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Getting Started with Environmental Sciences

Career Paths
Environmental Sciences
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Today’s “green society” has made environmental sciences a hot growth area among those with a background in geology, biology, chemistry and physics.  Organizations are paying more attention to keeping environmentally sound, which has increased the job market for those with the right skill sets.  The government is also increasing the number of people focused on environmental protection, so you can work for the government evaluating and managing things like pollution, corporate dumping and environmental toxins.  You might find yourself working for a corporation interested in minimizing its carbon footprint or with corporations, non-profits or the government whose goal is to monitor the carbon footprint, waste products or emissions of other organizations. 

Career Paths in Environmental Science

There are several career paths you can take with a postgraduate degree in environmental sciences.  These include careers in government, consulting and remediation, military, cleantech and alternative energy.  Let’s take a look at these career areas:

Federal Government          

  • EPA: Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has offices all over the country, with an emphasis in the West Coast and the South.  Currently, the EPA has five priorities:  taking action against climate change, improving air quality, enhancing chemical safety, accelerating community cleanup, protecting the waters of the US.  The EPA works with environmentalists and builds strong partnerships with tribes and states to enhance the quality of the environment.
  • NOAA: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA is a government agency that deals with oil spills in the ocean, weather forecasting, climate monitoring, coastal restoration, fisheries management and marine commerce.  It has roots dating back to the development of the Survey of the Coast in 1807.

Consulting and Remediation Firms

  • ENSR Corporation is a global environmental and energy development and services company catering to government and industry. It was founded in 1968 by atmospheric scientists James Mahoney and Norman Gaut. It has hired 1800 professionals who provide consulting, remediation, engineering and related services from 45 locations in the US and multiple locations in Europe.  It has already completed more than 100,000 projects located in a hundred different countries.
  • Clayton Environmental Services Corporation is a multidisciplinary consulting firm dealing with waste byproducts and other environmental problems.  It has divisions in climate change, environmental/occupational hygiene, and site restoration and remediation.
  • CH2M Hill is a global company located in Denver, Colorado providing consultants in engineering, construction and operations for other corporations, nonprofits and government agencies.
  • Environmental Resources Management Company is a worldwide leader in environmental services, including health and safety, risk management and social consulting services.  They are a large corporation, employing more than 3300 employees.

Military

All branches of the military hire environmental scientists to monitor environmental cleanups on bases and other military property.  You can study and manage the environmental impact of the military’s various production facilities and weaponry.

Cleantech

Cleantech refers to technologies that produce energy with minimal harm to the environment and/or reduce the use of energy.  Examples include renewable energy, green chemistry, green transportation, and lighting.

  • Cleantech Group is a large company that focuses on environmental research, consulting and networking between corporations in areas of environmental science.  It helps corporations reduce costs in the process of going “green” and works with various businesses to meet governmental regulations regarding environmental issues.  It addresses the basis of ecological problems in the workplace using new sciences, such as biomimicry and other biological programs.

Biofuels and Alternative Energy

The Alternative Energy Institute was established in Texas in 1970.  It focuses on solar energy, hydroelectric energy, wind energy, geothermal energy and biomass energy.  There are also several small companies that focus on one or more of the above-mentioned sources of energy.  Biomass energy involves using plants to create fuel and involves 15 percent of the total energy used in the world.  Its use is higher in developing countries.

Biofuels are those fuels created from biomass and can involve solid fuels, liquid fuels and gaseous fuels.  There are numerous small companies working on defining ways to efficiently create fuel.  Companies like Arizona Biodiesel make fuel from wasted restaurant oils.  Amereco Biofuels Corp makes biofuel from soy-based recycled foods.   XL Renewables and other companies make biofuels from algae. 

Typical Job Titles

Some typical job titles you will find in the federal government are: Environmental Engineer and Biofuel Engineer.    Consulting titles include Ecological Consultant or Biofuel Consultant, while in the military you can be a nonmilitary consultant or a higher ranking commissioned officer.   Cleantech and Alternative Energy employers can hire Research Analysts, Program Managers and basic Scientists with work in the areas of environmentally friendly energy sources.

Where to Find a Job

Most corporations have job opportunities listed on their websites.  The military has recruiters that can discuss with you the possibility of joining the military in the capacity of an environmental scientist.  Specialist job boards include Environmental Career Opportunities.

Is this Job for You?

If you are passionate about the environment and want a well-paid job that is all about protecting the environment or creating additional fuels for our use, you may wish to entertain the possibility of getting a job in environmental science. 

Jobs in environmental sciences usually do not involve being in an office all day.  You should be prepared to travel to sites for study or remediation.  Depending on the employer and the project, you may be working at the site of an environmental cleanup for months or you may only need to collect samples for further analysis.  Most environmental jobs involve less bench work than in academia.  However, you will need writing and communication skills, especially as a consultant, because you will be creating reports with your findings. 

Strategy may be important when it comes to working as an environmental scientist, especially if you work in a field involving solving environmental problems.  You will usually be working with a team of other environmental scientists and staff.  As a PhD or MS in the areas typically needed for environmental sciences, you may be a project manager for a large or small company with interests in the environment. 

Pay you can Expect

There are decent salaries for those in environmental sciences.  If you are a consultant or staff scientist, you will be paid in the range of $65,000 to $75,000.  There are six figure salaries available for those with the expertise and interest in being a director of a program at the EPA or NOAA. 

The environment is a hot topic these days with increasing jobs available for those interested in improving the impact of man on the environment.  It combines skills in physics, chemistry and biology in ways that help the world live in healthy circumstances.

Christine Traxler, MD practiced medicine for fifteen years in rural Minnesota before turning her love of writing into a career. As a medical writer, she has worked on projects designed to make medicine simplified for the popular audience. She has two daughters and resides in Minneapolis.
Copyright Christine Traxler, MD
Published with permission

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