Career Information:

Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health

Quick Links:

Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health Overview

Approximately 44 percent of environmental scientists and specialists are employed by the Federal, State, and local governments. A bachelor’s degree earned in a physical or life science is required for most entry level positions. A master’s degree is desirable. The future job market for environmental scientists and specialists is very good, especially for environmental health care employees in the State and local government area.

Nature of the Work for Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health

Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health

Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the sciences to identify problems and finding answers that will reduce hazards to the environment. They look for ways to clean and preserve the environment by analyzing and observing the air, food, water and soil. The work of environmental scientists and specialists involves understanding issues involving degradation, recycling replenishment, and conservation of the environment. Monitoring waste disposal sites and preserving water supplies is another responsibility while writing assessments of changes in the environment due to construction or environmental changes.

Regulations by the Federal, State and local governments provide regulations to make sure that the air is clean to breathe, the water is safe to drink, and that there are no dangerous materials in the soil. Other regulations include limits on development or construction, especially near parts of the ecosystem that are sensitive. The environmental scientist and specialist works to ensure these regulations are enforced while others work to ensure the safety of the population by monitoring risks of disease and health hazards.

Environmental scientists and specialists can also work for private companies to ensure that they are in compliance with environmental policies and regulations. Two types of consulting firms generally work with the environmental scientist or specialist; a large engineering company that employs thousands of workers or the smaller private company that usually employs a few workers. Working for a large company will enable the environmental scientist and specialist to work on long-term projects while working with other scientifically trained individuals. Employment for a small company will usually allow the environmental scientist and specialist to become more involved with clients and business professionals.

Many environmental scientists and specialists will move into managerial positions after spending significant time doing research or learning about the rules and regulations of environmental law.

Many environmental scientists and specialists focus on environmental issues, including subfields like environmental ecology and conservation, environmental biology, environmental chemistry or fisheries science, even though they have worked and have had the training similar to other life or physical scientists.

Those environmental scientists or specialists who work in research for the Federal Government, colleges or universities will also look for funding by writing grant proposals. Consultants also look for additional funding by writing grant proposals in hopes this will ensure steady work.

Entry level environmental scientists and specialists usually work in the field, while the more experienced workers will spend more time inside office or laboratories. Occasional field trips for environmental ecologists and chemists may be necessary, and may involve working in cold and warm climates. Meeting new prospective clients may be necessary, so traveling may be required.

There can be pressure to meet deadlines along with working long hours for business clients and regulators, along with the stress of searching for funding from researchers and consultants.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health

A bachelor’s degree for most jobs in government and private companies is sufficient, although having a master’s degree is preferred. A Ph.D is only required to teach at the college level or in research. A degree in earth science for entry-level positions will be adequate although some environmental scientists or specialists will earn degrees in environmental science, biology, chemistry, or physics. Research or work experience related to environmental science may also be required.

A degree in environmental science has an emphasis on biology, chemistry and geology, while offering an interdisciplinary approach to the natural sciences. As an undergraduate, the focus is on data analysis and physical geography. This will be useful when studying pollution abatement, ecosystem protection, water resources, restoration and management.

Those students who wish to work in the environmental or regulatory fields, either in consulting firms or for the government should take coursework in hydrology, hazardous-waste management, chemistry, fluid mechanics, environmental legislation and geologic logging, which is the assembling of geologic data. Knowledge and an understanding of regulations and permit issues will also be valuable for the environmental scientist and specialist.

Computer skills are also necessary for the environmental scientist and specialist and knowledge of computer modeling, digital mapping, data analysis, remote sensing, and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) is also helpful.

Strong oral and written communication skills are necessary as the environmental scientist and specialist works as part of a team and needs to be able to write and communicate the results of their research or ideas to company managers, regulators and even the public.

Environmental scientists and specialists usually begin their careers as field analysts or research assistants in offices or laboratories. As they gain experience, they are given more difficult assignments. Promotions to project leader and program manager are possible after gaining recognition in their field.

Top 10 Most Popular Environmental Science Schools

1. University of Illinois, Urbana, Champaign (Champaign, Illinois)
2. Texas A & M University (College Station, Texas)
3. University of California, Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, California)
4. Western Washington University (Bellingham, Washington)
5. Oregon State University, Corvallis (Corvallis, Oregon)
6. University of California, Riverside (Riverside, California)
7. Texas State University (San Marcos, Texas)
8. University of Virginia (Charlottesville, Virginia)
9. University of Idaho, Moscow (Moscow, Idaho)
10. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, North Carolina)

See All Environmental Science Schools

Most Popular Online Environmental Science Schools

1. Ashford University - Online
2. Saint Leo University Online
3. University of Florida - Online School
4. University of Maryland University College
5. University of Phoenix - Online School

Employment and Job Outlook for Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health

Number of People in Profession

83,530

Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow much faster than average (increase 20% or more).

Approximately 37 percent of the environmental scientists and specialists are employed in State and local government positions, with about 21 percent in management, technical and consulting services, 15 percent holding positions in architectural, engineering, and other related services, and 7 percent employed with the Federal Government, mainly with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and with the Department of Defense.

Job prospects are extremely favorable with growth expected to be faster than average for the environmental scientist or specialist. Employment is expected to increase faster than other occupations, with most of the growth in private-sector consulting firms. Growth in the population will cause growth in employment as awareness of the problems caused by environmental degradation become evident. Demand will also result from the need to comply with environmental laws and regulations, with the emphasis on ground-water contamination and clean air.

The need to monitor the quality of the environment, the ability to interpret the impact of human action on aquatic ecosystems and developing strategies to rebuild ecosystems will also add job growth.

Consulting firms will be hiring environmental scientists and specialists to help businesses and government work with issues relating to underground tanks, land disposal areas, and other hazardous-waste management facilities. Focusing on preventive management including waste minimization, pollution prevention, and resource recovery will also add new opportunities for environmental scientists and specialists in consulting roles.

Growth in the field will also be a result of those who retire, advance to management positions, or even change careers. Job prospects within the State and local government are also good for environmental scientists and specialists, with layoffs less likely at the government level. During times of economic recession, job layoffs may occur in consulting firms, especially when there is construction slowdown.

Earnings and Salary for Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health

Median annual wages of environmental scientists and specialists are $61,010. The middle 50 percent earn between $46,000 and $81,500. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $37,120, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $107,190.

Annual Salary for Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health

On average, Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health earn $61,010 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $37,120/yr $46,000/yr $81,500/yr $107,190/yr

Hourly Wage for Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health

On average, Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health earn $29.33 per hour.

10% 25% 75% 90% $17.85 $22.12 $39.18 $51.53

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook