Environmental scientists and specialists are dedicated to studying the natural and manmade resources that contribute (in both positive and negative ways) to the health of our planet. Some members of this profession are primarily field-based and spend their workday collecting air, water, soil, and other samples to analyze. Others concentrate their efforts toward policy work, legislation, and other government-related areas of environmental protection and regulation. Like other public health officials, environmental scientists and specialists often use community outreach to introduce educational programs, build local networks, and advocate for different causes.
National Average Salary$63,570
Top Paying States
- $84,680 Rhode Island
- $81,000 Washington
- $80,200 Virginia
States with Highest Employment
- 13,270 California
- 6,350 Texas
- 5,460 Florida
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Working in Environmental Health
Most positions for environmental scientists and specialists will require a bachelor’s degree, although certain two-year diplomas (such as an associate degree with an emphasis in horticulture) may be enough to land an entry-level job. At the collegiate level, environmental scientists and specialists take courses in biology, chemistry, geology, ecology, and other natural sciences, as well as numerous courses dedicated to environmental studies. Other areas of study include political science, communications, journalism, English, and/or engineering.
At the master’s and doctoral levels, these students often focus their studies on a niche area of environmental science, such as hydrology, marine biology, or environmental policy. In addition to coursework, these advanced degrees usually require a written dissertation, capstone project, or laboratory internship (depending on the specific field of study).
Although many environmental scientists and specialists work in the private sector, many gain their first experiences in the field through seasonal work with federal agencies like the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Department of Natural Resources, or the Bureau of Land Management. These positions ― often focused on wildlife ecology and natural resource protection ― are routinely offered to recent college graduates, as well as current students during the summer break period.
Others cut their teeth in laboratories or field offices where they assist scientists with data collection and analytical reporting. For environmental specialists who are drawn to legal and political aspects of the field, working as a paralegal or other entry-level employee at an environmental law office can be a good entry point into a career.
Unlike other public health careers, environmental scientists and specialists are not necessarily required to obtain an official certification to practice their profession. However, these individuals may seek certain titles to advance in their careers. One option is to become a Board Certified Environmental Scientist; this title is bestowed by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers & Scientists (AAEES) Admissions Committee to individuals who demonstrate exemplary professional skill in one of nine specialization areas. Another option is to become a Certified Environmental Scientist (CES) through the National Registry of Environmental Professionals (NREP); applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in an environmental discipline and at least three years of professional experience to be considered.
These individuals represent the environmental interests of state-level and/or federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, or the Department of Natural Resources.
- Collaborate with various colleagues within the agency to review up-to-date environmental findings
- Present these findings to state or federal politicians, lawmakers, policymakers, and other government figures with a personal or professional stake in environmental causes.
- Educate local leaders about environmental findings and work with them to create sustainable community awareness programs
Most entry-level state or federal environmentalist jobs require a bachelor's degree, while advanced positions are often awarded to individuals who have earned a master's degree or higher. Depending on the environmentalist's specialization, certain certifications may also be required.
Public Health Engineer
These individuals work at the intersection between human health, environmental science, and industrial development. Public health engineers assess buildings, roads, bridges, dams, and other manmade structures to ensure they don’t pose a serious threat to human health or the surrounding natural resources.
- Inspect residential, corporate, and public works structures for any potential risks to the surrounding area
- Meet with architects, building managers, and homeowners if threats are detected to discuss different mitigation strategies
- Promote power-saving lighting fixtures, renewable energy-powered implements, green roofs, and other environmentally friendly retrofits
Although entry-level positions may be available to individuals with lesser credentials, most public health engineers must be college-educated, usually with a master's degree or higher. Additional certifications may be required for inspecting and assessing different structures (such as a Certified Real Estate Inspector credential from the American Society of Home Inspectors).
Environmental Health Technician
These technicians collect field samples and analyze data to determine the environmental health within an established area. Their work is often the basis for regulatory changes enacted to improve wildlife activity, botanical growth, and ecological well-being.
- Collect and catalog air, soil, and water samples, animal specimens, and other materials that can be used to measure environmental health.
- Conduct a series of tests on various sets of data and use the findings to create general, fact-based observations about the surrounding environment
- Present findings in technical reports, which are then delivered to community leaders, inter-agency colleagues, lawmakers, policy writers and, in some cases, the general public
For certain careers within this sector (such as field-based positions), a hazardous materials certification or other equivalent credential may be required for handling samples.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers several paid internships for students. Specific appointments concentrate on a wide range of environmental areas such as life science, policy, and green technology.
Eligibility: Applications are considered on a case-by-case basis; some require at least 640 hours of paid work within a field related to the internship duties.
Terms of Service: TBD
Deadline: Different opportunities are available year-round
This four-month internship involves various projects related to avian habitat restoration, endangered species protection, and wildlife advocacy.
Eligibility: Applications are open to any individuals with some college experience and a passion for the study and protection of avian species.
Terms of Service: TBD
This research internship focuses on five core areas of environmental science: global change, landscape ecology, coastal ecosystems ecology, population and community ecology, and environmental education.
Eligibility: This internship is open to undergraduates, beginning graduate students, and recent college graduates. The application includes a personal essay.
Terms of Service: Interns will participate in various research projects and field assignments related to the five aforementioned fields.
Deadline: Three applications respectively due Nov. 15, Jan. 1, and June 1