Environmental scientist: job description

Last updated: 7 Jul 2023, 08:33

Environmental scientists investigate the effects of human activities on the environment.

Environmental scientist job description

What does an environmental scientist do? Graduate salaries | Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Environmental scientists (also known as ecologists and environmental consultants) are found in a range of sectors, and the job title relates to a diverse selection of roles. However, these all tend to focus on studying and reporting on the impact of humans on the natural environment.

Typical duties include:

  • planning and carrying out research, both desk-based and in the environment
  • conducting lab tests on water, air and soil samples
  • collecting and interpreting data to identify trends, areas of concern or opportunities for additional research
  • building conceptual models to investigate the impact of contaminants, construction and other human interventions 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
  • keeping up to date with environmental legislation and specialist survey techniques
  • managing projects and budgets.

Work is likely to involve travel, including to isolated or difficult-to-access areas. You may need to work unsocial hours from time to time and work alone – for example, when carrying out environmental surveys.

Graduate salaries

Starting salaries for environment scientists tend to be around £22,000 according to jobs comparison site Glassdoor. Earnings will increase with experience and specialisation.

Typical employers of environmental scientists

  • Environmental consultancies
  • Local government organisations
  • Central government departments and agencies
  • Energy and utility providers
  • Wildlife and conservation charities
  • Waste management companies
  • Environmental campaign groups
  • Universities.

With experience, you can become self-employed and choose to focus on an area of specialist interest.

Vacancies are advertised by careers services and university departments, and by professional bodies such as the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management. You’ll also find jobs advertised on specialist jobs boards.

Qualifications and training required

To become an environmental scientist, you’ll need to have a bachelors degree in a relevant subject such as biology, environmental science or geoscience. It’s also common for environmental scientists to have achieved a postgraduate qualification such as a masters or PhD, and this can help with career progression.

Voluntary or paid experience will help your job applications, as will experience of environmental work (such as carrying out surveys or involvement in wildlife conservation projects). The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) and the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) offer student membership that includes networking opportunities and training.

Once you’re employed, some employers will support you towards gaining a professional qualification with the IEMA or a similar professional body. They may also train in specialist skills such as carrying out habitat surveys.

Key skills for environmental scientists

Employers of environmental scientists will be seeking these skills:

  • written and oral communication skills
  • teamwork
  • problem solving
  • research skills and an understanding of research practices
  • keen observation skills and critical thinking
  • the ability to learn and apply complex information such as new environmental legislation
  • numeracy and experience of working with statistics
  • commercial awareness.

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