The environment has always been a factor in our daily life, but it's only in the last few decades that companies and public agencies have started to put real energy into addressing environmental concerns. Demand is on the rise for professionals with knowledge and skills in this area, and environmental science degree programs can provide the sort of training necessary to find a career with an environmental focus.
Environmental scientists may take on a variety of tasks, depending on their location and the project at hand. Here are a few general duties that professionals might be expected to perform on the job:
- Gathering environmental data from samples of air, water, food, soil and other materials
- Analyzing collected specimens to determine environmental impacts
- Composing informative presentations and technical reports to document experimental findings
- Interacting with officials, executives, scientists and the public about possible hazards
- Developing ways to prevent, manage or remove environmental threats
While on-the-job training is available for certain technician or technologist positions in the field, most environmental scientists possess at least a bachelor's degree in environmental science. Degrees in other natural sciences such as biology, chemistry and geology may also suffice for some positions.
Environmental Science Programs: An Overview
More and more environmental science programs are popping up every year, and the list of required courses tends to vary from institution to institution. Here are a few of the core concepts that students pursuing environmental science degrees are likely to run across in their studies:
- Sustainable ecosystems
- Natural resources
- Fish and wildlife conservation
- Biological systems
- Urban forestry
- Environmental geology
- Field study techniques
Environmental science degrees can be earned at multiple levels, from associate to Ph.D. Students seeking positions as technicians may only need a two-year degree, while full-fledged environmental scientists typically need a bachelor's degree to be considered for entry-level employment, and a master's for more advanced positions.
Career Outlook for Environmental Science Majors
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for environmental scientists and specialists are expected to increase by 15 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022, producing about 13,200 new jobs in various specializations. Many of these positions will be in government agencies at the state, local and federal levels, but private scientific and technical consulting firms should see significant growth as well.
BLS data indicates that environmental scientists earned an median annual salary of $65,090 in 2013, with positions in the federal government paying the most of any industry at a mean of $97,610. Consulting services, where graduates were most likely to find work in 2013, paid a mean wage of $74,640 that same year.
Depending on their particular education and the experience they gain on the job, environmental science grads could qualify for related positions with different salary expectations. Some additional study in engineering and higher mathematics might lead to a career in environmental engineering, which paid a 2013 median wage of $82,220. Environmental engineering technicians carry out the plans developed by environmental engineers and scientists, and earned a median salary of $46,160 in 2013.
"Environmental Scientists and Specialists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes192041.htm
"Environmental Scientists and Specialists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/environmental-scientists-and-specialists.htm
"Environmental Engineers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes172081.htm
"Environmental Engineers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/environmental-engineers.htm
"Environmental Engineering Technicians," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/OES/current/oes173025.htm
"Environmental Engineering Technicians," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/environmental-engineering-technicians.htm