What Does An Environmental Scientist Do?

Explore the career requirements for environmental scientists. Get the facts about job duties, required skills, education requirements and job outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Environmental Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Environmental Scientist?

An environmental scientist assesses the environmental health and stability of a given area. This typically involves creating surveys or research projects to collect a variety of environmental samples, such as soil, water or air samples. Environmental scientists then test and analyze these samples for signs of pollution or other negative environmental indicators. Their work is presented in scientific reports that are often used to advise policymakers and develop strategies to reduce and/or correct pollution. Their findings may also be presented to other organizations, businesses or groups concerned about environmental issues and human health risks. See the table below for information about the education requirements, key skills, job outlook and expected salary for environmental scientists.

Education Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Environmental science or science-related field, such as physics, chemistry, or biology
Key Skills Performing fieldwork tests, ensuring adherence to environmental laws, writing reports, developing environmental protection plans
Job Growth (2014-2024) 11% (environmental scientists and specialists)*
Median Salary (May 2015) $67,460 (environmental scientists and specialists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Do as an Environmental Scientist?

As an environmental scientist, you assess pollution and other environmental problems in the water, air and soil. Unlike environmental biologists, you focus on the environment, not the animals that inhabit an ecosystem. You make sure that the environment is safe and offer advice to business establishments on cleaning and maintaining the planet and its atmosphere. Your job might be to propose a safer plan for a company to dispose of harmful substances by changing the way it recycles or processes plastics. You might also perform fieldwork on ecological sites to collect samples and ensure company environmental laws and standards are being followed.

What Skills Do I Need?

To obtain an entry-level position, you need to have at least a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science, Geology or a related field. Once employed, you must be able to conduct phase II site assessments that include soil sampling and groundwater tests. You also need to record and consolidate data - and to do this, you need strong report-writing skills that include the ability to file reviews, prepare data summaries and write reports for litigation and ongoing projects.

According to a January 2011 posting on career website Monster.com, skills for entry-level positions include reviewing and monitoring changes in environmental regulations, interacting with industrial clients to identify their needs and collecting relevant data to perform data analysis.

What Will I Get from a Degree Program?

To become environmental scientist, you need a strong foundation in chemistry, physics, biology and other earth sciences. A 4-year bachelor's degree program in an earth science field offers you a core foundation in liberal and environmental sciences. It can prepare you for entry-level positions where you collect samples, write scientific reports and apply ecological principles in a laboratory. For advanced research positions, you may be required to have a master's degree or higher with specialized certification in your field.

How Much Money Will I Make?

In 2015, the median salary for environmental scientists and specialists was $67,460, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). A vast majority of environmental scientists work for the government, while others work for engineering and oil companies, and some even have their own businesses.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Atmospheric scientists, conservation scientists and foresters and microbiologists are a few alternative careers, all of which require at least a bachelor's degree. Atmospheric scientists examine climates and weather patterns and study their effects on earth. Conservation scientists and foresters protect natural resources and outdoor spaces, typically through sustainable land management and other techniques. Microbiologists explore the life cycles and environments of an array of microorganisms, such as bacteria or fungi.

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