If using the principles of natural science and math to study the conditions of life on Earth appeals to you, you might be interested in a career in environmental science or the related sub-fields of environmental chemistry, environmental physics or environmental health. Read on for more info about this diverse field. Schools offering .
Environmental Science Defined
Environmental science is a broad field of study that allows for numerous areas of specialization. The field integrates the study of biodiversity, natural resource management, sustainable development and ecology with physical sciences like biology, chemistry and physics. Environmental scientists study the ways in which non-living components, such as man-made products, affect the natural world. They also seek solutions to negative impacts upon the environment. Environmental scientists may specialize in a variety of areas, such as the sub-disciplines of environmental chemistry, environmental physics or environmental health.
Important Facts About This Field
|Median Salary (2014)||$66, 250|
|Key Skills||Self-discipline, interpersonal, problem-solving, and analytical skills|
|Similar Occupations||Conservation Scientist, Geoscientist, Hydrologist, Microbiologist|
|Work Environment||Typically at least 40 hour weeks, sometimes under physically demanding conditions, and often in an office or lab setting|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Career and Education Info
A bachelor's degree in one of the natural sciences or environmental science is the typical minimum educational requirement to seek entry-level employment in the field, though many jobs require a master's degree, and if you're interested in a research-oriented job, you'll probably need a doctorate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), environmental scientists and specialists could expect to see an employment increase of 11% between 2014 and 2024, a faster-than-average rate when compared with other jobs.
Environmental science bachelor's degree programs generally consist of classes in ecology, hydrology, geology and atmospheric science, plus core classes in math, chemistry, biology, physics and social sciences. You might also take courses in geographic information systems (GIS), land use planning, data analysis and global positioning systems (GPS). Some programs offer fieldwork and the chance to participate in research projects. If you focus on a sub-field of environmental science, such as environmental chemistry or environmental physics, you'll take most of your classes in that area and then a sequence of courses that incorporate environmental assessment, policy or relevant fieldwork. Graduate degree programs allow you greater opportunity for specialization and research.
The field of environmental chemistry explores the interaction of chemicals with the air, water, soil and living things. Sub-fields within environmental chemistry include atmospheric chemistry, soil chemistry, water chemistry and toxicology. In an academic program in environmental chemistry, your curriculum would include classes and labs in general, organic, analytic and physical chemistry. You also learn instrumental analysis and conduct field and research work. Degree programs prepare you for jobs like chemist or toxicologist in fields like environmental policy or industrial hygiene.
This sub-field of environmental science explores how the principles of physics are exhibited in and may influence environmental processes and problems. In a degree program, you might study the thermodynamics of Earth, climate change or the erosion of the ozone layer. You could also focus on radioactive materials storage and disposal. You'll take courses in physics, biology, chemistry, electricity, magnetism, calculus, algebra and mechanics and learn to apply these subjects to environmental problems. Graduates of environmental physics programs can find work as technicians or engineers in energy conservation, hazardous waste disposal, air quality monitoring, soil remediation and many other areas.
People who work in environmental health explore the way in which factors in the environment, whether natural or man-made, affect the health of living things. For example, environmental health researchers might measure the levels of certain pollutants, like mold, lead or secondhand smoke, and their associated health risks. In an academic program focusing on this area, you might also study hazardous-waste management, industrial hygiene or environmental toxicology and learn methods of health data analysis. After graduating, you might find a job in research working for the government, a private industry or a nonprofit organization.