Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health.
What they do
Environmental scientists and specialists typically do the following:
- Determine data collection methods for research projects, investigations, and surveys
- Collect and compile environmental data from samples of air, soil, water, food, and other materials for scientific analysis
- Analyze samples, surveys, and other information to identify and assess threats to the environment
- Develop plans to prevent, control, or fix environmental problems, such as land or water pollution
- Provide information and guidance to government officials, businesses, and the general public on possible environmental hazards and health risks
- Prepare technical reports and presentations that explain their research and findings
Environmental scientists and specialists analyze environmental problems and develop solutions to them. For example, many environmental scientists and specialists work to reclaim lands and waters that have been contaminated by pollution. Others assess the risks that new construction projects pose to the environment and make recommendations to governments and businesses on how to minimize the environmental impact of these projects. Environmental scientists and specialists may do research and provide advice on manufacturing practices, such as advising against the use of chemicals that are known to harm the environment.
The federal government and many state and local governments have regulations to ensure that there is clean air to breathe and safe water to drink, and that there are no hazardous materials in the soil. The regulations also place limits on development, particularly near sensitive ecosystems, such as wetlands. Environmental scientists and specialists who work for governments ensure that the regulations are followed. Other environmental scientists and specialists work for consulting firms that help companies comply with regulations and policies.
Some environmental scientists and specialists focus on environmental regulations that are designed to protect people’s health, while others focus on regulations designed to minimize society’s impact on the ecosystem.
The following are examples of types of specialists:
Climate change analysts study effects on ecosystems caused by the changing climate. They may do outreach education activities and grant writing typical of scientists.
Environmental health and safety specialists study how environmental factors affect human health. They investigate potential environmental health risks. For example, they may investigate and address issues arising from soil and water contamination caused by nuclear weapons manufacturing. They also educate the public about health risks that may be present in the environment.
Environmental restoration planners assess polluted sites and determine the cost and activities necessary to clean up the area.
Industrial ecologists work with industry to increase the efficiency of their operations and thereby limit the impacts these activities have on the environment. They analyze costs and benefits of various programs, as well as their impacts on ecosystems.
Other environmental scientists and specialists perform work and receive training similar to that of other physical or life scientists, but they focus on environmental issues. For example, environmental chemists study the effects that various chemicals have on ecosystems. To illustrate, they may study how acids affect plants, animals, and people. Some areas in which they work include waste management and the remediation of contaminated soils, water, and air.
Many people with backgrounds in environmental science become postsecondary teachers or high school teachers.
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.
How to become an Environmental Scientist and/or Specialist
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 typically is 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 or waste management 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 may find it advantageous to major in a more specific natural science, such as chemistry, biology, physics, or geology, rather than earn a broader environmental science degree.
Many environmental science programs include an internship, which allows students to gain practical experience. Prospective scientists also may volunteer for or participate in internships after graduation to develop skills needed for the occupation.
Students should look for classes and internships that include work in computer modeling, data analysis, and Geographic Information Systems (GISs). Students with experience in these programs will be the best prepared to enter the job market. The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) offers several programs to help students broaden their understanding of environmental sciences.
The median annual wage for environmental scientists and specialists was $71,360 in May 2019. 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 $42,810, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $124,760.
Employment of environmental scientists and specialists is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Heightened public interest in the hazards facing the environment, as well as increasing demands placed on the environment by population growth, are projected to spur demand for environmental scientists and specialists. Many jobs will remain concentrated in state and local governments, and in industries that provide consulting services. Scientists and specialists will continue to be needed in these industries to analyze environmental problems and develop solutions that ensure communities’ health.
Similar Job Titles
Environmental Analyst, Environmental Health and Safety Specialist, Environmental Programs Specialist, Environmental Protection Specialist, Environmental Scientist, Environmental Specialist, Hazardous Substances Scientist, Registered Environmental Health Specialist (REHS), Research Environmental Scientist, Senior Environmental Scientist
Environmental Compliance Inspector, Environmental Engineer, Soil and Water Conservationist, Geoscientist, Hydrologist
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- ABSA International
- Air and Waste Management Association
- American Association for the Advancement of Science
- American Association of Petroleum Geologists
- American Chemical Society
- American Geological Institute
- American Industrial Hygiene Association
- American Society of Civil Engineers
- American Society of Safety Professionals
- American Water Resources Association
Magazines and Publications
- EM Magazine
- Environmental Science and Engineering Magazine
- National Society of Black Engineers Magazine
Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health. They develop strategies to clean up polluted areas, advise policymakers, and work with industry to reduce waste or hazards. Environmental scientists gather and analyze data to shed light on important questions, including how to prevent or handle environmental problems… then use their findings to inform the public, private industry, government officials, and others about environmental hazards. Day-to-day tasks can vary a lot among these specialists: Climate change analysts study the effects of changing climatic conditions on ecosystems. Environmental health specialists study how environmental factors affect community and individual human health. Environmental restoration planners determine how to clean up polluted sites and assess costs. And industrial ecologists work with industry to develop sustainable and efficient practices that limit adverse impacts on the environment. While environmental scientists generally work full time in an office or laboratory, some head to the field to check out environmental conditions and gather samples of air, soil, water, or food. Most entry-level positions require a bachelor’s degree in a natural science or related field, but a master’s degree is often needed for advancement. Whether teaching or practicing methods to keep our air, water, and land clean and free of health risks, the work of environmental scientists hits home.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org