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Environmental Scientists and Specialists - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Environmental scientists and specialists often begin their careers as field analysts or as research assistants or technicians in laboratories or offices. They are given more difficult assignments and more autonomy as they gain experience. Eventually, they may be promoted to project leader, program manager, or some other management and research position.

Environmental scientists and specialists held about 85,900 jobs in 2008. An additional 6,200 jobs were held by environmental science faculty.

About 37 percent of environmental scientists were employed in State and local governments; 21 percent in management, scientific, and technical consulting services; 15 percent in architectural, engineering and related services; and 7 percent in the Federal Government, primarily in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Defense.

Job Outlook
Employment is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations. Job prospects are expected to be favorable, particularly in State and local government.

Job Growth
Employment of environmental scientists and specialists is expected to increase by 28 percent between 2008 and 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. Job growth should be strongest in private-sector consulting firms. Growth in employment will be spurred largely by the increasing demands placed on the environment by population growth and increasing awareness of the problems caused by environmental degradation. Further demand should result from the need to comply with complex environmental laws and regulations, particularly those regarding ground-water decontamination and clean air.

Much job growth will result from a continued need to monitor the quality of the environment, to interpret the impact of human actions on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and to develop strategies for restoring ecosystems. In addition, environmental scientists will be needed to help planners develop and construct buildings, transportation corridors, and utilities that protect water resources and reflect efficient and beneficial land use.

Many environmental scientists and specialists work in consulting. Consulting firms have hired these scientists to help businesses and government address issues related to underground tanks, land disposal areas, and other hazardous-waste-management facilities. Currently, environmental consulting is evolving from investigations to creating remediation and engineering solutions. At the same time, the regulatory climate is moving from a rigid structure to a more flexible risk-based approach. These factors, coupled with new Federal and State initiatives that integrate environmental activities into the business process itself, will result in a greater focus on waste minimization, resource recovery, pollution prevention, and the consideration of environmental effects during product development. This shift in focus to preventive management will provide many new opportunities for environmental scientists in consulting roles.

In addition to job openings due to growth, there will be additional demand for new environmental scientists to replace those who retire, advance to management positions, or change careers. Job prospects for environmental scientists will be good, particularly for jobs in State and local government.

During periods of economic recession, layoffs of environmental scientists and specialists may occur in consulting firms, particularly when there is a slowdown in new construction; layoffs are much less likely in government.

Median annual wages of environmental scientists and specialists were $59,750 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $45,340 and $78,980. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,310, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $102,610.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, beginning salary offers in July 2009 for graduates with bachelor's degrees in an environmental science averaged $39,160 a year.

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Academic Programs of Interest

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