoscientists with an advanced degree.


Hydrologists study the water cycle, a task that includes collecting samples from bodies of water and soil, as well as using sensing equipment to identify groundwater sources. They prepare reports and develop conservation methods. According to BLS 2010 data, around half of all professional hydrologists are employed at the local, state or federal level of government.


Some states require licensure for professional hydrologists. License eligibility includes the completion of a bachelor's degree program with specific coursework and a minimum amount of supervised professional experience. Many employers prefer candidates who possess a master's degree in hydrology or a related field.

Here are some real job postings for hydrologists from November 2012:

  • A Utah engineering firm seeks mining hydrologists to provide sustainability research and support for mine closure/remediation projects. Candidates must have a Bachelor of Science or Master of Science in hydrogeology, hydrology or civil engineering, along with proven experience with mining projects.
  • A New Jersey engineering firm seeks a senior hydrologist for local development projects. A Bachelor of Science in hydrology and 10 years of local experience in hydraulics or hydrologic investigations are required. Master's degree are preferred
  • In Montana, a state conservation agency seeks a hydrologist/ water resource specialist to provide information for establishing water policies and resolving water management issues. A bachelor's degree in hydrology, civil engineering or related field is required.

Standing Out

According to ONET, 42% of surveyed hydrologists earned a master's degree. Undergraduate and graduate degree programs should include GIS training in mapping and modeling. Global climate change has increased the need for qualified hydrologists with experience in flood risk prevention and containment, as well as the development of water resources for drought stricken areas.

Environmental Protection Technician

Environmental protection technicians work under the supervision of environmental scientists, collecting samples and conducting laboratory analysis. You may be asked to summarize test results for the inclusion of larger research projects. According to the BLS, 23% of professionals are employed in local government, including positions in public health inspection, while 24% of technicians work in private consulting.


An associate's degree in a related environmental science may be sufficient for many entry-level positions. According to ONET, however, 44% of professionals earned a bachelor's degree and 20% possessed a master's degree. Health inspectors who are employed by municipal governments need to be licensed. For research positions, appropriate training in laboratory research is necessary.

Here are some real job listings for environmental protection technicians in December 2012:

  • A Georgia wastewater treatment plant seeks an operator to perform technical maintenance work involving monitoring laboratory operations and keeping records. A Georgia operator license is required, along with two years of experience. Candidates must have two years of college or technical school training in environmental science, biology or chemistry.
  • In Ohio, a landfill gas recovery facility seeks a technician to operate and maintain the facility in accordance with environmental regulations. In addition to landfill gas experience, a 2-year or 4-year degree in environmental technology or earth sciences is desired.
  • A South Carolina environmental consulting firm seeks a field technician/project manager to supervise and perform operations for landfill gas and fluids collection systems. Successful candidates will have five years of related experience or three years of experience and possess an Associate of Science degree in environmental science or the earth sciences field.

Standing Out

Many environmental protection technicians gain experience and education to advance to project management or lead scientist positions. An education that includes training in GIS and laboratory research may provide you with a competitive edge for advancement and for entry-level positions.

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