How you can use an environmental science degree
If you’re fascinated by headlines about toxic oil spills and carbon emissions, you might be interested in pursuing a degree in environmental science, says Hildegarde Selig, PhD, an instructor in the environmental science program at the University of Phoenix Detroit Campus.
“Environmental science is a multidisciplinary field of study, which means it draws from many different disciplines, including chemistry, biology, earth science, and even economics and law,” Selig notes, “in an effort to understand how humans interact with the natural world.” Because the field is so broad, she adds, the degree can give you a good foundation “to pursue a wide range of jobs.”
Openings in the field are expected to grow 19 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here, Selig offers five career possibilities to consider:
Green manufacturing technologist
With the market for green products on the rise, an environmental science background can be an asset to manufacturing companies interested in developing sustainable products, Selig says, referring to goods that cause minimal damage to the environment.
“Green manufacturing technologists,” she notes, “help come up with ways to make manufacturing processes more efficient, minimizing energy and material waste.”
Students who go on to law school after earning an environmental science degree can pursue work as an environmental attorney, helping companies understand how to comply with local and federal environmental laws.
In addition, Selig explains, “these lawyers can work on either side of environmental issues — for grass-roots organizations like Greenpeace or for corporations, or even for the government.”
Alternative energy engineer
As companies and individuals seek to reduce their energy use from fossil fuel-based sources in an effort to decrease carbon dioxide emissions, solar power and other alternative forms of energy are gaining popularity.
“People who have knowledge about the science behind renewable energy,” Selig says, “can put their expertise to work designing solar power systems or windmill systems, or even work in the automobile industry to design more energy-efficient cars.”
“A toxicologist may work for the government to study the [human] health effects of an oil spill,” Selig says, “or to determine what level of lead can be present in water.” Alternatively, she says, you might seek employment at a corporation testing the chemicals in a product to determine whether they may be harmful to humans.
Forest ranger or nature conservationist
If you’d prefer not to sit in a cubicle all day, you could use your background in environmental science to help preserve ecosystems in national parks or to protect wildlife in natural habitats.
“This kind of employment is perfect for outdoors types,” Selig points out. “Whether you’re working to protect the environment on a large public land or doing something small-scale, like designing new ecosystems for the backyard of a private residence, there’s a range of meaningful hands-on-type work for someone with this background.”