About Careers in Environmental Science
Environmental science is a very broad description aptly suited for a broad discipline. Environmental science spans many different scientific disciplines from geology to biology and often is closely related to other disciplines such as planning, engineering, and political science. The career opportunities in this field are growing as we become more aware of our impact to the environment and each other. However, many graduates and potential environmental science majors struggle with finding a job or a career when they attempt to enter the professional field. There are several reasons why this happens but if you use a bit of forward planning you will be able to set yourself up for success.
Choosing Your Discipline
This is the nuts and bolts of it all, establishing yourself in a specific discipline. Many environmental science majors at a liberal arts college or state university focus on a broad coverage of science topics in order to expose students to many disciplines. This is a good thing as you will have the opportunity to experience many realms of the science, but it can make your future difficult if you do not actually establish yourself in a specific field. When looking for an entry level position its hard to distinguish yourself from the pack if you have a broad array of classes and not a focused direction to your studies. Likewise, as you enter the professional ranks its hard to move forward to better paying and jobs that offer more responsibility if you bounce around in seasonal employment with out a set focus.
This is not an easy task. In fact, it is the hardest part and extremely nerve wracking as you try to set yourself up for a successful career. In the future, you may change paths, but once you have a proven track record in a professional field it is a bit easier to switch careers. Students and recent graduates alike must realize that they should identify which field they want to spend several years of their life in as soon as possible.
What disciplines are available? Well there are many, but we'll look at a few of the basic ones.
Environmental Consulting / Hydrology / Industrial Compliance - This field focuses on working with industrial compliance to state regulations. You will work with everything from hazardous site clean-ups, permitting, building inspections, groundwater investigations, and basic landscape maintenance. This field is high paying and affords a lot of room for advancement if you are motivated. However, it requires a lot of travel, long hours, and the stress of managing many projects, and being responsible for keeping high profile companies compliant with regulations.
Natural Resource Management / Planning- This is a very broad term but it describes the management of natural areas in a way that controls the way people and natural areas interact. This is a field that is dedicated often to conservation and stewardship. It can be very rewarding, but also requires good interpersonal skills and the ability to develop permits and mitigate conflicts between landowners and land users.
Environmental Engineering - Similar to consulting, however environmental engineering is focused more on the actual controls used to remediate hazardous situations, and improve water, soil and air quality. A very detail oriented field for those who are good at problem solving.
Conservation Biology- This type of career is more focused than natural resources management as it looks at the interactions in a specific area, our impact on environmetnal factors or the way a certain species affects the environment. This is the most biology oriented job type, and is often the holy grail of jobs for many students who wish to spend as much time outside as possible.
Forestry, Soil and Agricultural Management - These three careers paths are slightly intertwined as they focus often on the anthropocentric value of an area. They often look at how management practices can be implemented in order to maintain the long term usefulness of an area.
Philanthropy - This is not such an obvious career but many environmental organizations, well, they need money. Being able to interact with potential investors and use verbal and written skills to help people realize the value of the environment is what this path is all about. These are not often the strong characteristics for a science major, but those who have them are greatly needed.
Education - This field can range from teaching at a local environmental center to teaching at a university. The 'safe' field for many disciplines teaching in environmental science is difficult because it often requires that you have an great deal of experience in a field before you are qualified to teach.
Law / Policy - Two of the most demanding fields in the realm of environmental science. This type of job is for those few individual who have high ambitions, morals and the ability to channel their passion without losing focus. These detail oriented high profile jobs are not for everybody and pursuing a career in one is difficult if you are not focused and goal oriented.
How To Get There
Volunteering is something anyone interested in environmental science should start as soon as possible. Not only does it build business connections and personal relationships, but it is very rewarding and can help you determine which career path you want to take. Call or email your local organizations and offer your help let them know outright that you want a career in this field. It helps the organization to distinguish casual volunteers from people that they can use for helping with more complex and involved projects
Find an internship
Finding an internship is not as easy as it sounds, but the experience is invaluable and often will open the door to a career path for you. The professional and personal connections you make in an internship are often life chaining and enable you to have a resource and reference for the future. There are many places to find an internship, and some internships are paid while others are stipend based or even unpaid. Its difficult to justify going for an unpaid or stipend based internship when you have college loans to pay but the experience and opportunities an internship creates definitely offset the downsides. Just don't get stuck bouncing from one internship to another, just because they present very fun and low responsibility opportunities if your focus is on finding a career path.
A few websites with internships:
Getting a Job
Getting an environmental job is no different that getting any other job. You scour the classifieds, you browse the Internet for job listings, look at the government listings and try to put yourself out by word of mouth. Make sure you have a professional and clear resume that is tailored to your goals, and practice your interviewing skills.
A few websites to look closely at for jobs:
Make sure to check state and local organizations such as conservancy's or park systems for listings as well.
Environmental careers are not socially, financially and emotionally like others fields. They honestly don't pay well if you consider amount of hours invested and stress created. Socially, the field is often smaller than most in whatever career path you take, and so being an obscure worker is difficult. You will find yourself getting to know others in your field, and often at a personal level. It can be rewarding but difficult as your work ethic and what you produce will be known but most potential employers.
Many people become emotionally invested in environmental jobs which makes it difficult to transition. Many jobs are term positions or can be cut easily due to loss / lack of funding. This makes it difficult for many people to continue their careers with the same passion they entered the field with as constant change can make you feel unsettled or bitter towards certain organizations. This can lead to a lack of productivity or critical thinking and an increase in working to keep your job. its a difficult balance and one that not everyone is suited to handle.
Yet if you find your passion, and yes you should seek it early, and take the appropriate steps it is well within your grasp to have a life long career in the environmental field.