Environmental scientist: job description
Environmental scientists concern themselves with studying the impact of human activity on the environment, and identifying ways to manage, minimise or eliminate any negative impacts, such as air pollution. With increased pressure on industry and governments to reduce the harmful effects their activities have on the world, there is more demand than ever for environmental scientists.
Environmental scientists gather samples and observational data in the field and conduct tests in the lab. For example, they often analyse water and soil for pollution caused by industry and agriculture. They will test water, soil or air samples to find the type, concentration and source of the pollution. The environmental scientist will then undertake a rigorous assessment to identify if that contaminant source has the potential to affect or harm individuals and communities. The next step is to identify possible ways to solve the problem. Typical responsibilities include:
- deciding on the best data collection methods
- conducting field surveys and collecting data
- conducting lab tests on water, air and soil samples
- interpreting data to identify whether contamination exists in accordance with environmental laws
- building conceptual models that identify the potential contaminant sources that could have an adverse impact on the environment
- preparing detailed scientific reports or presentations based on their findings
- communicating the results of their studies to senior scientists and key stakeholders
- devising plans to minimise or fix environmental problems
- when more senior, taking on project and budget management
An environmental scientist might also advise the government on policies or they might work with businesses by conducting inspections and advising on improvement areas.
- Manufacturing companies
- Environmental consultancies
- Local governments
- Environmental agencies
- Wildlife conservation groups
Vacancies are advertised on TARGETjobs, by careers services, by newspapers in print and online, via specialist science publications such as New Scientist, and via relevant professional bodies such as the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) and the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), as well as on the websites of local authorities.
- The recruitment process is likely to involve a technical interview. Read our article on technical interviews to find out what these involve and how you can tackle them.
- If you'd like to find out what your salary might look like, take a look at our article on how much you might earn in science on our TARGETcareers website.
To become an environmental scientist, you’ll need to have a bachelors degree in a relevant subject such as environmental science, environmental engineering or environmental bioscience. It’s also possible to get into this career with a related scientific degree such as microbiology, chemistry, geoscience or physics. It is also common for environmental scientists to have achieved a postgraduate qualification such as a masters or PhD, which may be necessary for career progression. Read our article on scientific postgraduate study to explore your different options and visit the science section of TARGETpostgrad for lots more advice.
Gaining relevant voluntary or paid experience is beneficial to making a graduate application. You might be able to find paid work experience with local authorities or large employers. There may also be volunteering opportunities within non-governmental organisations and environment charities. Joining the IEMA can also be useful for finding work experience opportunities.
Some employers will support you towards gaining a professional qualification with the IEMA or a similar professional body.
- Written and oral communication skills
- Problem solving
- An investigative mind
- Observation skills and critical thinking
- Innovative thinking
- Good with statistics
- Commercial awareness
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