Environmental Scientist Job Description

Environmental scientists conduct research on air, water, and soil to determine the impact of proposed or ongoing projects on the surrounding environment. This role is primarily research-focused, and most environmental scientists split their time between field work and lab work. Environmental scientists gather samples and analyze environmental data, utilizing advanced data analysis and modeling tools to assess the potential negative impact of drilling, construction, and a number of other projects.

Environmental scientists work in both the private sector and for government agencies, but in either case, they spend a significant amount of time developing methods to reduce environmental harm and pollution.


Environmental Scientist Duties and Responsibilities

Although environmental scientists can work in a variety of industries, most share several core responsibilities:

Gather Environmental Data

One of the central duties of an environmental scientist is gathering data related to their research. In this aspect of the role, the environmental scientist determines the best data collection methods to ensure that information is reliable and that data is as complete and untainted as possible. Typically, an environmental scientist gathers data through field studies, gathering samples for transfer to an off-site laboratory.

Conduct Data Analysis

Environmental scientists conduct rigorous assessments of their data. This typically involves testing a wide variety of materials from research sites, including air, water, and soil samples, to determine environmental conditions and the impact of human activities on these elements. While conducting data analysis, environmental scientists develop hypotheses based on their findings and test results and conduct further analysis to confirm or revise their initial findings.

Prepare Conceptual Models

In addition to analyzing data, environmental scientists use data modeling software to assess the impact of planned or proposed activities on a site. Generally, these models are used to show the potential impact of contaminants on a proposed site and identify any adverse environmental impact that projects may have. For example, an environmental scientist working within the natural resource industry may model the impact of drilling and extraction on the surrounding environment.

Develop Reports and Presentations

Based on their data analysis and models, environmental scientists prepare detailed reports and presentations regarding environmental risks and impact. Depending on the field in which they work, environmental scientists may present these reports to stakeholders, the scientific community, or the general public. Environmental scientists may need to prepare and present several versions of their reports for different audiences to ensure that their data is clear and actionable.

Determine Mitigation Strategies

Many environmental scientists contribute to ongoing research and projects by devising plans to mitigate environmental hazards and reduce the impact of proposals on the surrounding environment. An environmental scientist may propose several ideas to lessen harmful effects, conducting additional research and data modeling to determine whether their ideas can be successfully implemented and achieve the desired results.

Monitor Project Budgets and Timelines

Experienced environmental scientists frequently take on additional project management responsibilities. They typically determine research budgets and lead teams of technicians and scientists while conducting ongoing field work, ensuring that their projects are completed on time and that information is efficiently shared to maintain project budgets.


Environmental Scientist Skills and Qualifications

Environmental scientists research and reduce the effects of pollution in a variety of fields. Most environmental scientists have a bachelor’s or master’s degree and the following skills:

  • Analytical thinking – environmental scientists should be highly analytical and able to assess large, complex data sets to derive insights to drive their research and identify areas for further study
  • Research skills – many environmental scientists are involved in ongoing research projects and should possess strong research skills and familiarity with best practices and scientific methodologies
  • Collaboration – environmental scientists tend to work with teams of researchers and scientists to share data and support ongoing projects, so strong collaboration and coordination skills are a necessity
  • Problem-solving skills – in this position, environmental scientists tackle complicated problems related to pollution and natural resource use, so they should be creative problem-solvers who are able to develop functional solutions
  • Communication skills – environmental scientists prepare and present reports to guide governments and private industries, so written and verbal communication are both vital in this role


Tools of the Trade

Most environmental scientists divide their time between lab and field work, so they should be able to use standard office software and equipment in addition to the following:

  • Data modeling and analysis tools (ESdat, EarthSoft)
  • Geographic information systems (QGIS, ArcGIS)


Environmental Scientist Education and Training

Environmental scientists need at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science-related field. However, many environmental scientists obtain advanced degrees to gain expertise in a specific aspect of environmental science. While most environmental scientists have master’s degrees, those who teach or work primarily in research tend to have PhDs. Additionally, internships and field work provide hands-on training and can help environmental scientists enhance their employment prospects.


Environmental Scientist Salary and Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), environmental scientists and specialists earn a median annual salary of $69,400. The highest-paid 10 percent of environmental scientists and specialists earn more than $122,510 per year, while the lowest paid earn less than $41,580.

The BLS expects employment of environmental scientists and specialists to grow at a faster-than-average rate of 11 percent by 2026.


Helpful Resources

There are many resources available on the web if you’d like to learn more about starting a career as an environmental scientist:

National Association of Environmental Professionals – environmental scientists can join the NAEP to access publications, attend conferences, and connect with other scientists through local chapters

Environmental Science: Earth as a Living Planet – this book focuses on critical thinking and the scientific process, providing clear explanations of concepts and real-world examples

The American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists – the AAEES provides support and professional development opportunities for environmental science students and professionals, including conferences and publications

Environmental Science – read this book to learn about current environmental issues and the approaches that environmental scientists can take to address questions of sustainability and conservation


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