For most jobs, environmental scientists and specialists need at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science.
For most entry-level jobs, environmental scientists and specialists must have a bachelor’s degree in environmental science or another natural science, such as biology, chemistry, or geosciences. However, a master’s degree may be needed for advancement. A doctoral degree is typically needed only for college teaching and some research positions.
A bachelor’s degree in environmental science offers a broad approach to the natural sciences. Students typically take courses in biology, chemistry, geology, and physics. Students often take specialized courses in hydrology, waste management, and fluid mechanics as part of their degree as well. Classes in environmental policy and regulation are also beneficial.
Students should look for opportunities, such as through classes and internships, to work with computer modeling, data analysis, and geographic information systems. Students with experience in these programs will be the best prepared to enter the job market.
Analytical skills. Environmental scientists and specialists base their conclusions on careful analysis of scientific data. They must consider all possible methods and solutions in their analyses.
Interpersonal skills. Environmental scientists and specialists typically work on teams with scientists, engineers, and technicians. Team members must be able to work together effectively to achieve their goals.
Problem-solving skills. Environmental scientists and specialists try to find the best possible solution to problems that affect the environment and people’s health.
Speaking skills. Environmental scientists and specialists often give presentations that explain their findings, and they need to convince others to accept their recommendations.
Writing skills. Environmental scientists and specialists write technical reports that explain their methods, findings, and recommendations.
Environmental scientists and specialists often begin their careers as field analysts, research assistants, or technicians in laboratories and offices. As they gain experience, they get more responsibilities and autonomy and may supervise the work of technicians or other scientists. Eventually, they may be promoted to project leader, program manager, or some other management or research position.
Other environmental scientists and specialists go on to work as researchers or faculty at colleges and universities.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition