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How to Become an Environmental Scientist

If you have an interest in research, have excellent communication and problem-solving skills, and enjoy working outdoors, a rewarding career as an environmental scientist might be perfect for you.

Environmental scientists work in offices, laboratories, and in the field, where they conduct environmental research, analyze data, and present their findings to clients or colleagues. Environmental scientists must be critical thinkers who evaluate problems and develop possible solutions. Analytical skills and the ability to work with a team or independently are important. 

Environmental scientists typically collect samples from the environment and analyze them in an effort to solve environmental or public health issues, such as pollution, poor water, air, and/or soil quality, and deforestation. They often specialize as climate change analysts, environmental health and safety specialists, environmental restoration planners, industrial ecologists, environmental chemists, and more. Environmental science is a great career choice where you can have a positive impact on the environment.

Sample job description

Environmental scientists identify environmental issues that could be harmful to the health of the population, such as pollution, and develop solutions that help protect the environment. To become successful as an environmental scientist, you must have excellent verbal communication, listening, and writing skills, solid critical thinking skills, and exceptional analytical skills. [Your Company Name] is looking for an experienced environmental scientist to help us keep the planet safe through our company’s efforts. If you have experience collecting data and analyzing and developing solutions to the dangers that affect the ecosystem, you might be our perfect candidate.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Collect and analyze soil, air, water, and other samples from various sites and areas of concern
  • Provide scientific support for environmental risk projects
  • Perform environmental impact analyses and examine scientific data
  • Prepare and write reports and research papers based on findings
  • Present findings to policymakers, business leaders, and decision-makers 
  • Create environmental plans for construction projects

Education and experience

This position requires a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, biology, natural resource management, or a related field, preferably with coursework in chemistry, mathematics, and water/air/soil sciences. Employers often prefer candidates with CES certification and experience as a research assistant, field analyst, or lab technician.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Broad knowledge of federal, state, and local environmental regulations
  • Experience with ecological surveying and reporting
  • Knowledge of various sampling techniques and equipment
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Robust technical writing, analytical, and communications skills

Preferred qualifications

  • Master’s degree in science
  • 1+ years of experience working as an environmental science
  • Strong handling of raw data
  • Ability to think outside of the box for solutions

Typical work environment

Environmental scientists can be found in offices, laboratories, or in the field. Some environmental scientists have to travel to meet with clients or present research findings. Environmental scientists typically work 40-hours weeks, but may have to work overtime as the project demands. 

Typical hours

The typical work hours for an environmental scientist are from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday, typically in an office or laboratory setting, as well as in the field as needed. 

Available certifications

Environmental scientists typically specialize in a particular aspect of the environment, and many institutions offer certifications. Here are two of the best certifications for environmental scientists: 

  • Certified Environmental Scientist (CES). The National Registry of Environmental Professionals offers the CES credential to environmental professionals who possess an in-depth understanding of the basic principles of environmental science. Topics included are air, water, waste, brownfields, green chemistry, radiation, and more. Candidates must have a bachelor’s degree in an environmentally related discipline. Three years of work experience may be substituted for each year of an academic degree program. Certification is awarded upon passing an exam. 
  • Certified Environmental and Safety Compliance Officer (CESCO). The CESCO certification is designed to help environmental professionals gain a deep understanding of the laws and regulations that pertain to air, water, wastewater pollution, solid/hazardous wastes, and safety. The minimum requirements are two years of experience working in an environmental and/or safety-related industry. Candidates must receive a 75% or better on an online examination. Topics include environmental, health, and safety auditing, hazardous material and regulations, and environmental site assessments.

Career path

The path to becoming an environmental scientist typically starts with earning a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, biology, natural resource management, or a related field. Beyond that, obtaining certification as a Certified Environmental Scientist demonstrates that a job candidate has met standards in education, experience, and knowledge. 

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 19-2041

2020 Employment87,100
Projected Employment in 203094,400
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 8% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift7,300 increase

Due to a growing informed public and other factors, Environmental scientists will be expected to help manage, or at least minimize, a host of environmental concerns and issues. These topics include the environmental impact and emissions rising from cement production and use, growing water scarcity, human waste management, emissions from the beef industry, and the ever-increasing demands placed on the environment by population growth.