Environmental scientists and specialists held about 90,000 jobs in 2012. Most environmental scientists and specialists work for federal, state, or local governments or private consulting firms that may work with government or private industry.
The industries that employed the most environmental scientists and specialists in 2012 were as follows:
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||22%|
|Management, scientific, and technical consulting services||21|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||14|
|Federal government, excluding postal service||7|
Environmental scientists and specialists work in offices and laboratories. Some may spend time in the field gathering data and monitoring environmental conditions firsthand, but this work is much more likely to be done by environmental science and protection technicians. Fieldwork can be physically demanding, and environmental scientists and specialists may work in all types of weather. Environmental scientists and specialists may have to travel to meet with clients or present research at conferences.
Most consulting firms fall into one of two categories: large multidisciplinary engineering companies that employ thousands of workers, or small specialty firms that employ only a few workers. Larger firms are more likely to engage in large-scale, long-term projects in which environmental scientists work with scientists and engineers in other disciplines. In smaller specialty firms, environmental scientists work directly with small businesses and clients in government and the private sector.
Most environmental scientists and specialists work full time. They may have to work long or irregular hours when working in the field.
For most jobs, environmental scientists and specialists need at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science.
For most entry-level jobs, environmental scientists and specialists must have a bachelor’s degree in environmental science or a science-related field, such as biology, chemistry, physics, geosciences, or engineering. However, a master’s degree may be needed for advancement. Environmental scientists and specialists who have a doctoral degree make up a small percentage of the occupation, and this level of training is typically needed only for the relatively few postsecondary teaching and basic research positions.
A bachelor’s degree in environmental science offers a broad approach to the natural sciences. Students typically take courses in biology, chemistry, geology, and physics. Students often take specialized courses in hydrology, waste management, and fluid mechanics as part of their degree as well. Classes in environmental policy and regulation are also beneficial. Students who want to reach the Ph.D. level and have a career in academia or as an environmental scientist doing basic research may find it advantageous to major in a more specific natural science such as chemistry, biology, physics, or geology, rather than the broader environmental science degrees.
Students should look for opportunities, such as classes and internships, that allow for work with computer modeling, data analysis, and geographic information systems. Students with experience in these programs will be the best prepared to enter the job market.
Other environmental scientists and specialists go on to work as researchers or faculty at colleges and universities.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Some environmental scientists and specialists begin their careers as scientists in related occupations, such as hydrology or engineering, and then move into the more interdisciplinary field of environmental science.
Environmental scientists and specialists often begin their careers as field analysts, research assistants, or technicians in laboratories and offices. As they gain experience, they earn more responsibilities and autonomy and may supervise the work of technicians or other scientists. Eventually, they may be promoted to project leader, program manager, or other management or research position.
Environmental scientists and specialists typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.
If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as an environmental scientist and specialist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Environmental scientists and specialists should also possess the following specific qualities:
Analytical skills. Environmental scientists and specialists base their conclusions on careful analysis of scientific data. They must consider all possible methods and solutions in their analyses.
Communication skills. Environmental scientists and specialists may need to present and explain their findings and write technical reports.
Interpersonal skills. Environmental scientists and specialists typically work on teams with scientists, engineers, and technicians. Team members must be able to work together effectively to achieve their goals.
Problem-solving skills. Environmental scientists and specialists try to find the best possible solution to problems that affect the environment and people’s health.
Self-discipline. Environmental scientists and specialists may spend a lot of time working alone. They need to be able to stay motivated and get their work done without supervision.
The median annual wage for environmental scientists and specialists was $63,570 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $38,570, and the top 10 percent earned more than $109,970.
|Federal government, excluding postal service||$95,460|
|Management, scientific, and technical consulting services||64,940|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||60,280|
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||56,640|
Most environmental scientists and specialists work full time. They may have to work long or irregular hours if they work in the field.
Employment of environmental scientists and specialists is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. Heightened public interest in the hazards facing the environment, as well as the increasing demands placed on the environment by population growth, is projected to spur demand for environmental scientists and specialists.
Most employment growth for environmental scientists and specialists is projected to be in private consulting firms that help clients monitor and manage environmental concerns and comply with regulations. However, most jobs will remain concentrated in the various levels of government and closely related industries, such as publicly funded universities, hospitals, and national research facilities.
More businesses are expected to consult with environmental scientists and specialists in the future to help them minimize the impact their operations have on the environment. For example, environmental consultants help businesses to develop practices that minimize waste, prevent pollution, and conserve resources. Other environmental scientists and specialists are expected to be needed to help planners develop and construct buildings, utilities, and transportation systems that protect natural resources and limit damage to the land.
Environmental scientists and specialists should have good job opportunities. In addition to growth, many job openings will be created by scientists who retire, advance to management positions, or change careers.