What Does an Environmental Scientist Do

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 June 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Environmental science incorporates the study of the biological, physical and chemical processes on the Earth and the political, cultural and social processes that impact the planet. Drawing on a diverse range of disciplines, this field of science strives to understand the complex relationships between humankind and the environment. As an environmental scientist, you use your skills and knowledge to identify, control and prevent disruptions caused by human activities on the environment and its species.

In this article, we discuss what environmental scientists do, the skills required to become an environmental scientist and the steps you need to follow in this career path.

What does an environmental scientist do?

An environmental scientist is an expert who researches, gathers, and analyses environmental data. They assess the ecological health and stability of a given area. They put their knowledge regarding the natural sciences to protect the environment, clean up polluted areas and work with various industries to reduce waste. The duties and responsibilities of an environmental scientist include:

  • Collecting environmental data from samples of water, air, food, soil and other materials for scientific analysis

  • Analysing surveys, samples and any other relevant information to identify and assess any environmental threats

  • Providing information to businesses, government officials and the general public to guide them regarding possible environmental hazards and associated health threats

  • Determining the vital data collection methods required for surveys, investigations and research projects

  • Creating plans to control, prevent and fix various environmental issues such as water or land pollution

  • Creating presentations and technical reports to explain their findings and research

  • Acting as consultants for firms who want to comply with the environmental policies and regulations

Where does an environmental scientist work?

Environmental scientists work in a variety of settings. Some environmental scientists specialise in environmental problems and analyse them to develop solutions. Several of them also work to reclaim any lands or water bodies that pollution has infected. In the case of new construction projects, environmental scientists evaluate the risks these projects pose to the environment. They convey these risks to the businesses and governments involved and provide suggestions to reduce the environmental impact of the projects.

The government along with regulatory institutions have policies in place so that there is always safe water to consume, clean air to breathe and the absence of hazardous elements in the soil. An environmental scientist working for the government ensures that the organisations and public follow these regulations. The research conducted by environmental scientists also enables them to give advice on manufacturing practices, including protecting the environment from the use of harmful chemicals. They can also find work with environmental agencies, environmental consultants, wildlife conservation groups and universities.

Read more: 23 of the Best STEM Jobs in Hong Kong

What is the salary of an environmental scientist?

The salary of an environmental scientist is competitive. The average salary is around $ 544,476 per year. The salary package often includes housing, health and dental insurance. The compensation also depends on your years of work experience and educational qualifications. Often, a doctorate degree holder in environmental science can expect to earn slightly more than others.

What are the skills required to become an environmental scientist?

Becoming an environmental scientist requires you to possess certain specific skills and qualities. Here are some skills can that can help you in this role:

  • Communication skills. Communication skills are important for an environmental scientist since you have to explain and present your findings to audiences from different backgrounds and create technical reports.

  • Analytical skills. Your analytical skills need to be sharp as this field requires individuals to base their conclusions on careful analysis of scientific data. The analysis you provide should also include all the possible methods and solutions.

  • Problem-solving skills. Displaying solid problem-solving skills matters as an environmental scientist needs to solve problems related to the environment and come up with potential solutions.

  • Self-discipline. It's an important attribute of an environmental scientist as you need to stay motivated and often complete your work with minimum supervision.

  • Interpersonal skills. Often environmental scientists work with teams, both big and small, making interpersonal skills a crucial quality. You must prove yourself as a valuable team member who can work alongside engineers, technicians and scientists.

  • Investigative mind. This is an important skill for an environmental scientist along with innovative thinking. You need to remain meticulous and curious when analysing a site, performing inspections or collecting field data.

Read more: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

Types of environmental scientists

Environmental scientists work on a diverse range of domains. While some focus on the regulations designed to combat the effects of societal behaviours on the environment, others design regulations to protect the health of residents. Here are the various types of environmental scientists and specialists:

Environmental health specialists

Environmental health specialists study environmental factors and how they affect the health of human beings. Investigating potential environmental health risks is a part of their job, such as looking into the issues caused by the manufacturing of nuclear weapons, which leads to the contamination of soil and water. Such specialists also teach the public about the potential health risks present in the environment.

Climate change analysts

The varying effects on ecosystems cause changes in the climate. Studying these effects is the responsibility of a climate change analyst. These analysts also engage in grant writing and take part in educational outreach programs.

Environmental restoration planners

Assessing polluted sites is one of the major responsibilities of environmental restoration planners. They also calculate the expenditure and activities required to clean up these areas.

Industrial ecologists

Industrial ecologists fall under the category of environmental scientists who collaborate with industry professionals to make their operations more efficient and reduce the impact of their activities on the environment. They are also in charge of analysing the benefits and costs associated with different programs.

Environmental chemists

Environmental chemists study the effects of different chemicals on ecosystems. They analyse the impact of acids on humans, animals and plants. Environmental chemists also work on waste management and treating contaminated water, soil and air.

How to become an environmental scientist

To become an environmental scientist, you need proper qualifications, hands-on training and a deep desire to protect the environment. Here are some steps that you can use as a guide to becoming an environmental scientist:

1. Earn a degree

To become an environmental scientist, consider earning a bachelor's degree in a relevant subject such as environmental science, environmental bioscience or environmental engineering, or any science-related field such as biology, geoscience, physics, chemistry or engineering. A bachelor's degree in environmental science enables you to explore the natural sciences further. While studying geology, physics or chemistry is common, some students even opt for specialised courses in waste management, hydrology and environmental policy.

Having a master's degree can help you advance further in your career as an environmental scientist. Many people even gain a doctorate degree, which is mainly required for positions related to research and post-secondary teaching.

Read more: 10 Effective Communication Skills for Career Success

2. Work as a volunteer or gain an internship experience

Gaining relevant experience, be it paid or voluntary, can be beneficial for you as well. Bigger organisations and local authorities often provide internships and paid work experience to candidates. Environmental charities and non-governmental organisations are also good options for volunteering opportunities.

3. Consider joining professional organisations

Professional organisations offer an opportunity to network with other professionals, attend conferences, stay updated on environmental news, find employment and even continue your education.

4. Find employment

As an environmental scientist, you can begin your career as a research assistant, field analyst or technician in an office or laboratory. After gaining more experience and taking on more responsibilities, you can supervise the work of your fellow scientists and technicians. Once you have gained enough work experience, you can apply for higher positions such as program manager, project leader or any other leadership position in the research or management department. You can also work as a researcher in educational institutions.

However, if you wish to explore a different path and try an alternate career that requires the skills and qualifications of an environmental scientist, you can also become a forester, microbiologist, conservation scientist or atmospheric scientist. A microbiologist explores the environments and life cycles of different microorganisms. A conservation scientist protects the outdoor spaces and natural resources by employing sustainable land management and other methods. An atmospheric scientist examines the changing weather and climate to determine their patterns and study the effects they have on Earth.

Explore more articles