Environmental Scientists


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Environmental scientists have various educational backgrounds depending on their specialty. A well-rounded education in high school includes classes in biology, chemistry, ecology, geology, physics, algebra, geometry, environmental science, and history. Classes that emphasize writing and public speaking are also useful for future report writing and presentation of findings. Be sure to take English, communications, and speech classes. Course work in software programs and foreign language are also beneficial.

Postsecondary Training

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that “a bachelor’s degree is sufficient for most jobs in government and private sector companies, although a master’s degree is often preferred. A Ph.D. is usually only necessary for jobs in college teaching or research.”

Environmental scientists may have degrees in environmental science, or they may have degrees in other specialty areas, such as biology, ecology, chemistry, climatology, geology, physics, or even social science or engineering. Environmental science degree programs offer an interdisciplinary approach to the natural sciences, focusing on biology, chemistry, and geology. Students usually study data analysis and physical geography, which can later be applied to practical work in analyzing pollution abatement or ecosystems protection and management. They may also study atmospheric science, soil science, management or conservation of water resources, hydrology, hazardous waste management, environmental legislation, and geologic logging. Students typically complete at least one internship as part of their college training.

Other Education or Training

Workshops, conferences, webinars, online courses, symposia, and other continuing education opportunities are provided by the Air & Waste Management Association, American Chemical Society, American Institute of Biological Sciences, American Society for Environmental History, Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors, Ecological Society of America, Marine Chemist Association, Soil Science Society of America, and Water Environment Federation. Topics include pollution control, environmental management and policy, government relations, and waste management. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Environmental scientists can pursue voluntary certification from a variety of professional associations such as the Academy of Board Certified Environmental Professionals, Institute of Hazardous Materials Management, Ecological Society of America, Institute of Professional Environmental Practice, National Association of Environmental Professionals, and the Soil Science Society of America. Becoming certified demonstrates that you have met the highest standards that have been established by your field. Environmental scientists also often earn higher salaries than those who are not certified. 

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Aspiring environmental scientists should participate in at least one internship during college to gain valuable experience, explore career options, and make industry contacts, which could lead to a job offer after graduation. 

Environmental scientists are avid learners and enjoy puzzling through problems to arrive at solutions. They have a deep appreciation for nature and a strong desire to improve the health and well-being of the environment and people. To thrive in this work, scientists need to have mental flexibility and be open to sharing information with other scientists and specialists when collaborating on projects. The work relies on strong, clear communication skills, both written and verbal. Strong knowledge of software programs is essential, and experience with data analysis and integration, and computer modeling is required. Fluency in a foreign language is also useful as more work is being conducted internationally.