Environmental science is one of the hottest career genres of 2014. Call Al Gore a hypocrite, but jobs have been skyrocketing since around the same time “An Inconvenient Truth” was released. Coincidence? Who cares. What is important is that this vital field is finally getting the respect it deserves. Whether you want to work towards reducing emissions around the globe or documenting the cultures and environments that make our planet the unbelievable blue-and-green paradise that it is, the opportunities are out there, just waiting to be seized (and the demand exists to help you get on track quick). Below is a sampling of some of the best careers available, with advice on how to achieve your goals. Get stoked on environmental science by revisiting a classic: the ultimate Earth-science crash-course.
Natural Science Managers
Let’s start at the top of the food chain. As their name suggests, natural science managers function as team leaders. Their teams can include people from fields such as biology, chemistry, general scientists, even physicists. As a manager, you won’t spend much time in the field (you have to love office work: strategy, planning, coordinating, etc.), but you will be the brains behind the operation, from directing research to making sure the nitty gritty doesn’t get over-looked.
You don’t become manager over night, of course. Bare minimum requirements are a bachelor’s degree (masters and/or PhD highly recommended) and several years working as a scientist. This is also one of the few positions in environmental science that is only expected to grow at an average rate. The lucky few, however, will make a good living: around $120,000 annually. Not sure management is for you? Take it for a scientific test ride with this introduction to management theory.
Careers in geoscience are expected to grow by almost 20% over the next ten years, which is way above average. And with a median annual income of over $90,000, that’s going to make a lot of people very happy. Geoscientists’ time is well balanced. Expect to spend equal amounts of time in the field, in the lab and in the office. The actual work you do will revolve around the physical study of the Earth: past, present and future assessments of geologic processes and compositions. You could work for a government agency investigating the hazards of drilling or a private entity interested in the affects of global warming on the Arctic ice shelves (in which case, I hope you like the cold).
If you’re anxious to travel, geoscientists are often presented with a number of opportunities to study in exotic and remote locations, so no worries there. A bachelor’s degree is for underachievers. A masters or PhD will be well worth the time and effort, and amassing a solid portfolio of field work while you study goes without saying.
You can combine your love of engineering and the environment in a number of ways, and be well compensated for it, too ($80,000+ annual salary). Environmental engineers are the problem solvers of environmental problems. You will leverage your knowledge of engineering to bring biology and chemistry together in innovative ways: solutions to pollution, water and air contamination, public health, renewable energy, etc. Because of the diverse job description, you can find work almost anywhere. However, you will go where the work needs you. If that means collaborating with a team on a theoretical issue, expect to log a lot of hours in the lab. But if you’re studying a physical location, you’ll be getting more than your fair share of fresh (or polluted) air. The job outlook is positive: growth of at least 15% is expected over the next ten years; again, well above average. Find out if a career in engineering is right for you with this insightful course for the prospective engineer.
Meteorologists / Atmospheric Scientists
The duties are inherent in the name: atmospheric scientists are experts of the atmosphere, studying weather and climate and their affects on the planet and, of course, people. You would think meteorologists would spend most of their time in the field, but technology is so complex and well developed that much of their work takes place indoors: at the lab, the office, weather stations, etc. This is truly a scientific field, and while the job growth is just above average (10%), the field itself is progressing rapidly.
If you want to do meteorology right, go for gold and get a PhD. It will be necessary, too, if you ever want to do research. Plus that doctorate will stir up a money storm: meteorologists net $90,000+.
Biochemists / Biophysicists
Physics? Going out of style? Think again. One of the fastest growing fields in environmental science, biochemistry is expected to grow by over 20% in the next ten years (more than twice the national average).
Your day-to-day responsibilities are anything but ordinary. You will be studying the chemical and physical processes of just about everything imaginable. Naturally, you will specialize in something, but your options are expansive. Ultimately, you are working toward improving the lives of all living things. What else do you need to know?
A lot, as it turns out. You need a professional degree before you can even think about landing a job, but like all the other careers on this list, the average income is substantial: roughly $85,000 annually (seriously, who’d have thought environmental science paid so well?). Get a feel for the job, and our planet, by learning the mechanics of physics.
Herein lies the game changer. If you want to help set in stone laws and precedents that will improve and protect the environment forever, this is the career for you. Interdisciplinary to say the least, a plethora of avenues exists for the prospective lawyer: from cutting-edge research on pollution to the sweet, sweet taste of environmental justice, the options are yours for the choosing.
Growth is average (8-10%), but compensation is anything but: $120,000+. In return for great pay, you are expected to navigate the laws that control humanity’s impact on the environment, from conserving resources and land to preventing inhumane practices.