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Environmental Scientist Careers

An environmental scientist researches, gathers, and analyzes environmental data. The data could pertain to air, water, or soil contamination. They help organizations protect nature by developing ways to minimize environmental hazards, conducting tests, and analyzing data to implement environmental standards.

Environmental scientists are employed by government agencies, construction, and mining companies, or environmental consulting firms. A successful environmental scientist must possess excellent communication skills, critical and analytical thinking, and demonstrate attention to detail.

Environmental scientists work full-time in offices and laboratories. 40 hours a week on a Monday to Friday schedule. However, this earns them an average of $28.94 per hour.

What Does an Environmental Scientist Do

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:

  • 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. 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.

How To Become an Environmental Scientist

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.

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Average Salary
$58,036
Average Salary
Job Growth Rate
8%
Job Growth Rate
Job Openings
39,587
Job Openings

Environmental Scientist Career Paths

Top Careers Before Environmental Scientist

Top Careers After Environmental Scientist

Environmental Scientist Jobs You Might Like

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Average Salary for an Environmental Scientist

Environmental Scientists in America make an average salary of $58,036 per year or $28 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $76,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $43,000 per year.
Average Salary
$58,036
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Best Paying Cities

City
ascdesc
Average Salarydesc
Novato, CA
Salary Range69k - 99k$83k$83,173
Seattle, WA
Salary Range63k - 90k$76k$75,837
Washington, DC
Salary Range61k - 89k$74k$74,282
Portland, OR
Salary Range57k - 81k$68k$68,493
Atlanta, GA
Salary Range51k - 80k$64k$64,216
Arlington, VA
Salary Range52k - 76k$64k$63,704
$33k
$99k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyascdescCompanyascdescStart DateascdescSalaryascdesc
Environmental Scientist I or II
Environmental Scientist I or II
St. John's River Water Management District-Sa
St. John's River Water Management District-Sa
06/28/2021
06/28/2021
$37,44006/28/2021
$37,440
Environmental Scientist II
Environmental Scientist II
State of North Dakota
State of North Dakota
06/24/2021
06/24/2021
$46,35606/24/2021
$46,356
Environmental Scientist/3
Environmental Scientist/3
State of Louisiana
State of Louisiana
06/23/2021
06/23/2021
$78,58206/23/2021
$78,582
Environmental Compliance Scientist III (C4 : Protec17-P&T-Mtd)
Environmental Compliance Scientist III (C4 : Protec17-P&T-Mtd)
King County Washington
King County Washington
06/11/2021
06/11/2021
$91,06206/11/2021
$91,062
Environmental Scientist/Air Monitoring Specialist
Environmental Scientist/Air Monitoring Specialist
WSP-Parsons Brinckerhoff
WSP-Parsons Brinckerhoff
06/03/2021
06/03/2021
$51,30006/03/2021
$51,300
See More Recent Salaries

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Environmental Scientist Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming an Environmental Scientist. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

Learn How To Write an Environmental Scientist Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless Environmental Scientist resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

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Environmental Scientist Demographics

Gender

male

58.7 %

female

38.0 %

unknown

3.2 %

Ethnicity

White

84.3 %

Hispanic or Latino

6.3 %

Asian

5.0 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

52.1 %

French

13.2 %

Italian

4.7 %
See More Demographics

Environmental Scientist Education

Majors

Biology
16.7 %
Geology
11.6 %

Degrees

Bachelors

78.2 %

Masters

11.3 %

Associate

4.8 %

Top Colleges for Environmental Scientists

1. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,584
Enrollment
10,764

2. University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA • Private

In-State Tuition
$56,225
Enrollment
19,548

3. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, NC • Private

In-State Tuition
$8,987
Enrollment
18,946

4. University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley, CA • Private

In-State Tuition
$14,184
Enrollment
30,845

5. Duke University

Durham, NC • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,695
Enrollment
6,596

6. Columbia University in the City of New York

New York, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$59,430
Enrollment
8,216

7. University of California - Davis

Davis, CA • Private

In-State Tuition
$14,402
Enrollment
30,698

8. SUNY Stony Brook

Stony Brook, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$9,625
Enrollment
17,407

9. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor, MI • Private

In-State Tuition
$15,262
Enrollment
30,079

10. Stanford University

Stanford, CA • Private

In-State Tuition
$51,354
Enrollment
7,083
See More Education Info

Online Courses For Environmental Scientist That You May Like

Global Environmental Management
coursera

Learn about the best environmental technologies for a sustainable development and how they are managed in various settings around the world. This course gives you an opportunity to learn about global trends that influence our environment and the living conditions and how different management systems and approaches that are used around the world to manage the environment. This includes current environmental technologies built for the environment and technologies for sustainable soil management, g...

ISO 14001:2015 Environmental management system
udemy
4.4
(2,167)

How to implement an Environmental Management System and obtain ISO 14001:2015 certification...

Environmental Management & Ethics
coursera

Decision-makers often turn to scientists and engineers to assist them to navigate through complex environmental, health and societal challenges pervaded by systemic uncertainty, ambiguity and ethical implications. This course prepares you to meet the requests and demands of current and future decision-makers and in this course, you will analyze ethical challenges associated with environmental dilemmas and apply different decision making tools relevant to environmental management and regulation...

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Top Skills For an Environmental Scientist

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 6.7% of environmental scientists listed environmental compliance on their resume, but soft skills such as analytical skills and communication skills are important as well.

Best States For an Environmental Scientist

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as an environmental scientist. The best states for people in this position are California, Washington, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Environmental scientists make the most in California with an average salary of $78,479. Whereas in Washington and West Virginia, they would average $75,500 and $71,374, respectively. While environmental scientists would only make an average of $70,190 in Kentucky, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. New Mexico

Total Environmental Scientist Jobs:
209
Highest 10% Earn:
$99,000
Location Quotient:
1.33
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. West Virginia

Total Environmental Scientist Jobs:
118
Highest 10% Earn:
$103,000
Location Quotient:
0.97
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. North Dakota

Total Environmental Scientist Jobs:
142
Highest 10% Earn:
$86,000
Location Quotient:
1.91
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Top Environmental Scientist Employers

1. Tetra Tech
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$63,760
Environmental Scientists Hired: 
100+
2. Louisiana
3.6
Avg. Salary: 
$53,418
Environmental Scientists Hired: 
81+
3. Arcadis
4.8
Avg. Salary: 
$54,574
Environmental Scientists Hired: 
77+
4. AECOM
4.6
Avg. Salary: 
$57,819
Environmental Scientists Hired: 
71+
5. USEPA
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$62,514
Environmental Scientists Hired: 
58+
6. Science Applications International ...
4.9
Avg. Salary: 
$56,162
Environmental Scientists Hired: 
56+

What are the best companies to work for?

William R. Schubert

Adjunct Professor, Benedictine University

I always advise entry-level environmental professionals that there are two general areas of practice in environmental science: Pollution Control and Conservation. Entry-level jobs will tend to take you into one area of practice or the other. Fortunately, for current job seekers, I think the job markets in both areas will be growing over the next several years. This is due to predictions for a greater focus on energy/climate matters and more vigorous infrastructure spending.

Those interested in Pollution Control practice will find entry-level positions in both private and public sector organizations. Given the volatile recycling and energy markets, many industrial manufacturers will be hiring waste managers to make the best environmental and economic decisions about the final destination of their wastes. The USEPA and state regulators will also be watching this closely and hiring entry-level regulators. Large industrial manufacturers (e.g., GE, Caterpillar) and utilities (e.g., Exelon, PSE&G, Mid-America) tend to offer more career paths for young professionals. Private sector service providers (e.g.. Waste Management, Veolia) will be outstanding opportunities for young professionals. Environmental consultants will also hire environmental science majors to provide these types of services to the small and mid-size industries.
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Environmental Scientist Videos

Updated October 2, 2020