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Environmental Scientist Career Guide

What is an environmental scientist?

An environmental scientist primarily functions as a custodian of the environment, tasked with understanding the complex relationships between the natural world and human activities. They study the ecosystem, the living organisms occupying it, and the impacts caused by human behavior and decisions. They analyze and predict potential environmental problems and provide effective solutions to avoid environmental degradation and foster sustainability.

The role provides critical insights about environmental policies and practices, assisting companies in maintaining sustainable operations. Their work is geared toward conserving our environment as they endeavor to equip individuals, communities, and organizations with scientific knowledge and frameworks to mitigate environmental concerns and promote a sustainable future.

Duties and responsibilities

Environmental scientists are tasked with conducting thorough scientific research and field investigations to comprehend natural processes and human environmental effects. They analyze soil, water, air, and other materials samples to detect and measure contaminants and pollution levels. This information is analyzed and used to predict future conditions and problems.

The duties also involve drafting comprehensive reports and developing environmental management schemes. They advise policymakers, businesses, and the public on possible environmental hazards and how to avoid or mitigate them. They often participate in environmental impact assessments and audits to ensure local, state, and federal environmental regulations are being followed.

Work environment

Environmental scientists work across various settings, both indoors and outdoors. Indoors they typically work in offices and laboratories where they analyze data and prepare reports. The outdoor work involves field studies and investigations in different geographical areas, from urban to rural, and across diverse weather conditions and terrains. They also may collect samples or observe environmental conditions in these settings.

Since environmental issues are a global concern, positions can be found in various sectors, including but not limited to government, consultancy firms, conservation organizations, and academia. Cooperating with other scientists, engineers, politicians, and the public, environmental scientists often work in multidisciplinary teams when addressing environmental issues.

Typical work hours

Most environmental scientists work full-time during regular business hours (9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday). However, their work hours can often extend beyond the typical workday, especially when trawling data or preparing reports for important deadlines. Fieldwork may sometimes require them to work long and irregular hours or even stay overnight, particularly if the site is remote.

These professionals should also be prepared for emergency responses. Situations involving sudden environmental disasters or concerns might require them to work during evenings and weekends. On the other hand, those engaged in teaching or research within academic settings may have more flexibility in their work schedules, based on class times and research timelines.

How to become an environmental scientist

This career guide section outlines the steps to becoming an environmental scientist. This profession requires a solid educational background in natural sciences, relevant practical skills, and in some cases, certain certifications or licenses.

Step 1: Obtain a high school diploma

First and foremost, completing high school is critical. High school education provides a foundation in subjects such as biology, chemistry and physics, which are crucial to the field of environmental science. Additional geography, statistics, and computer science coursework can also be beneficial.

Step 2: Pursue a bachelor’s degree

You should pursue a bachelor’s degree in environmental science or a related field such as biology, chemistry, or geology. These programs typically provide a blend of classroom instruction and hands-on research opportunities, which can help you gain the understanding and skills needed for the job.

Step 3: Complete an internship or field work experience

Many potential employers seek candidates with practical experience. In order to gain this experience, consider completing an internship or fieldwork. This allows66 you to apply your classroom knowledge, provide valuable networking opportunities, and often lead to job offers.

Step 4: Consider a graduate degree

If you aspire to roles with more responsibility, or specialized research or consulting positions, a master’s degree or Ph.D. in environmental science or a related field may be beneficial. These programs allow you to delve deeper into a specific area of environmental science and often involve substantial research projects.

Step 5: Earn relevant certifications or licensures

Your future career might also benefit from certain certifications or licensures, depending on your desired specialty or employer’s requirements. Certifying agencies like the Environmental Health & Safety Institute and the American Academy of Environmental Engineers offer a variety of certifications. These often require passing exams and ongoing professional development hours.

Step 6: Start your job search

Once you’ve obtained your degree and any necessary certifications, your search for a job can begin. Start with your university’s career center or the connections you’ve made during your internships. Online job boards, professional associations, and networking events are also valuable resources in your job hunt.

Step 7: Continue professional development

After securing a job, continuing your professional development is important. Stay updated with the latest advancements and discoveries in environmental science by attending conferences, enrolling in continuing education courses and reading relevant professional journals. This ongoing education can open up new opportunities for advancement and specialization within your field.

How much do environmental scientists make?

Compensation for environmental scientists varies by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Certain factors, like specializing in a specific field of environmental science and advanced degrees can significantly influence salary.

Highest paying industries

  • Oil and Gas Extraction – $97,100
  • Federal Executive Branch – $96,730
  • Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution – $88,230
  • Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services – $77,500
  • Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services – $73,520

Highest paying states

  • Virginia – $108,020
  • California – $99,660
  • New Jersey – $96,520
  • Massachusetts – $96,130
  • Alaska – $95,240

Browse environmental scientist salary data by market

Types of environmental scientists

Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for environmental scientists. In an era of increasing focus on sustainability, these roles play a critical role in our society. This section provides a detailed view of some of the diverse careers within this field.

Conservation scientist

There are significant opportunities for environmental scientists in conservation. As a conservation scientist, you would focus on managing natural resources sustainably. This typically involves working to conserve soil, water, and other natural resources in forests, parks and other natural areas. These professionals often work in state and national parks, on privately-owned land or with non-profit organizations dedicated to conservation.

Climate change analyst

Climate change analysts are at the forefront of studying climate patterns and providing critical data to influence policy and planning. Analysts in this role typically forecast environmental changes and assess the potential socio-economic impacts of climate change. They also play a critical role in developing strategies for adaptation, seeking to mitigate the damaging effects of climate shifts.

Environmental health specialist

In this important role, you would focus on identifying, reducing and preventing environmental health risks to the public. These specialists monitor the environment and investigate sources of pollution by performing laboratory and field tests. They might work on issues like food safety, waste disposal, water pollution or control of disease vectors.

Environmental restoration planner

Restoration planners provide an essential service by developing plans to restore degraded environmental habitats. They are deeply involved in identifying polluted sites, ascertaining the level of damage, and formulating effective solutions for ecosystem recovery. These professionals often collaborate with various stakeholders, including government agencies, construction firms, and non-profit organizations.

Industrial ecologist

The field of industrial ecology combines the study of systems with environmental science. An individual in this role would work with companies to advise on pollution reduction, resource conservation, and waste management. Industrial ecologists often play a critical part in helping businesses minimize their impact on the environment and can influence corporate strategies and policies.

Top skills for environmental scientists

This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as an environmental scientist.

Scientific knowledge

Understanding the principles of biology, chemistry, and physics is key for an environmental scientist. Strong scientific knowledge lays the foundation for understanding how ecosystems work, identifying environmental threats, and crafting solutions to mitigate these issues.

Research skills

Research skills are another top trait for environmental scientists. They often undertake comprehensive studies to gather data, perform experiments, and analyze the results to get a clear picture of an environmental issue. This includes field research and laboratory work.


The ability to address and solve problems is a core skill for an environmental scientist. With their research, they often encounter a varied range of environmental issues. Consequently, they need to have excellent problem-solving skills to devise and implement effective solutions.

Communication skills

To be successful in this field, one must also have strong communication skills. Environmental scientists must effectively communicate their findings to a variety of audiences, including colleagues, policymakers, and the public. This includes both written and oral communication.

Analytical thinking

Lastly, excellent analytical skills are essential. These professionals must proficiently examine and interpret data obtained from their research and apply the findings to real-world environmental problems. This involves a conceptual understanding of the data, as well as the ability to use statistical tools and software.

Career path options

There are many different routes available for progression in this field. Often, scientists will start their careers working as a technician or research assistant following graduation. From there, with a few years of experience, you can aspire to become a project leader or manager. In this role, you’ll oversee all aspects of a specific project, from the initial concept to the final completion. This can be a complex job requiring strong organizational skills and the ability to coordinate a large team.

Alternatively, you may choose to specialize further in a specific area of environmental science such as ecology, toxicology or oceanography. Specialization brings in-depth understanding of a particular area and can lead you to exciting roles such as research scientist or consultant, providing advice and analysis to governments, corporations, or nonprofits. This dedication to a specific niche can significantly improve your professional value and increase potential earnings.

Some environmental scientists choose a career path in higher education and academia, which includes teaching prospective environmental scientists and carrying out independent research. Progression into academia often requires a PhD and a capacity for original research. Many significant environmental breakthroughs are made in academia, making it a rewarding career for those with a passion for knowledge and discovery.

If you have ambitions in the policy arena, environmental scientists often serve as policy analysts and consultants, utilizing their technical knowledge to guide and influence environmental laws and policy. In these roles, scientists work directly with government officials and policy makers, contributing their professional knowledge to shape regulations and strategies.

Career progression in environmental science can also follow a corporate track. Companies increasingly recognize the importance of environmental preservation and sustainable practices. Hence, as an environmental scientist, you may find opportunities in corporate social responsibility (CSR) roles, helping businesses minimize their environmental footprint and conform to environmental standards and regulations.

In the past decade, the field of environmental science has experienced tremendous growth and received unprecedented attention. The profession is gaining relevance due to pressing environmental issues like climate change, conservational needs, pollution control, and resource management. The increasing focus on green technology and sustainable solutions has caused a positive trend in employment opportunities for environmental scientists.

Graduates with a degree in environmental science have a diverse range of industries and companies to select from. Multi-national corporations, governmental agencies, non-profit organizations, and research institutions are all keen to bring onboard skilled professionals who can help to address environmental concerns. The trend for such professionals to collaborate with urban planners, construction firms, and policy makers is rising. This developing interdisciplinary approach broadens the job scope and enhances the career prospects for environmental scientists.

Technology plays a significant role in the modern environmental scientist’s job. The use of remote sensing devices, Geographical Information Systems (GIS), and simulation software to model and predict environmental scenarios is increasingly common. Such technologically advanced tools help in data collection, analysis, and visualization of environmental phenomena. Professionals with experience or interest in these areas may find more job opportunities.

Employment projections

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of environmental scientists and specialists is projected to grow 5 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is about the average for all occupations. High public interest in the hazards facing the environment and the increasing demands placed on the environment by population growth are expected to spur demand for environmental scientists and specialists.

Environmental scientist career tips

Understand the complete spectrum of environmental issues

It’s not enough to just familiarize yourself with a handful of issues related to the environment. Career success comes from a more comprehensive understanding. Stay in the loop on trends related to pollution, biodiversity, climate change, and sustainable practices, among others. This will help position you as an expert in your field, able to offer insights and solutions on a wide scope of environmental matters. Additionally, understanding these environmental issues’ economic, social, and political context can help you communicate and apply your knowledge more effectively.

Obtain relevant certifications and advanced degrees

Continuous learning is a key part of being an environmental scientist. Certifications and advanced degrees enhance your expertise and give you an edge over your counterparts. Consider obtaining:

  • Professional Wetland Scientist Certification
  • Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification
  • Master’s or Doctoral degrees in Environmental Science or a related field.

Build a professional network

Networking is important in advancing your environmental scientist career. It opens the door to mentorship, partnership, and job opportunities. Participating in professional associations and networks can significantly boost your career. Consider the following:

  • National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP)
  • Environmental and Water Resources Institute (EWRI)
  • American Geosciences Institute (AGI)
  • Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC)

Stay updated with technology

Environmental science and technology go hand in hand. Regularly using technology, like Geographic Information Systems (GIS), to model and analyze environmental data can significantly boost your productivity and effectiveness. Stay updated with the latest environmental science technologies and software to ensure you’re constantly improving your capabilities.

Communicate effectively

An environmental scientist needs to convey complex scientific concepts to a range of audiences, including policymakers, the public, and fellow scientists. Effective communication is essential for success in this career. Regularly work on your communication and presentation skills, whether digging deeper into writing classes, learning to create compelling visual presentations, or practicing public speaking.

Where the jobs are


  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Environmental Defense Fund
  • Sierra Club


  • California
  • Washington
  • Oregon
  • Alaska
  • Montana

job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • CareerBuilder
  • Conservation Job Board


What skills are required to become an environmental scientist?

An environmental scientist should have strong analytical skills to understand data gathered in research related to environmental conservation. Deductive reasoning skills are key for identifying any harmful environmental conditions and potential solutions. Communication skills, both written and verbal, are crucial for documenting findings and presenting them to stakeholders or the public. Additionally, teamwork and interpersonal skills are essential since environmental scientists often work in interdisciplinary teams.

What types of problems do environmental scientists solve?

Environmental scientists are hired to solve a wide variety of problems related to environmental conservation and sustainability. They work on issues including climate change mitigation, pollution control, biodiversity conservation, and natural resource management. For instance, they might develop strategies to minimize the environmental damage from industrial practices or create conservation plans for endangered species.

What does a typical day look like for an environmental scientist?

In a normal day, they might spend time in the lab analyzing data, in the field collecting samples, or at the office preparing reports. They might also meet with other scientists, policy makers, or stakeholders to discuss their findings and propose solutions. The specific activities might vary depending on the area of specialization and whether the scientist is involved in research, consulting, or advocacy.

What educational qualifications are needed to be an environmental scientist?

The minimum educational qualification for an environmental scientist is typically a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, ecology, or a related field. However, many roles may require a master’s degree or PhD, particularly those in academia or high-level research. Considering the field’s interdisciplinary nature, courses in biology, chemistry, physics, geography, and social sciences are beneficial.

What professional development opportunities are available for environmental scientists?

Continuous learning is important in the field of environmental science due to the changing nature of issues and emerging technologies. Scientists commonly attend conferences, workshops, and training programs to stay updated. Professional development can also come from earning advanced degrees or certifications from recognized environmental or scientific institutions. Additionally, publishing research findings in scientific journals can contribute to an environmental scientist’s reputation and career progression.

What kind of industries hire environmental scientists?

Environmental scientists are employed in a wide range of industries, including government agencies, non-profit organizations, consulting firms, advocacy groups, and businesses in sectors like energy, manufacturing, and transportation. They can also work at educational or research institutions. Any industry or organization that needs to assess and manage its environmental impact can hire an environmental scientist.

What are some areas of specialization within environmental science?

Environmental science is a vast field with many areas of specialization which might include environmental chemistry, conservation biology, ecotoxicology, environmental engineering, and environmental policy and management. Each of these areas has its unique focus, for example, environmental chemistry focuses on the chemical alterations in the environment, whereas conservation biology is about preserving biodiversity.

How do environmental scientists contribute to society?

Environmental scientists contribute to society in numerous ways. They help to understand and solve crucial environmental issues such as climate change, air and water pollution, and biodiversity loss. Their research provides the scientific basis for environmental policies and regulations, protecting public health and ecosystems. They also educate the public and decision makers about environmental challenges and sustainable practices.

Are there any specific software or tools that environmental scientists need to be familiar with?

Environmental scientists frequently use specialized software for data analysis and modelling. This might include geographic information systems (GIS) for studying environmental patterns and changes, statistical software for analyzing data, and simulation software for creating models of environmental processes and scenarios. Knowing how to use laboratory equipment and field devices for sample collection and testing is also often required.

How can one stand out and advance in the field of environmental science?

To stand out in environmental science, one could pursue advanced degrees or earn specialized certifications. Involvement in impactful research, presenting at scientific conferences, and publishing in reputable journals can also enhance professional visibility. Developing a solid network within the scientific community, staying updated with the latest developments in the field, and demonstrating the ability to apply scientific knowledge in practical, problem-solving contexts are also important for advancement.