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Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health. They may clean up polluted areas, advise policymakers, or work with industry to reduce waste.Duties
Environmental scientists and specialists typically do the following:
Environmental scientists and specialists analyze environmental problems and develop solutions. 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, safe water to drink, and 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 specialists study how environmental factors impact 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 potential health risks 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. Environmental chemists are an example.
Environmental chemists study the effects that various chemicals have on ecosystems. For example, they look at 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.
For most jobs, environmental scientists and specialists need at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science.Education
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 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 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 a broader environmental science degree.
Students should look for classes and internships that include work in computer modeling, data analysis, and geographic information systems. Students with experience in these programs will be the best prepared to enter the job market. The University Consortium of Atmospheric Research (UCAR) offers several programs to help students broaden their understanding of environmental sciences.Important 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 to audiences of varying backgrounds and to 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.Advancement
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.
Other environmental scientists and specialists go on to work as researchers or faculty at colleges and universities.Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Environmental scientists and specialists can become Certified Hazardous Materials Managers through the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management. This certification, which must be renewed every 5 years, shows that an environmental scientist or specialist is staying current with developments relevant to this occupation’s work.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.
Average Length of Employment
Top Careers Before Associate Environmental Scientist
Top Careers After Associate Environmental Scientist
Hispanic or Latino8.7%
Black or African American1.2%
Associate Environmental Scientist
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Vermont Law School8.3%
Old Dominion University8.3%
San Diego State University6.3%
University of Kansas6.3%
Gateway Community College6.3%
George Mason University6.3%
Western Washington University4.2%
Illinois State University4.2%
Albertus Magnus College4.2%
Texas Tech University4.2%
Colorado State University4.2%
Lincoln Land Community College4.2%
University of Alabama4.2%
Tarleton State University4.2%
Indiana State University4.2%
William Paterson University of New Jersey4.2%
University of Illinois at Springfield4.2%
Associate Environmental Scientist
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|Job Title||Company||Location||Start Date||Salary|
|Associate, Markit Environmental Registry||Markit North America, Inc.||New York, NY||Oct 01, 2010||$100,000|
|Environmental Associate II||Michael Baker International, Inc.||Linthicum, MD||Mar 27, 2016||$84,427|
|Associate Environmental Scientist||Environ International Corporation||Novato, CA||Dec 23, 2011||$77,938|
|Senior Associate, Environmental Scientist||Environ International Corporation||Los Angeles, CA||Jul 21, 2014||$77,000|
|Senior Associate, Environmental Scientist||Environ International Corporation||Princeton, NJ||Dec 07, 2014||$76,600|
|Senior Associate, Environmental Scientist||Environ International Corporation||Novato, CA||Sep 29, 2012||$75,000|
|Environmental Associate II||Michael Baker, Jr., Inc.||Linthicum, MD||Mar 27, 2013||$72,633|
|Associate Environmental Scientist||Terry A. Hayes Associates Inc.||Culver City, CA||Sep 12, 2014||$72,467|
|Senior Associate, Environmental Scientist||Environ International Corporation||Emeryville, CA||Sep 08, 2013||$72,000|
|Associate Environmental Scientist||Environ International Corporation||Novato, CA||Dec 23, 2011||$71,300|
|Associate II-Environmental Scientist||Resource Systems Group, Inc.||White River Junction, VT||Apr 25, 2011||$60,000|
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