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in Environmental Policy, Planning, and Management
You have started your career at an environmental consulting firm that employs about fifty people in a small southern city. You moved in to your new apartment, have gotten familiar with the neighborhood, and have completed that first day on the job, always filled with excitement and some stress. On the second day, after you have been introduced to various individuals in numerous departments, team leaders, and lab managers and technicians, you are assigned to what will become your field team. With all of the new people, all of the new acronyms, and all of the new responsibilities, the new city, and the new neighborhood you are all at once nervous, excited, anxious, and challenged.
A team meeting that same day reveals that the company has landed a con tract to remediate a brownfield site near New Orleans. A midcentury factory closing left a petroleum chemical factory abandoned for decades and there is fear that pollution products are migrating in aquifers, leaching into stream courses, and may potentially reach a municipal water treatment plant. There is concern that toxins will soon reach the water intakes. At that meeting you find that by Thursday, you will be whisked off to a field site where you will reside in a motel, collect data with other members of your team, interact with them, and live your life in a strange environment for perhaps the next two weeks! You have to get everything in your life in order and be ready to go in two days. While at the site you will be part of a survey team whose mission is to delimit the extent of the pollution problem and begin to develop a strategy for its mitigation. Your team will be responsible for gathering samples of water and soil to return to the lab—the beginning stages of the site remediation process. This is what you spent four (or more) years training for. This was your goal: participating in projects that will improve our environment. You’ve hit the wall; there will be no party this Thursday night. You are out of school and ready to begin an exciting career!
Environmental Sciences: Definition of the Career Path
In terms of technical components, this guide treats the environmental sciences career path as intermediate, with the environmental education and environmental policy, planning, and management paths at the less technically demanding end of the spectrum and environmental technology and environmental engineering at the other end. Elements of the other four paths con verge in environmental sciences. That is, environmental issues are important but there is a strong technical side of this path, too. Someone following this career path is expected not only to be knowledgeable of environmental problems, to be able to write, to be able to communicate effectively, and to be able to think critically, but also to be able to collect and analyze field data and solve problems. Environmental sciences has perhaps the greatest variety of job duties and the broadest expectations in terms of education and training.
Environmental scientists are employed in a large variety of settings. Local, state, and federal governments regulate activities that help ensure that certain elements of the environment are not further degraded, for example, air and water quality. Additionally, governments set the rules for environmental cleanup and remediation. Larger industrial firms have in-house scientists who ensure compliance with regulations and undertake steps to prevent industrial accidents. Some companies are not sufficiently large to justify the employment of a staff of environmental scientists. Instead, they contract with environmental consulting firms to complete this work for them. and non profit organizations undertake environmental cleanup and protection activities that are not being addressed to their satisfaction by current regulations. They identify gaps in current laws, lobby for improvements to them, and serve as watchdogs to make sure that government, industry, and consultants are all adhering to the current set of rules and regulations.
Before we continue the formal definition of this path, let’s examine a few job descriptions that fit within our vision of careers that reside beneath the umbrella of environmental sciences. These recent postings are excellent examples.
As you can see, the second job requires a great deal of fieldwork, The candidate must also be able to perform some physically challenging tasks. The same holds true for the following position.
The following position, an entry-level job, requires considerable expertise in groundwater geology, courses that some of you will have had while pursuing a degree in environmental studies.
The next job description seeks someone with field biology skills and avian inventory experience, budgeting, record keeping, and report-writing duties, in addition to working outside under difficult terrain and climatic conditions.
Categories of Environmental Sciences Activities and Services
A variety of activities and services require the expertise of environmental scientists. For example, environmental scientists working for an environmental consulting firm might develop remediation plans. Others implement and supervise the resulting cleanup plans. Still other environmental scientists work for nonprofits that advocate for improved and more complete methods of remediation. Environmental scientists also work for the preservation and improvement of wildlife habitats. There is a huge array of environmental ser vices and activities. We have listed a large number of them in the sections that follow. Review each of the environmental activities and services to see where your interest, skills, and training might fall.
Brownfields Investigations, Remediation, Redevelopment, and Voluntary Cleanups
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines brownfields as “abandoned, idled, or underused industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.” Such environmentally compromised sites are huge problems for the real-estate industry, government regulating bodies, industrial corporations, and all of society. The federal government advocates for such sites to be cleaned up and reused so that fewer industrial sites need to be developed, further reducing human exposure to environmental problems. Teams of environmental chemists, soil scientists, geologists, and those more broadly trained in the environmental sciences are needed to resolve these situations, and there are many of them in the United States and Canada.
Groundwater Hydrology and Soil
Hydrologists, geologists, and soil scientists are often required to perform the sampling, data gathering, and instrumentation needed to identify the type and extent of problems associated with soil and groundwater contamination. Sources of contamination might include agricultural runoff, petroleum spills, leaking chemical tanks, industrial plants, and highway and rail accidents in which toxic substances are being transported.
Engineering, Design, Construction, Operation, and Maintenance for Remediation
Another series of tasks that environmental scientists must deal with includes remedial action, planning, design, project implementation, monitoring, and project oversight. Governmental regulating bodies must develop rules and guidelines and be able to enforce them; industry and consulting firms have to determine methods that will allow for successful compliance; and advocacy groups need to watch out for noncompliance. This includes demolition and removal of chemical or petroleum storage facilities, both above and below ground; asbestos removal from dwellings, factories, and commercial buildings; and a whole host of other situations. Some of these tasks will require the expertise of an engineer, but often the engineer must work in conjunction with a trained environmental scientist.
For example, a private company realized that environmental integrity had been compromised at one of their plants and they wished to make amends. A consulting firm was called on to design, implement, and manage a means to remove or reduce the effects of the improper disposal of toxic materials on plant property. More specifically, diesel fuel— and gasoline-contaminated groundwater was moving in the subsurface and polluting a large body of surface water. The horizontal and vertical extent of the contamination was determined with test wells. A corrective action plan was designed and approved; this plan involved a soil washing technique and the introduction of air to the subsurface to allow for bioremediation of the hydrocarbons. A team, including an environmental engineer and an environmental scientist trained in groundwater hydrology and environmental chemistry, was needed to remediate this problem.
Reduction of Factory Emissions
Regulating agencies, industry, and consulting firms also design and implement strategies that reduce point source emissions into the air, surface water, or groundwater. In one example, a firm evaluated airborne pollution from an industrial plant by using a method to directly assess stack emissions. It then designed an air-handling system to remove or reduce particulates and gases, oversaw its installation, and finally, continued to monitor emissions. Environmental scientists with training in field data gathering and laboratory procedures were invaluable in this situation.
Contaminated Structure Remediation
Construction engineers play an important role in a project involving the destruction of a building, but again a team approach is required. Environ mental scientists trained in hazardous materials handling also contribute on a project of this type. The Environmental Protection Agency Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) Training courses (see explanation in Section 9) would be essential for workers in this field.
Contaminant, Transport, and Modeling
Many of the tasks that a typical environmental consulting firm, private firm, regulating agency, or advocacy group handles require personnel who possess multidisciplinary backgrounds. Usually the training and experience needed to design regulations and bring a site into compliance exceed that of a single individual. In this instance people with experience and training in transportation engineering, mathematical modeling, environmental chemistry, environmental law, and environmental science would be required to complete a job as multifaceted and complex as moving hazardous materials to an appropriate site for proper disposal.
Another category of service is environmental risk assessment. An old factory site, sometimes termed a brownfield, might be suitable to the needs of a new industry. The Environmental Protection Agency encourages industry to clean up and redevelop these sites. A team of environmental scientists provides the knowledge that underlies the development of manageable solutions. They are able to understand old maps and surveys that will enable them to pinpoint the location of toxic sites that are now long gone, perform field sampling, assist in the laboratory analysis of samples, interpret and analyze the results of various tests, and document the procedures and outcomes of the investigation. In this way, a company could determine the cost of remediation of a site, and if too expensive, that locale could be rejected in favor of one with less risk.
Negotiation and Strategy Development with Federal and State Agencies
Oftentimes legal departments of large environmental consulting firms and environmental advocacy groups require people who are not only skilled in written and verbal communications but also extremely knowledgeable about scientific topics. Broadly trained environmental scientists are suited for this type of work. They have had training in basic chemistry, geology, hydrology, and biology and can be very effective communicators. They act to assist the environmental legal teams.
Hazardous Waste Management
Today’s society depends on a vast array of chemicals, from chlorine bleach, chemical fertilizers, acids of various types, petroleum and its by-products, mercury, paints, and solvents, to radio nuclides, to support twenty-first- century lifestyles. Many of these chemical compounds are involved as part of a manufacturing process. Many of these substances are transported in bulk by truck and rail. After such substances are used, processing residuals must be disposed. A huge industry has evolved over the past three decades or so to manage the removal, transport, and safe disposal of these materials. Governmental regulations help ensure that proper steps are taken to transport and dispose of these materials, and watchdog groups must be ever vigilant to make sure that industry and government remain accountable.
RCRA Closure, Corrective Action, and Permits
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and its associated regulations establish a strict and comprehensive regulatory program applicable to hazardous waste. EPA regulations under RCRA for new and existing treatment, storage, and disposal facilities apply to incinerators, storage and treatment tanks, storage containers, storage and treatment surface impoundments, waste piles, and landfills. Every facility that treats, stores, or disposes of hazardous waste must obtain an RCRA permit. Environmental scientists work with clients and government representatives to facilitate the permitting process.
Remediation of Superfund Sites
The EPA established a pool of funds to remediate sites designated as those most in need of immediate remediation. Remedial investigations (RI) and feasibility studies (FS) are conducted by consulting firms to assist their clients in meeting EPA guidelines at minimum cost. Tasks are varied and complex. First, an assessment of the nature and extent of the chemicals of concern in the soil or groundwater from on-site or off-site sources is made. Existing and potential chemical migration pathways and rates are identified. The magnitude and probability of actual or potential harm to public health, safety, or welfare, or to the environment, posed by the release of chemicals at the site is assessed. and , finally, appropriate remedial measures are identified to pre vent migration of future releases and mitigation of any releases that have already occurred. Data are collected and analyzed in order to prepare a remedial action plan (RAP) in accordance with established regulatory guidelines.
Even small environmental consulting firms are able to offer services where a general environmental analysis or an environmental impact statement is needed. Many government agencies will not approve a building permit until an environmental survey has been completed for that site. The analysis or survey will determine if endangered species are present, if the site will impact a wetland, if a flood hazard is present, or if archaeological resources are pre sent. Environmental scientists with training in botany, zoology, hydrology, geology, geography, and archaeology are needed for these investigations.
Environmental consulting firms work with clients to quickly contain spills or to remediate those of the past. Hydrologists, engineers, and environmental scientists compose teams that work to remove contaminated soils to handling facilities and to abate spills that might affect groundwater and surface water.
Research, On-Site investigation, and Remediation
EPA environmental scientists are teamed with engineers and technicians to identify sites that have been compromised by toxic spills. Environmental consulting firms are often contracted to determine the nature and extent of pollution at compromised sites. Interdisciplinary teams are dispatched to the location in question where numerous tests are completed to identify the hazard, its concentration, and the extent of travel, either overland or in ground water. After these properties and characteristics have been determined, a remediation strategy is developed and implemented.
Underground Storage Tank Closure and Management
Underground storage tanks (USTs) can become a major problem when they are left in the ground longer than their engineered life expectancy. Environ mental consulting firms are contracted to remove them, and often they must also clean up the compromised site after the tank has been safely relocated to a hazardous waste disposal site. This process typically involves a hydro logical study to determine if the soil moisture zone and groundwater table have been affected. Large consulting firms employ interdisciplinary teams for projects such as this. Such teams can be composed of hydrologists, geologists, chemists, and environmental scientists. Government agencies responsible for the regulation of these activities need scientists with the knowledge of soil and groundwater behavior to ensure that appropriate actions are taken.
Risk Management Plans and Compliance Monitoring
Environmental consulting firms, government agencies, and advocacy groups employ individuals with lots of experience with environmental legislation. Consulting firms want to be sure that their clients are able to comply with air- and water-quality laws and to take steps to minimize their exposure to risks associated with the handling of dangerous materials. Government agencies require scientists with expertise to ensure that risk management plans take into account a broad spectrum of potential problems, that regulations are sufficiently rigorous, and that monitoring procedures are carefully followed.
Government regulating agencies often require proof that an industrial operation is complying with regulations. Environmental scientists can be employed as auditors and to provide assistance with reaching environmental goals. Environmental consulting firms often assist clients by helping them to com ply with environmental laws and negotiations. Support staff for such departments may include environmental scientists who would act in an advisory capacity.
Environmental scientists with strong backgrounds in mathematics, engineering, and statistics are called on to build theoretical models, such as flow models, for groundwater movements and air-quality problems in large factories or other institutions. A great deal of expertise in computer science and mathematics is required for positions of this sort.
Construction and Emissions Permits
Businesses need licenses or permits for all sorts of activities, such as land development or manufacturing. EPA regulations require manufacturers to seek permits to discharge air and water back into the environment from factory processing. In effect, these emissions are also pollution sources, but they can be monitored and regulated. Government agencies use environmental scientists to design strong regulations while nonprofits need these specialists to develop strategies to strengthen them. Environmental consulting firms advise manufacturers on how to secure permits and to comply with various regulations.
Stack Testing, Air Emission Inventories, and Technology Assessments (BACT, MACT)
Manufacturers must continually monitor their atmospheric discharges for sulfur dioxide, gases, dust, and other particulates. Often, individuals trained in chemistry work for large firms or with independent labs, and some work free lance or subcontract with consulting firms. The acronyms BACT and MACT refer to best available and maximum available control technologies. This type of environmental service requires a high level of technical expertise.
Certified Visible Emissions Inspections
Some large environmental consulting firms offer certified inspections, which are required periodically by the EPA. These individuals are specialists with backgrounds in environmental chemistry.
Development of Databases
Very large consulting firms employ environmental scientists to work in data base development. There is a huge amount of data and information to man age, and workers trained in science and computers combine knowledge of these two fields to create powerful and efficient database systems. To understand how to manage these data sets, knowledge of environmental variables is often essential.
Air Monitoring and Industrial Hygiene
Environmental scientists trained in industrial hygiene are often employed to sample, analyze, and determine solutions to problems of indoor air quality at hospitals, manufacturing plants, and other large facilities. Those qualified to fill these positions have very specialized training.
Due diligence is the level of judgment, care, prudence, determination, and activity that a person would reasonably be expected to show under particular circumstances. Applied to environmental science, due diligence means that institutions shall take all reasonable precautions, under the particular circumstances, to protect the public from harm. This translates to an effort to prevent public exposure to harmful substances in the environment. To exercise due diligence, an institution must implement a plan to identify possible hazards and to implement measures to mitigate their impact. Some firms per form such studies to determine any negative environmental impacts or hazards, then produce a plan to mitigate any effects. Environmental scientists are often teamed with other specialists in these investigations.
Phase I and II Site Assessments and Remediation
Beginning in the 1980s, environmental consulting firms began performing property evaluations primarily for major banks, law firms, and insurance companies. A phase I environmental site assessment, or ESA, is designed to identify (1) existing or potential environmental hazards, and (2) resources with natural, cultural, recreational, or scientific value of special significance. Information on potential environmental hazards is typically presented for use in the evaluation of legal and financial liabilities for transactions related to the purchase, sale, or lease of a particular property. Identification of special resources aids in the evaluation of the property’s overall development potential and associated market value. Prior to financing a property, lenders usually require a phase I ESA to identify any potential environmental liabilities associated with the property. This site assessment is usually paid for by the potential buyer, since the seller may harbor a natural bias. A phase I investigation involves historical research of the site, interviews with persons knowledgeable about the site and surrounding land, and a visual inspection of a property; it does not include testing and analysis of potentially hazardous materials.
A Phase II investigation achieves the testing and analyses of soils or other materials, if such testing was recommended in the phase I report. It is common for the seller to be asked to share the cost of this testing. Examples include testing of soils where solvents or oils may have leaked, testing of building materials for asbestos and /or lead-based paints, sampling of potentially hazardous materials such as abandoned drums, and testing for PCBs in transformers and ballasts. Teams of environmental specialists conduct these site assessments.
Industrial Compliance Audits
Industrial environmental compliance audits are complex reviews of the environmental procedures and manufacturing processes in use at a given facility. Usually plant personnel, environmental consultants, and attorneys work together to perform these functions.
Asbestos and Lead Inspections and Abatement Management
Asbestos and lead-based paint management and abatement is a complex field with a number of state and federal agencies regulating the actions performed by consultants. Many state and local laws require owners to disclose the presence of asbestos-containing building materials (ACBMs) and lead-based paint (LBP) to facility occupants and to take steps to decrease exposure risks. In addition to training in an environmental science field, workers may also need Hazard Emergency Response Act (HERA) training.
Marine Studies and Watershed Management
Watershed management issues have become exceedingly important as demand grows for water supplies to both residences and commercial establishments, and for industry. Both water quality and quantity are at stake. Environmental scientists with strong backgrounds in hydrology, geohydrology, and modeling are hired by municipalities, regional planning authorities, regulating agencies, and consulting firms.
NPDES Permitting and Water Quality Standards Applications
The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit pro gram controls water pollution by regulating the disposal of point source pollutants into waters of the United States. Individual homes that are connected to a municipal system, use a septic system, or do not have a surface discharge do not need an NPDES permit; however, industrial, municipal, and other facilities must obtain permits if their discharges go directly to surface waters.
Hydrologists and geohydrologists with experience in and knowledge of water- related regulations are needed to fill such positions.
Publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) collect wastewater from homes, commercial buildings, and industrial facilities and transport it via a series of pipes to treatment plants. Here, the POTWs remove harmful organisms and other contaminants from sewage so it can be discharged safely into the receiving stream. Generally, POTWs are designed to treat domestic sewage only, but they may receive wastewater from industrial (nondomestic) users as well. The General Pretreatment Regulations establish responsibilities of federal, state, and local governments, industry, and the public to implement pre treatment standards to control pollutants from the industrial users that may pass through or interfere with POTW treatment processes or that may contaminate sewage sludge. Environmental scientists who specialize in regulations that govern the operations of these facilities play a role in their success.
Wetlands Identification, Delineation, and Construction
Within the past few decades it has been found that wetlands are made up of a complex web of life and that they can cleanse many pollutants from a watershed. But wetlands must be protected from overdevelopment. Advocacy groups monitor the activities of both government agencies and commercial establishments to ensure that these resources are not misused or destroyed. Government agencies develop regulations to ensure their protection. Environmental consulting firms help clients by assisting them in the identification of wetlands and procedures that mitigate the impact of construction projects in areas that bound or otherwise impact wetlands. Environmental scientists trained in ecology and hydrology are valuable to firms that provide these services.
Management and Evaluation of Waste
Managing waste is becoming increasingly difficult as existing disposal facilities approach capacity and available land resources diminish. Environmental engineers and scientists address waste disposal issues by incorporating emerging technologies with established practices to maximize site efficiency and minimize waste generation. A manufacturer, for example, may need to reduce by-products of its processing techniques. In this case, a waste management evaluation would be conducted by a team to determine a strategy for the most cost-efficient removal of these materials, potential recycling, and possible resale within another industry needing the by-product as a raw material.
Siting and Design of Landfills
A well-sited, carefully designed landfill is integral to most solid waste management programs. Engineers and environmental scientists use GIS mapping, global positioning systems (GPS), and computer design software for all phases, from designing, siting, and permitting a new landfill to expanding or closing existing sites to landfill operations.
Landfill Monitoring, Operation, Closure, and Maintenance
Environmental consulting firms can provide assistance to municipalities and private corporations involved in landfill operation and maintenance. A number of issues are associated with the operation and closure of landfills; some of these problems involve gas emissions, migration of leachate, and odors. Different types of scientists and engineers are required to address these very different problems that stem from the disposal of residential, commercial, and industrial materials. Work includes development of regulations, monitoring and oversight, and implementation.
Some consulting firms provide expert witnesses for a variety of cases that involve environmental issues. In one case, a chain reaction collision involving more than a hundred cars occurred on a fog-obscured freeway in Tennessee. To mitigate the responsibility of the company that owned the truck found responsible for the accident, a meteorologist was brought in as an expert witness to testify that indeed, on the day and time of the accident, visibility on that section of highway was significantly impaired.
Watch Out for Wolves in Sheeps’ Clothing
A cautionary note is due at this point. The field called “environmental consulting” has a number of connotations, or is subject to a number of interpretations. Environmental consulting can be interpreted as environmental advocacy, cleanup, remediation, pollution prevention, or reduction. As a matter of fact, one firm suggests in its mission statement that their goal is to “provide . . . services that emphasize integrity, creativity, professionalism, and commitment -- not only for the environment’s sake, but for God’s green Earth as well.”
But for other people, environmental consulting can mean something different, something dark. Some consulting firms enable organizations that have been found to be in noncompliance with environmental regulations to duck their responsibilities to society. In other words, their job is to reduce the financial obligation of a polluter to clean up a contaminated site. The following quote found on the website of a consulting firm describes this philosophy. This firm has a mission to “help reduce our clients’ environmental liabilities.” If you are indeed an advocate of the environment and this type of approach offends you, then you will want to be aware of the organizational philosophy before you accept a job offer. Research on your part can steer you away from this type of firm.
As an inexperienced environmental scientist, you will initially be expected to perform a number of tasks that you may not find challenging. Keep in mind that you are being trained to follow institutional procedures and to “learn the ropes.” This is called on-the-job training. You should expect a substantial training period; don’t be discouraged by this. We saw many examples where an entry-level scientist was being sought and the organizations indicated they would work closely with the new employee in the acquisition of skills in methods, specific equipment, and techniques needed for success within the organization.
You should also expect a great deal of close supervision in the field. Most employers will want to be sure that you are knowledgeable of and confident with procedures, methods, instruments, and proper data-gathering techniques before they allow you to work on your own. There are also a number of safety considerations, especially when working with toxic substances.
New employees can also expect to be assigned the tasks that more experienced personnel would rather avoid. One recent graduate told me he was hired by a hydrologic consulting firm that had been contracted to find water for a municipality. He joined a team whose job was to use ground-penetrating radar to locate potential aquifers. That data would be later analyzed in the lab to identify the best sites to drill for water. First, however, before the ground-penetrating radar sled could be dragged across the ground surface, weeds, shrubs, and saplings had to be removed to make way for the equipment. It was midsummer and it was in Virginia. Guess whose job it was to ready the site with a machete? Did he do it? Yes, indeed. Did he perform the job well? Absolutely. Did he learn a great deal from other tasks associated with greater responsibility? Of course! After the firm saw that he was a team player who exhibited a positive attitude and they became more confident in his abilities and assured of his skills, he was given more complex assignments. He was also asked to work independently on projects and even participate in the analysis of data, report writing, and the preparation of a paper to be given at an international meeting of geologists.
Report writing and summaries must also be checked before release. You will receive reports back from your immediate supervisor for revision, corrections, and , sometimes, complete rewrites. Incorrect or poorly completed work will not be allowed, as it would be a bad reflection on the organization. If your writing skills are not up to snuff, you may be reminded of a college experience when a professor handed you a paper that looked as if it had red ink spilled on it. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t be discouraged. Show your employer in future written duties that you used the feedback to improve your writing.
Training and Qualifications
A reasonably large number of specific academic majors will qualify you for many of these jobs. Examples include geology, physical geography, soil science, meteorology, atmospheric science, botany, biology, or chemistry. Since the skills needed for environmental science jobs are reasonably diverse, so too is the training and experience required. If you lack specific qualifications, it is often useful to alert the potential employer that you are adaptable, learn quickly, and have the motivation to pick up skills that you might lack. If you are asked if you can perform a task that might involve skills with which you are only slightly familiar, don’t react negatively, but instead answer in a positive fashion; you can pick up those skills. You learned how to learn while you were in school. A number of employers are searching for broadly trained environmental scientists. They are seeking people with strong backgrounds in the sciences and with experience in basic laboratory procedures, including lab safety, research design skills, and sampling techniques.
Knowledge of field procedures may be essential. Some employers wish to hire applicants who are comfortable working outside under physically demanding situations and who are able to use chain saws, backpack sprayers, and other types of mechanical equipment, such as an all-terrain vehicle (ATV). All those hours spent in the gravel pit on your dirt bike might actually pay off here! Some employers identify other skills that would be helpful in securing a position, such as first aid and CPR. Other jobs require the ability to hike long distances over rough terrain. You must ask yourself if that is what you are prepared to do. Some would see such a job as a perfect match while others would declare that using a chain saw or administering CPR is not what they had envisioned for their career.
The Transfer of Skills
Some employers seek applicants with fairly specific training in subjects such as wildlife biology, ecology, plant identification, or natural resource inventorying. You may have had a botany or forestry class where you learned how to key out plants and forest trees. If you did not have the opportunity to learn all of the trees in the eastern forests, for example, and a job description suggests that that skill is essential, tell the employer that you know how to approach this requirement. You learned to identify some trees, and now you can quickly learn those species you’ve never seen. In other words, you learned how to identify trees, even if you did not learn them all; you have learned how to transfer a skill from one environment to another.
Some employers have a need for lab scientists who know their way around the equipment and instrumentation that they use to perform routine analyses. You acquired skills in this area in biology courses, chemistry, fisheries and wildlife, ecology, or soil science classes. If you did not have the opportunity to learn specific instrumentation, don’t worry; you at least learned the basic procedures and how to operate safely in a laboratory environment.
The technology for instrumentation changes quickly; chances are that you have not had experience on many of the instruments in a lab, but you know the basic procedures and the process. You can pick up these new skills quickly. Employers realize that not every new employee can be turned loose on a project, and they will likely assign a mentor of some sort.
Virtually every employer, from various U.S. government agencies to the smallest consulting firms, depends very heavily on the use of computers and software. You will be asked to use spreadsheets, word-processing packages, and aerial image interpretation and mapping software, and will be expected to feel comfortable using instrumentation that depends on associated soft ware for analysis. Again, you may not have been trained on specific software packages, but you can easily pick up and move around in any packaged program if you’ve had some training and experience. Many of these software packages work in a similar fashion; again, if asked in an interview if you can use a software type for which you are unfamiliar, just answer that you have lots of experience with similar software types and can pick it up easily.
Environmental scientist starting salaries vary widely, ranging from $25,000 to $35,000. If you are interested in a position with a local nonprofit, expect to start at $25,500. Entry-level salaries for state environmental scientist jobs, such as an environmental specialist in a Division of Natural Heritage or a waterfowl project leader, range from $30,000 to $35,000. Environmental consulting firms offer starting salaries of $30,000. Regional nonprofit environmental groups pay up to $29,000 for environmental associates. If you have some specialized skills, such as knowledge of GIS, mapping software, and databases, you can expect to earn more at consulting firms and larger nonprofit organizations. Positions requiring specialized skills have starting salaries in the $32,000 range.
The career outlook for environmental scientists is a relatively stable one. The Occupational Outlook Handbook indicates that the range of positions that we describe as “environmental scientists” will grow as fast as the average through 2014. Several hundred thousand people in the United States are employed in these positions. Newly degreed environmental scientists will be needed as workers retire and as new specialties arise, and to take new discoveries in environmental technology to their next stage of development. The federal government has downsized in these areas in the past six to eight years, and as a result, growth has been somewhat limited.
Strategy for Finding the Job
If you would like to obtain employment as an environmental scientist, be ready to find relevant summer employment and internships while obtaining your degree, develop effective communication skills, and practice being a strong team player. The following three sections provide more detail for you to use in your job search.
Get Summer Experience Working as an Environmental Scientist
While researching jobs for the environmental sciences career path we came across many part-time and temporary job listings that were ideal for gaining the experience required for full-time positions. There was an ad for a summer full-time temporary research assistant for a local natural history area. Job requirements included outdoor fieldwork measuring goldenrod plants and recording the data. A sustainable organic farm advertised for a forest resource assistant. They were willing to work with the student’s college to get intern ship credit. They offered housing and a small weekly salary. These are just a couple of the many, many job listings that are out there. The Environmental Careers Organization (eco.org) listed paid internship opportunities on its website. Take advantage of them to obtain summer work or internships that will help you build the field experience you’ll need to get a job as an environmental scientist.
Effective Communication Skills Are Essential
As we worked on the strategy section for each career path, the importance of possessing solid communication skills was repeated again and again. Look back at the job listings included in this section and you’ll see direct references to the requirement for these skills: “must be excellent communicator,” “good written/verbal communication skills,” “exceptional written communication skills.” You’ll also see advertisements that list duties that require these skills but that don’t directly state the need for them: “writing newsletters,” “speaking at intense public meetings,” “writing reports,” “maintaining communications with federal and state agencies and other conservation groups.” Environmental scientists must share important information! Work on developing and enhancing these communication skills in the classroom, on the job, and in other settings whenever the opportunity presents itself
Work as a Team Member
Success is rarely achieved by an individual working alone. Environmental scientists often depend on others, including lab technicians, database developers, cartographers, GIS technicians, and fieldwork supervisors, for the data they need to do their work. and others within the organization need the analyses and the information provided by the scientist to develop policies, to share information with stakeholders, or to apply for grants that Fund part of the operation of the organization. Effective teamwork creates synergy, meaning that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As an environmental scientist you can be the linchpin in your organization by acting as a role model: trusting and respecting those you work with, working efficiently, and communicating thoughtfully. Create a synergy in your workplace and just see what environmental problems you and your coworkers can resolve! Hope fully, you gained some experience with this in college where your professors required you to work on group projects. There you might have been exposed to individuals who needed a boost in their work ethic, lacked skills, and lacked motivation. Perhaps you emerged as the leader of your group, assisted with the organization and execution of the assignment, and learned how some of these problems can be mitigated in a team environment.
Environmental scientists work for a variety of employers. Governments regulate activities that help ensure that certain elements of the environment, such as air, water, and soil quality, are not degraded further. In addition, governments set the rules for environmental cleanup and remediation. Larger companies in private industry have in-house scientists who ensure compliance with regulations and undertake activities to prevent industrial activity and accidents that would impact the environment. Some companies are not large enough to justify employing an environmental scientist, so they use the ser vices of environmental consultants to undertake this work for them. Non profit organizations perform environmental cleanup and protection activities that are not being addressed by regulated activities. In addition, some non- profits help identify gaps in regulated activities. They also serve as watch dogs to make sure that government, industry, and consultants are all adhering to the current set of rules and regulations.
Probably the most obvious job that comes to mind when considering working for the federal government is that of an environmental protection specialist at the EPA. In this entry-level position you would provide support and assistance with respect to environmental policies and plans, and interact with all entities within the larger environmental network (e.g., other federal agencies and state and local governments). The Bureau of Land Management is another federal agency that hires environmental protection specialists. You could also work as an environmental specialist for the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation. This position involves preparing and processing environmental impact statements, environmental assessment and commitment plans, and other documents required by the division. But wait! You could also work for the Office of the Secretary of the Army’s Field Operating Office as a biological sciences environmental manager. and the Army Corps of Engineers hires civilians to work as biologists, botanists, ecologists, environmental resources specialists, geologists, geophysicists, and physical scientists, each of whom plays a role in positively impacting the environment.
Help in Locating These Employers. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree in any number of disciplines can expect to start in a General Schedule (CS) position of 5 or 7. Visit the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s website (www.usajobs.opm.gov) and employ the tutorial provided there to maximize your search for environmental jobs. Also use this site to navigate to job listings published by the various agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
An Illinois county recently advertised a position for a resource technician to help with fire prevention, establishment of new plantings, wildlife projects, and presentations at public forums. A southeastern state was looking for a wildlife biologist who would implement management and research activities in freshwater fisheries. An opportunity in environmental education and challenge course facilitator called for a degree in environmental science in another southeastern state. A midwestern state was searching for a conservation education consultant to teach credit and noncredit workshops.
These are just a few of the hundreds of job listings that entry-level environmental scientists might want to investigate.
Help in Locating These Employers. One useful website that highlights state jobs is www.environmentalcareer.com/states.htm, the site for Environmental Career Center. It has a U.S. map and you can review jobs by state. Another site, called Environmental Career Opportunities (www.ecojobs.com), lists some state government environmental scientist jobs. Also be sure to visit the web- site for a particular state’s employment office. Appendix A shows a list of these sites. Then work through the site’s instructions for reviewing state employment listings. State positions are also advertised in area newspapers. Or visit or call your state’s employment office to find out how to obtain listings of open positions.
In private industry, you could work as a geologist for a large corporation assisting field crews in daily production, managing personnel within the field crew, and communicating with engineers and project managers. Or you might be employed as a technical support specialist who assists field sales representatives or customers and provides lab support activities. You could work as a project leader for a geographic data manufacturing company and coordinate the production of a product line that serves the telecommunications industry. The list goes on and on.
Help in Locating These Employers. Numerous websites can link you to hundreds of jobs. Among these are Environmental Expert Web Resources (www.environmental-expert.com), EHS Careers (ehscareers.com), Ecoemploy.com, and Pollution Online Marketplace for Industry Professionals (www.pollutiononline.com). The primary purpose of these sites is to promote services and products, but each includes a job search option. If you’re willing to take the time to explore all the various search options available on these sites, your time will be rewarded because you’ll uncover many, many job leads. and be sure to look at the websites listed under the other employer categories detailed for this career path. Many of them also include job postings in private industry.
Once you get a better sense for the kinds of companies and organizations that hire environmental scientists, and the associated job titles, review the yellow pages for similar companies that are operating in the geographic locations where you’d like to work. and review newspaper classifieds and look for the job titles you’ve found.
Environmental Consulting Firms
Literally hundreds of environmental consulting firms currently operate in the United States and Canada. Some consist of a director and a handful of employees, while others employ dozens of engineers, geologists, hydrologists, planners, technicians, environmental scientists, support staff, and lawyers. Some specialize in the cleanup of brownfields sites and petroleum spills and the removal of chemical contaminants. Other firms concentrate on the design and maintenance of systems to reduce emissions that might impact the hydrology of an area or the atmosphere. Yet some companies have a very different approach to consulting; they provide services such as the development of risk management plans, compliance with air and water pollution regulations, pollution prevention, and help with obtaining operating permits from governmental regulating agencies. Some specialize in the mitigation of air- or water-quality problems, while others offer services that involve planning and risk management.
An environmental firm in Hawaii was looking for observers on fishing boats to monitor and sample the catch. Another environmental consulting firm was looking for field research assistants to help in the conducting of water quality studies as well as the routine collection of water, soil, and vegetation samples from South Florida wetlands.
Help in Locating These Employers. Two websites to start with include eco jobs.com, which lists environmental consultants, and www.environmentalnetwork.com, which lists lead inspectors and risk assessors, lead abatement contractors, asbestos inspectors and abatement contractors, environmental consulting firms, and environmental training providers. This site covers both the United States and Canada.
In addition, the National Society of Professional Engineers lists engineering firms by state on their website (www.nspe.org/firms-pepp/ef-home.asp). Links to each company are provided and most include job listings. They also list jobs for non-engineers, including environmental scientists. Other good web- sites to visit include Earthworks (www.earthworks-jobs.com) and Professional Out look (www.professionaloutlook.com).
Nonprofit organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society, hire environmental scientists to help them monitor activities that are a part of their mission. The Nature Conservancy recently advertised for two positions: (1) a conservation assistant to manage conservation data, participate in eco-regional planning, develop project packages, respond to land owner inquiries, and maintain manual project records, and (2) a marine conservation assistant who would support conservation efforts of marine fisheries.
Help in Locating These Employers. A number of excellent websites include job listings posted by nonprofit organizations. Be sure to go to ecojobs.com. This site links you to jobs in conservation and natural resources, environ mental science and engineering, outdoor and environmental education, and international environmental jobs. Another useful site is the Environmental Career Center (environmentalcareer.com). A third site to check out belongs to the Environmental Health and Safety Network (ehscareers.com). Lots of different employers advertise here, including nonprofit organizations.
Recently a mid-western university’s River Studies Center advertised a position for a photo interpreter. This job called for mapping vegetation using aerial photographs, stereoscopes, and national vegetation classification standards.
A West Coast university was looking for a research assistant/pesticide specialist to assist a national pesticide network housed at the school. The mission of the organization was to deliver objective, science-based information about pesticide-related issues to the public and professionals. They were looking for someone with a B.S. in toxicology, environmental chemistry, biotechnology, agricultural sciences, public health, or a closely related area. If you enjoy the academic environment and you want to be a part of it after graduation, don’t overlook colleges and universities as potential employers.
Help in Locating These Employers. The Chronicle of Hz Education is a primary source for finding jobs in higher education. College libraries and departmental offices often have copies of this weekly publication. Or you can check their website at chronicle.com. Additionally, the Environmental Health and Safety Network website (ehscareers.com) lists some positions in higher education as does Earthworks (www.earthworks-jobs.com) and the Environmental Career Opportunities website (www.ecojobs.com).
Possible Job Titles
Throughout this section we’ve provided job titles associated with working as an environmental scientist. Review the list shown here for additional selections as you begin your job search, and add to the list as you go. You’ll find no dearth of titles for this career path:
A variety of related occupations are available for you to consider, and the job titles will depend on the specific degree you achieved. Just a few of the many related job titles are shown here:
The associations listed in this section are just a few of the many that exist to support environmental scientists working in government, industry, environmental consulting, nonprofits, and education. The website links that have been listed throughout this section will take you to other sites that can pro vide additional useful information for your job search.
Canadian Society of Environmental Biologists
PO. Box 962
Toronto, ON M4Y 2N9
Members/Purpose: Biologists and biology students focusing on furthering the conservation and prudent management of Canada’s natural resources based on sound ecological principles
Training: Annual meeting; workshops
Publications: Books; symposium summaries
Job Listings: Job listings available on website
Environmental Assessment Association
21640 N. Nineteenth Ave., Suite C-2
Phoenix, AZ 85027
Members/Purpose: Professionals from more than thirty countries involved in Phase I site assessment, Phase II sampling and testing, Phase III remediation, environmental consultants, managers, and many other professionals that are involved in the environmental industry. Provide members with information, education, and professional certification.
Training: Professional certifications include Certified Environmental Inspector, Certified Testing Specialist, Certified Remediation Specialist, Certified Environmental Specialist, Certified Environmental Manager, Certified Mold Specialist; seminars; annual conference
Journals/Publications: Quarterly newsletter, HOT industry updates, guideline booklets
Job Listings: None
Environmental Council of the States
444 N. Capitol St. NW, Suite 445
Washington, DC 20001
Members/Purpose: Nonprofit, nonpartisan association of state and territorial environmental agency leaders working to improve the capability of state environmental agencies and their leaders to protect and improve human health and the environment of the United States of America. EGOS plays a critical role in facilitating a quality relationship between federal and state agencies in the fulfillment of that mission:
Training: Annual meeting; spring meeting
Publications: ECOStates, annual publication of forty of the best practices and management ideas of the EGOS member agencies:
Job Listings: EGOS, state, and other positions listed on website
Environmental, Health, and Safety Auditing Roundtable
15111 N. Hayden Rd., Suite 160355
Scottsdale, AZ 85260-2555
Members/Purpose: Environmental risk auditors; a professional organization dedicated to the development and practice of environmental health and safety auditing
Training: Annual meetings
Journal/Publications: Newsletter, online bookstore, links to environmental, health, and safety websites
Job Listings: Links to job listings available online
Environmental Law Institute
Washington, DG 20036
Members/Purpose: Environmental professionals in government, industry, the private bar, public interest groups, and academia. Convenes diverse constituency to work cooperatively in developing effective solutions to pressing environmental problems
Training: Offers seminars, courses, and special events
Journals/Publications: The Environmental Law Reporter; The Environmental Forum; National Wetlands Newsletter
Job Listings: Links to sites that include job listings
Institute of Professional Environmental Practice (IPEP)
333 Fisher Hall
600 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15282
Members/Purpose: Certification organization for environmental professionals
Training: Examination guides, links to review course:
Job Listings: None
National Council for Science and the Environment
1707 H St. NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20006-3918
Members/Purpose: A nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the scientific basis for environmental decision making, leading to a society in which environmental decisions by everyone are based on an accurate understanding of the underlying science, its meaning and limitations, and the potential consequences of their action or inaction:
Training: Annual conference and lectures
Publications: Earth News online newsletter
Job Listings: Campus to Careers program offers fellowships and internships
Northwest Environmental Business Council (NEBC)
620 SW Fifth Ave., Suite 1008
Portland, OR 97204
Members/Purpose: Environmental industry; acts as an information clearinghouse for environmental businesses
Training: Annual meeting
Journals/Publications: Directory/resource guide
Job Listings: None, but has links to many environmental organizations that do list job openings
Society for Ecological Restoration
285 W. Eighteenth St., Suite 1
Tucson, AZ 85701
Member Individuals, academics, and environmental organizations. International nonprofit organization that promotes sensitive repair and management of ecosystems
Training: Conference, workshops
Journals/Publications: Newsletter, online directory
Job Listings: Online links