SOC: 19-2041 OOH: U100
|Environmental Scientists and Specialists
|Total Jobs in 2016||89,500|
|Expected Growth||11% (Faster than average)|
|New Jobs To Be Added
from 2016 to 2026
|Median Pay||$55,000 to $74,999|
Employment of environmental scientists and specialists is projected to grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.
Heightened public interest in the hazards facing the environment, as well as increasing demands placed on the environment by population growth, are projected to spur demand for environmental scientists and specialists. Many jobs will remain concentrated in state and local governments, and in industries that provide consulting services. Scientists and specialists will continue to be needed in these industries to analyze environmental problems and develop solutions that ensure communities’ health.
Businesses are expected to continue to consult with environmental scientists and specialists to help them minimize the impact their operations have on the environment. For example, environmental consultants help businesses to develop practices that minimize waste, prevent pollution, and conserve resources. Other environmental scientists and specialists are expected to be needed to help planners develop and construct buildings, utilities, and transportation systems that protect natural resources and limit damage to the land.
Environmental scientists and specialists should have good job opportunities. In addition to growth, many job openings will be created by scientists who retire, advance to management positions, or change careers.
Candidates may improve their employment prospects by gaining hands-on experience through an internship.
The median annual wage for environmental scientists and specialists was $68,910 in May 2016. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,220, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $120,320.
In May 2016, the median annual wages for environmental scientists and specialists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Federal government, excluding postal service||$100,700|
|Management, scientific, and technical consulting services||68,150|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||67,540|
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||62,110|
Most environmental scientists and specialists work full time. They may have to work more than 40 hours a week if they work in the field.
Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health. They may clean up polluted areas, advise policymakers, or work with industry to reduce waste.
Environmental scientists and specialists typically do the following:
Environmental scientists and specialists analyze environmental problems and develop solutions to them. For example, many environmental scientists and specialists work to reclaim lands and waters that have been contaminated by pollution. Others assess the risks that new construction projects pose to the environment and make recommendations to governments and businesses on how to minimize the environmental impact of these projects. Environmental scientists and specialists may do research and provide advice on manufacturing practices, such as advising against the use of chemicals that are known to harm the environment.
The federal government and many state and local governments have regulations to ensure that there is clean air to breathe and safe water to drink, and that there are no hazardous materials in the soil. The regulations also place limits on development, particularly near sensitive ecosystems, such as wetlands. Environmental scientists and specialists who work for governments ensure that the regulations are followed. Other environmental scientists and specialists work for consulting firms that help companies comply with regulations and policies.
Some environmental scientists and specialists focus on environmental regulations that are designed to protect people’s health, while others focus on regulations designed to minimize society’s impact on the ecosystem. The following are examples of types of specialists:
Climate change analysts study effects on ecosystems caused by the changing climate. They may do outreach education activities and grant writing typical of scientists.
Environmental health and safety specialists study how environmental factors affect human health. They investigate potential environmental health risks. For example, they may investigate and address issues arising from soil and water contamination caused by nuclear weapons manufacturing. They also educate the public about health risks that may be present in the environment.
Environmental restoration planners assess polluted sites and determine the cost and activities necessary to clean up the area.
Industrial ecologists work with industry to increase the efficiency of their operations and thereby limit the impacts these activities have on the environment. They analyze costs and benefits of various programs, as well as their impacts on ecosystems.
Other environmental scientists and specialists perform work and receive training similar to that of other physical or life scientists, but they focus on environmental issues. For example, environmental chemists study the effects that various chemicals have on ecosystems. To illustrate, they may study how acids affect plants, animals, and people. Some areas in which they work include waste management and the remediation of contaminated soils, water, and air.
Environmental scientists and specialists held about 89,500 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of environmental scientists and specialists were as follows:
|Management, scientific, and technical consulting services||23%|
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||23|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||14|
|Federal government, excluding postal service||6|
Environmental scientists and specialists work in offices and laboratories. Some may spend time in the field gathering data and monitoring environmental conditions firsthand, but this work is much more likely to be done by environmental science and protection technicians. Fieldwork can be physically demanding, and environmental scientists and specialists may work in all types of weather. Environmental scientists and specialists may have to travel to meet with clients or present research at conferences.
Most environmental scientists and specialists work full time. They may have to work more than 40 hours a week when working in the field.
For most jobs, environmental scientists and specialists need at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science.
For most entry-level jobs, environmental scientists and specialists must have a bachelor’s degree in environmental science or a science-related field, such as biology, chemistry, physics, geosciences, or engineering. However, a master’s degree may be needed for advancement. Environmental scientists and specialists who have a doctoral degree make up a small percentage of the occupation, and this level of training typically is needed only for the relatively few postsecondary teaching and basic research positions.
A bachelor’s degree in environmental science offers a broad approach to the natural sciences. Students typically take courses in biology, chemistry, geology, and physics. Students often take specialized courses in hydrology or waste management as part of their degree as well. Classes in environmental policy and regulation are also beneficial. Students who want to reach the Ph.D. level may find it advantageous to major in a more specific natural science, such as chemistry, biology, physics, or geology, rather than earn a broader environmental science degree.
Many environmental science programs include an internship, which allows students to gain practical experience. Prospective scientists also may volunteer for or participate in internships after graduation to develop skills needed for the occupation.
Students should look for classes and internships that include work in computer modeling, data analysis, and Geographic Information Systems (GISs). Students with experience in these programs will be the best prepared to enter the job market. The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) offers several programs to help students broaden their understanding of environmental sciences.
Analytical skills. Environmental scientists and specialists base their conclusions on careful analysis of scientific data. They must consider all possible methods and solutions in their analyses.
Communication skills. Environmental scientists and specialists may need to present and explain their findings to audiences of varying backgrounds and write technical reports.
Interpersonal skills. Environmental scientists and specialists typically work on teams along with scientists, engineers, and technicians. Team members must be able to work together effectively to achieve their goals.
Problem-solving skills. Environmental scientists and specialists try to find the best possible solution to problems that affect the environment and people’s health.
Self-discipline. Environmental scientists and specialists may spend a lot of time working alone. They need to stay motivated and get their work done without supervision.
As environmental scientists and specialists gain experience, they earn more responsibilities and autonomy, and may supervise the work of technicians or other scientists. Eventually, they may be promoted to project leader, program manager, or some other management or research position.
Other environmental scientists and specialists go on to work as researchers or faculty at colleges and universities. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.
Environmental scientists and specialists can become Certified Hazardous Materials Managers through the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management. This certification, which must be renewed every 5 years, shows that an environmental scientist or specialist is staying current with developments relevant to the occupation’s work. In addition, the Ecological Society of America offers several levels of certification for environmental scientists who wish to demonstrate their proficiency in ecology.
Environmental scientists and specialists often begin their careers as field analysts, research assistants, or environmental science and protection technicians in laboratories and offices.
Some environmental scientists and specialists begin their careers as scientists in related occupations, such as hydrology or engineering, and then move into the more interdisciplinary field of environmental science.
"Environmental Scientists and Specialists" SOC: 19-2041 OOH Code: U100