Do you have a passion for knowing and working with the environment? Are you up for the challenge of resolving some of the world’s toughest environmental issues?
Do you want to contribute to a lasting change where it really matters? Earning an Environmental Science degree might just be the right start to your journey!
As a highly interdisciplinary area of study, Environmental Science covers the numerous principles that govern the Earth’s physical, chemical, and biological processes.
Environmental Science looks at how these various principles and processes relate to man, and aside from gaining a deeper understanding of the Earth, one of its primary aims is to seek solutions to environmental problems that arise from human activities.
Environmental Science integrates the myriad disciplines under Geology, Ecology, Biology, Chemistry, and the other physical sciences. Likewise, this program takes on the political, cultural, and social aspects of human activities that affect the planet and looks at their impact.
In sum, Environmental Science students understand the intricate relationship between humanity and the environment. When you become a professional in this discipline, you will either be a researcher or a scientist. Some opt to pursue careers in law, government, or education.
Why You Should Pursue a Degree in Environmental Science
A career in environmental science is, at the very least, dynamic and exciting. It is well-suited for those who love to explore and those who seek to know the Earth and its underlying processes.
Environmental science is also a high-impact discipline. Findings gained from research not only add to our collective body of knowledge about our planet, but these also often have a bearing on public policy and social action.
Environmental science is fulfilling. It requires mental rigor, as Environmental Scientists are expected to be inquisitive and keep asking the right questions. A high aptitude in Mathematics and Science is also required.
Professionals must have a good command of scientific principles and be adept at working with critical scientific data to come up with a research problem, design and carry out the proper research, and interpret results to understand environmental issues and come up with solutions.
Although roles vary, some environmental scientists split their time between laboratory and fieldwork. Others roles require spending a significant of time indoors—writing policies, teaching students, or performing consulting work for various companies and their projects.
Why Environmental Science Is So Important
Simply put, our environment is the ultimate foundation of our civilization. It is the context to which everything else is tied.
Our food, our drinking water, the air we breathe, and the physical world that surrounds us are life’s essentials that we can’t do without. Importantly, anything that happens to it affects us directly as well.
Some of the more common environmental problems we face today include:
- Public Health
- Waste Disposal and Pollution
- Water Quality and Water Availability
- Ecosystem Degradation
- Extinction of Plant and Animal Species
- Soil Degradation and Food Security
- Population Pressures
- Climate Change
These are just some of the numerous environmental issues that we currently face. In turn, these are reflected globally and in more localized scales, depending on where we live.
Let’s take a look at some of these issues to better understand them.
Deforestation. A huge amount of past and present environmental change involves some degree of deforestation. As we settled more and more of the Earth over the centuries, we cleared forestland to use the wood from the trees and many other forest products in order to make room for farmland to grow our food.
Various plant and animal species, in turn, face habitat loss and eventual extinction. According to data from National Geographic, around 500,000 square miles of forest have been cleared since 1990.
These changes to the land are permanent. Forest makes way to agriculture and our cities and settlements, and it takes centuries for forests to return to a state that is as close as possible to before they were cleared.
Pollution. All our activities have one form or another of a byproduct. Whether during the manufacturing stage, to transport, right up to consumption and disposal, all these contribute to pollution of the land, the air, and our rivers and seas.
Emissions from our factories, vehicles, and power plants contribute to air pollution. Various human activities produce chemical pollutants that make their way into our rivers, seas, and our sources of drinking water.
Our massive consumption habits as a society generate food waste and massive amounts of trash—a lot of these plastics—that end up in our environment and even increasingly inside our bodies as microplastic pollution.
And trash doesn’t go away; depending on the material, some trash can take centuries, even thousands of years, to degrade.
Soil Degradation and Food Security. The current way we grow our crops that enabled us to sustain our civilization has numerous negative impacts. Conventional agricultural practices require large amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, which largely come from petroleum products.
These chemical pesticides and fertilizers end up in the environment and have long-term impacts on human health and on various ecosystems. Excessive pesticide use leads to pest resistance, requiring more and stronger pesticides.
The current way we grow our food also destroys the soil’s natural balance and robs it of its fertility, leading to an overall loss of productivity, relying instead on more and more chemical fertilizers to keep up with demand.
The choice of crops we grow also impacts nutrition, as there is a tendency to select breeds of wheat, rice, or other crops more for yield and production and less on overall nutritive value per unit.
These are just some of the not-too-visible challenges that future generations will have to face; to rethink the way we grow and consume our food.
Water Quality and Water Availability. Our various activities over the centuries have led to a gradual loss of drinking water sources in the face of growing populations. We tend to extract too much water from our aquifers leading many of them to dry up.
Deforestation also leads to the loss of drinking water sources since forests have a large role to play in regulating and maintaining springs and rivers. Pollution has also wreaked havoc as more and more water sources become unsafe for consumption.
Climate Change. Going by current science, a link is being established and solidified between the various gases (known as Greenhouse Gases) that are byproducts of our various activities—most prominently Carbon Dioxide—and the many global changes that have been observed over the years.
The rise of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is leading to a general upsetting of the many processes that govern the global weather and climate, as these gases can trap more heat from the sun in the atmosphere.
This temperature rise is seen to lead to a rise in global mean sea levels as the polar ice caps become reduced and melt. It also has an observed effect on the weather—leading to stronger hurricanes, for example—and the climate, as the seasons become less regular and predictable, droughts occur longer and more often, and rainy seasons become more intense and destructive.
What You Can Do with a Degree in Environmental Science
According to the United States Department of Labor, Environmental Science careers have a projected growth of 5% between 2021 and 2031 (as fast as average). This is one of today’s fastest-growing professions because of the steady need for experts in this discipline.
The jobs that require education or training in Environmental Science may or may not be common. Here is a rundown on some Environmental Science jobs.
- Coral Reef Sanctuary Manager
- Environmental Lawyer
- Environmental Science Professor
- Laboratory Technician
- Solar Panel Engineer
- Wastewater Technician
- Agricultural Engineer
- Antarctic Researcher
- Park Ranger
Typically, when you graduate from an Environmental Science program, your career tracks are grouped into five sets:
- Environmental Science
- Environmental Policy and Planning
- Agriculture Forestry
- Public Health
- Sustainability and Green Technology
If you have a keen interest in any of these five topics, you’re a perfect candidate for a degree in this discipline. You can explore the specializations that suit your skills best and match your interests. You can specialize in Geography, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science, Marine Science, Social Science, and many more.
Environmental Science Degrees: What They Cover
Environmental science is an interdisciplinary subject. What’s amazing about this program is that the sky is your limit! You may spend your time inside a laboratory doing tests, analyzing data, and conducting research to find solutions to pressing environmental concerns.
Another important aspect of this course is fieldwork. Students and professionals are likely to hit the most interesting places to do their work.
They would often find themselves taking voluntary or required trips to different parts of the world to observe and gather data on climate, habitats, and societies. That said, you need to be well-versed in disciplines beyond the sciences, such as policy-making, to do your job.
You also need to be well-versed in disciplines beyond the sciences, particularly writing and communication, and public policy. A key aspect of environmental science is taking your findings and translating these into action and lasting social impact.
Hence, you need to be able to communicate information in a manner that the public can easily relate to, teach future generations the right way to move forward, and convince public officials of the need to put a premium on the environment by enacting necessary laws and policies.
Environmental Science: Your Career Path
Environmental Science, as a whole, encompasses information and ideas from different scientific disciplines. It makes sense that so many scientific careers are connected to Environmental Science.
The top careers are:
The working conditions, job duties, and concentration in this discipline widely vary. You can be a part of a one-on-one team that conducts an in-depth analysis of bodies of water, or you can work as a member of a big multidisciplinary team that studies different environmental samples.
Responsibilities of an environmental scientist include:
- Supporting and informing the government, businesses, and the public on environmental hazards and health risks
- Analyzing samples of water, soil, food, air, and other materials to record environmental data.
- Choosing the best method of data collection for research projects
- Assessing environmental threats via scientific analysis
- Developing methods to limit, prevent, or fix problems in the environment like water or land pollution
- Presenting technical reports on research results and thoroughly explaining these findings.
To become an environmental scientist, a postgraduate degree in environmental scient or any science-related discipline is required. You need to have a broad understanding of the wide range of data and scientific analysis methods.
You should also have the capacity to showcase findings in technical reports, and you should be able to communicate these findings simply and understandably.
An environmental engineer does not only focus on the construction of renewable energy facilities and eco-friendly buildings. With this discipline, you are responsible for all the other ways sites and buildings can impact the environment.
This includes dealing with wastewater, tackling contamination, or coming up with regulations to keep away from untoward accidents during construction projects. Responsibilities of an environmental engineer include:
- Researching how construction projects impact the environment
- Designing projects that play a part in environmental protection
- Evaluating the importance of environmental hazards and advising as to proper containment and treatment of such hazards
- Inspecting private and government facilities and properties to guarantee that these places comply with the proper environmental standards.
- Advising businesses and the government on how to manage and clean contaminated areas.
You need to have a degree in engineering to become an environmental engineer. While most universities in the US offer environmental engineering degrees, you can still join this discipline regardless of the engineering degree. As an environmental engineer, you should have impeccable thought and problem-solving.
To further boost your career, it’s best that you also have good communication skills, strong data analysis talent, and the ability to grasp technical information efficiently and fully.
The world of environmental law is very complex and broad. Today, there is a very high demand for environmental lawyers, explaining why more students are contemplating enrolling in this discipline.
When you become an environmental lawyer, you need to have a very technical understanding and grasp of all the environmental issues, coupled with the best skills needed to practice law.
This job allows you to change attitudes and policies on environmental concerns instead of the usual research for scientific solutions to deal with problems in the environment. Typical responsibilities of an environmental lawyer include the following:
- Convincing juries and judges of legal culpability via thoroughly constructed arguments that are convincingly evidenced.
- Interpreting and analyzing data from literate reviews, case law, or sample and research findings.
- Interpreting details through intensive interviews with scientists, usually in a court of law, enables them to provide their professional and expert opinions, inform, and testify.
- Determining if there is enough proof to continue with the prosecution.
To pursue a career in environmental law, you have to become a lawyer first and pass the bar exam. Public speaking skills, analytical thinking skills, careful judgment, a very sharp memory, strong scientific understanding of the field—these are just some of the critical skills you need to possess to become successful in environmental law.
Zoology is one branch of science that environmental science influences and are influenced by. However, this area of discipline is very specialized. Zoologists study animal habitats, and the distinct way animals interact with their environment.
All these study specifics are closely relevant to the study of environmental science. Also, Zoology appeals to scientists with its strong emphasis on conservation, protection, and research. The responsibilities of a zoologist include the following:
- Developing experimental studies with animals
- Maximizing the use of modeling software and geographic information systems to study animal behavior.
- Collecting data and specimens for scientific research
- Studying the impact of human activities on habitats and wildlife
- Designing and developing conservation plans and endorsing feasible courses of action on management issues and wildlife conservation to major stakeholders
You need any Biology-related subjects to obtain a degree in Zoology. These include Wildlife Biology or Zoology or a general degree but with electives in these areas that foster familiarity with anatomy, ecology, and cellular biology. Other important skills to become a successful zoologist include strong IT skills, keen attention to detail, and critical thinking.
A hydrologist studies and analyzes how the environment impacts water supply. Groundwater hydrologists are those who study the water below the surface of the Earth, while surface water hydrologists study above groundwater like snow packs, lakes, and streams.
The common responsibilities shared by both are:
- Measuring the stream flow, volume, pollution, and pH levels of water samples and bodies of water,
- Evaluating water-related projects like irrigation systems, hydro-electric plants, or wastewater facilities,
- Analyzing details on how erosion, drought, or pollution impact the environment,
- Utilizing modern computer modeling software to foresee floods, water supply, and pollution.
- Researching feasible methods that lessen the impact of human-made and natural changes to bodies of water that cause pollution, erosion, or sedimentation
Only a few colleges and universities offer a bachelor’s degree in hydrology. However, most degrees in Geoscience or Earth Science still provide the opportunity to focus on Hydrology. Environmental law, economics, and government policies. You should also have amazing communication, analytical, and critical skills to succeed in this discipline.
An environmental scientist and a conservation scientist are similar. Even then, despite having similar education, their roles vary a lot. While environmental scientists focus more on the extensive study of water, air, and soil, conservation scientists are more concerned with proper land use and the results of consuming land-related natural resources like wood.
Typical responsibilities of a conservation scientist include:
- Supporting landowners and the government in choosing the most prudent and ecological land use.
- Creating plans for disease prevention, fertilizer use, and harmful insect invasions
- Helping manage forests, natural areas, parks, and even private lands
- Monitoring conservation and forestry activities, making sure that they comply with government regulations
- Making and implementing plans to manage resources and lands
An environmental degree related to this area or a bachelor’s in forestry is usually required to become a conservation scientist.
These degrees will help you learn the right skills and understand the most important theories in preparation for your role. Speaking skills, decision-making skills, physical stamina, and management skills are also important to a conservation scientist.
In environmental science, teaching plays a very crucial role. An environmental science teacher ensures that future generations will understand the significance of the environment and how important humans play in guaranteeing the conservation and preservation of mother nature.
Usually, the older the students, the better the chances of specializing in topics related to environmental science. While secondary school teachers are expected to focus on physics, chemistry, or biology, university lecturers have better opportunities to specialize in teaching environmental science.
Responsibilities of an environmental science teacher include:
- Teaching and planning lessons
- Supervising students outside the class (trips)
- Assessing each student to see what their strength and weaknesses are
- Adapting lessons to any possible changes in class ability, size, or attitude
- Motivating students to boost their capacities and interests
To become an environmental science teacher, you need a degree for this, and you should have an interest in education. You must have confidence in public speaking, solid people skills, and a lot of patience. It’s also best to have strong scientific knowledge and sharp minds to explain even the most complex ideas.
Starting your Career in Environmental Science
Most careers for environmental science majors require a postsecondary degree. Although the associate and bachelor’s degree programs will teach you the right skills and training, these are only suitable for entry-level employment jobs like environmental specialists and environmental scientists.
A master’s or doctoral degree prepares you for key positions requiring specialized expertise, knowledge, and the right management skills. Other careers, like postsecondary teachers in environmental engineering, will need a doctoral degree.
Below is a rundown of the environmental science programs to help you find the relevant information for potential careers for each degree level.
Associate Degree in Environmental Science. You only need two years to complete this 60-credit associate degree. Many colleges and universities offer this program on-campus, online, or a combination of both.
Although this program has no room for specialization, this still teaches you the fundamentals of environmental science. You also get to take other classes like American environmental history and principles of biology. Additional courses include environmental ethics class or environmental science laboratory.
As a graduate of this program, you can become an Environmental Science and Protection Assistant or a Geological and Petroleum Technician.
Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science. If you’re a full-time student, you can complete this bachelor’s degree in four years. This 120-credit program is offered online, on-campus, or hybrid. This program has classes in geology, ecological principles and field methods, environmental ethics, and physics principles.
Natural resources and conservation or data analytics in science are just some possible concentrations. Once you graduate from the program, you can find entry-level jobs either in scientific research organizations or engineering firms. You may also pursue a graduate program in environmental science.
Some of the most in-demand jobs for degree holders in environmental science include petroleum engineers and hydrologists.
Master’s Degree in Environmental Science. This is a 30-50 credit program that you can complete in 18-24 months. To apply, you need to have a bachelor’s degree in environmental science or any course related to this field.
The master’s degree in environmental science covers advanced materials in specialized areas in environmental science. Areas of concentration include environmental sciences and policies, energy policy and climate, environmental management, and geographic information systems.
This program aims to prepare you for jobs with higher and more complicated responsibilities, including management positions. What’s great about joining this program is that employers are usually willing to pay for their employees’ master’s degrees in most cases.
As a holder of a master’s in environmental science, you can either be an environmental health and safety manager or a natural sciences manager.
The environmental health and safety manager’s key role is to ensure that laboratories meet the right safety regulations and protocols. As a safety manager, you lead inspections and conduct regular training for your organization’s employees. Some safety managers work directly for a company, while others only serve as contract workers.
A natural sciences manager, on the other hand, is responsible for checking the overall performance of other environmental scientists. These managers help coordinate schedules, direct research projects, and guarantee the best resources and allocation for projects.
Keep in mind that as a natural science manager, you will be dealing with scientists and top executives. Thus, you should be comfortable to be brushing your elbows with these people.
Doctoral Degree in Environmental Science. The doctoral degree in environmental science differs in length. Since this program involves completing an original research project, writing a dissertation, and defending this research before a faculty panel, some students can take up to eight years to complete the program.
The program allows for the highest level of specialization and has one of the toughest coursework ever. Common classes include ecosystem restoration, waste management and reuse, contaminant transport, and soil and groundwater remediation.
If you have plans to secure a career in management, research, or the academe, this degree program is most suitable for you. With a doctorate program in environmental science, you can either be a biochemist, a postsecondary teacher, or a senior research assistant.
A biochemist’s primary role is to study the biological and chemical processes of living organisms like cell development and disease. As a biochemist, you will typically work inside a lab or in the office while doing research. You can either work as a part of a team to share research, coordinate schedules, or maintain shared equipment.
As for post-secondary teachers, you can teach college and university students. You will act as an advisor for research projects in climate change, environmental protection, or hydrology. You can also create and publish your research on top of your teaching career.
A senior research scientist usually works in an office setting or a laboratory. You lead research teams in biology and geology and can even mentor and train junior researchers.
Skills Gained with a Degree in Environmental Science
Throughout your coursework in environmental science, you will develop core skills in chemistry and general biology. You study ecological systems about sustainable concepts and energy cycles. You will also learn how to conduct laboratory experiments and field research using the best practices in the industry.
Once you forward to the graduate level, more skills are gained, specifically in program development, leadership, and advanced research methodologies. Other skills you gain include:
- Creative Leadership
- Environmental Ethics
- Environmental Analysis
- Integrative Communication
- Research Application
Professional Organizations and Societies Environmental Scientists Have
- The American Geosciences Institute (AGI). This is the premier professional association for geoscientists. It has a data hub filled with relevant information about careers and educational programs related to the discipline. The organization also provides professional development. AGI is also the publisher of EARTH magazine.
- The National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP). This is a multidisciplinary association for all the different types of environmental professionals. They organize networking opportunities like regional meetings and events or annual conferences. At the time, they also provide webinars and even host a career center.