What you need to know
Environmental scientists 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 work in offices and laboratories. Some may spend time in the field gathering data and monitoring environmental conditions firsthand. Most environmental scientists and specialists work full time.
Some of the things environmental scientists might do:
- Determine data collection methods for research projects, investigations, and surveys
- Collect and compile environmental data from samples of air, soil, water, food, and other materials for scientific analysis
- Analyze samples, surveys, and other information to identify and assess threats to the environment
- Develop plans to prevent, control, or fix environmental problems, such as land or water pollution
- Provide information and guidance to government officials, businesses, and the general public on possible environmental hazards and health risks
- Prepare technical reports and presentations that explain their research and findings
- Analytical skills. Environmental scientists base their conclusions on careful analysis of scientific data. They must consider all possible methods and solutions in their analyses.
- Communication skills. Environmental scientists may need to present and explain their findings to audiences of varying backgrounds and write technical reports.
- Interpersonal skills. Environmental scientists 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 try to find the best possible solution to problems that affect the environment and people’s health.
- Self-discipline. Environmental scientists may spend a lot of time working alone. They need to stay motivated and get their work done without supervision.
The average pay for environmental scientists in the United States ranges from $42,960 to $129,450 as of May 2020.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
Employment of environmental scientists and specialists is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, much 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 expected to spur demand for environmental scientists and specialists.
Also, 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 most entry-level jobs, environmental scientists 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 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.
Discover some of the courses you will take pursuing a degree in Environmental Science.