What Do Environmental Scientists Do? (With Career Advice)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 16 December 2022

Published 4 October 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 scientists fight climate change and design ways to protect the earth, such as environmental regulations. If you have an analytical mind and a passion for protecting the earth, this career may be for you. Learning more about this role can help you understand if it suits you. In this article, we describe what environmental scientist does, how much they earn, and what skills and qualifications they need to excel in this career.

Related: How To Become a Scientist in 4 Steps

What Does An Environmental Scientist Do?

You are likely to work full-time in this discipline, and your daily responsibilities may depend on your specialty. Often working upwards of 40 hours a week in offices, laboratories, or the field, you may be involved in:

  • cleaning up polluted environments

  • providing professional advice to government policymakers

  • working with organizations to reduce waste

What Is An Environmental Scientist?

An environmental scientist is a qualified natural sciences expert dedicated to protecting the environment and human health. Most environmental scientists specialize in a particular environmental aspect, such as toxic waste cleanup, acid rain, air pollution, wildlife preservation, land conservation, mining reclamation, or soil erosion. No matter what field they work in, all environmental scientists help manage, reduce or remove negative effects on the environment.

As environmental problems involve physics, chemistry, and biology, your qualifications likely include these subjects. Job titles for environmental scientists may include:

  • climate change analyst

  • environmental health specialist

  • environmental restoration planner

  • industrial ecologist

  • environmental chemist

  • environmental engineer

  • water quality analyst

  • ecological modeler

  • conservation scientist

  • grassland conservationist

  • land resource specialist

  • environmental education specialist

What Are The Daily Responsibilities Of Environmental Scientists?

Here are some of the day-to-day duties of an environmental scientist:

Collecting data in the field

In every research and investigation project, data collection is an essential task. You may take charge of selecting the appropriate method of data collection and organizing field surveys. On such projects, it could be your job to collect and compile environmental data samples from air, water, soil, food, and other materials to check the extent and source of pollution. One of the ways environmental scientists identify contaminant sources is by building conceptual models.

Analyzing collected data

Once samples and data have been collected from the required source, you may analyze these in a lab environment. This means thoroughly checking surveys, samples, and other data to identify threats to the environment and human health. Your goal is to verify whether a contaminant can potentially harm individuals and communities around the environment.

Developing a solution

Environmental scientists develop solutions to avoid, control, or clear up observed environmental issues. To do this, you may work on solutions based on findings and inferences from the data analysis stage. The goal is to fight the impact of human activity on the environment.

Informing those in charge

Once an effective solution is ready, you can then communicate this to those in charge. It could be your job to inform government policymakers, businesses, and the general public of the proposed solution to the environmental issue you are facing.

This includes creating technical reports and presenting your research so that those in charge can take the right decisions to protect the environment. If you are a senior scientist with considerable experience, your responsibilities might also include advising them on the specific steps to take and how to plan a suitable project budget.

Related: What Is Technical Documentation, And How Do You Create It?

Educational Qualifications For An Environmental Scientist

The required educational qualification varies according to your designation. For instance, an undergraduate degree may be enough for an entry-level role, but higher positions often require further study. These are some qualifications you might need at different stages of your environmental science career:

Entry-level jobs

When you start as an environmental scientist, entry-level roles include environmental technician or research assistant. For these positions, you are expected to have at least a bachelor's degree in environmental science or a related field, such as environmental engineering or environmental bioscience. Science-related courses like a degree in biology, chemistry, physics, or geosciences may be accepted.

A bachelor's degree in environmental science can give you a broad understanding of the natural sciences. When possible, enroll in courses that provide specialized knowledge, such as hydrology, environmental regulations, or waste management.

Higher positions

While an undergraduate degree is often enough to get selected for an entry-level position, a master's degree is better for more advanced positions in program management or research leadership. If you have already gained some experience in an entry-level job, you may have a better idea of what specialization to choose for your master's degree.

Only a few environmental scientists feel the need to obtain a doctorate. You might opt for a Ph.D. if you are interested in research or teaching positions.

Internship Opportunities In Environmental Science

Environmental science has several opportunities where you can work as a volunteer. Before you apply for a job as a graduate, you can gain experience as a volunteer or paid intern with a local government body or business. You can also apply to NGOs and environment-focused charitable organizations.

Related: What Are Internships and How Do You Find One?

Where Do You Find Environmental Scientist Job Openings?

Environmental scientists are employed mainly by state and central governments. Here are the various areas where you might find work:

  • Government: The central government and various state governments have several active environmental protection and conservation projects. A large segment of the environmental science professional community is employed here.

  • Consulting firms: There are many management, scientific and technical consulting organizations that may also employ you. They provide professional consultation and guidance on environment-related issues to government policymakers, manufacturing businesses, and other organizations that need expert advice and guidance.

  • Construction companies: You might find work at companies involved in major construction projects, as there is an emphasis on eco-friendly design and construction techniques that help create a cleaner, greener environment.

  • Educational institutions: You can teach environmental studies and related subjects at schools, colleges, and universities. Aside from environmental science degrees, other branches of study, such as civil engineering, also include environmental science as part of their curriculum.

How Much Can You Earn As An Environmental Scientist?

Since there are a number of sub-categories and different industry sectors that hire for this position, salaries may vary. Other factors such as seniority, experience, qualifications, certification, and location can also affect your pay. The average salary of an environmental scientist is ₹1,98,031 a year.

What Are The Skills Required In Environmental Science Jobs?

Here is a list of the skills that can help you succeed in your role.

Analytical skills

As part of your job, you may come up with conclusions by carefully considering the available survey information or collected sample data. This requires critical thinking and the ability to analyze data. You may want to explore all the possibilities and determine the most likely solution.

Related: How To Improve Analytical Skills (With Steps And Benefits)

A problem-solving attitude is a valuable asset as an environmental scientist. The decisions you make every day are likely to influence the lives and health of people, so it is crucial that you always choose well. Self-discipline helps you make good decisions consistently, without any mistakes.

Collaborative skills

You may often work with teams that include people from other professional backgrounds, such as engineers, technicians, and scientists from different disciplines. Collaborating effectively is the best way to get the results you need efficiently. Successful collaboration often depends on your ability to listen, speak, interact and question others.

Related: 10 Powerful Tips for Successful Teamwork

Communication skills

You may often present your findings and proposed solutions to non-scientist audiences. You may also submit written technical reports to project stakeholders, who may not all be technically skilled. In both cases, communication skills help you gain the trust of your audience. Strong oral and written communication skills help you successfully interact with these parties in a way they understand.

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

How Is The Work Environment?

Working conditions vary within this sector, primarily based on your location. You might be employed within an office setup or travel to a laboratory every day. In some cases, your role may involve meeting clients, other consultation experts, and government officials. Some positions involve a lot of presentation of findings, while others mean that you are constantly in the field for surveys or data collection work.

What Are The Prospects Of Environmental Science Jobs In The Future?

Opportunities within the environmental scientist role and other specialist roles in this sector are increasing in number. The general public is more aware and interested in what happens to the environment, the effects of global warming, and improper resource management. Businesses are also likely to continue consulting experts like you to analyze the impact of their operations and infrastructure on the surrounding environment.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate's experience, academic background, and location.

Explore more articles