What does an Environmental Scientist do?

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: November 1, 2021  •  8 min read  •  Science
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If you love the idea of working with the environment and you excel in science, you might want to become an environmental scientist. However, you may not know how to answer the question, what does an environmental scientist do? So let’s look at this question and a bit closer at this career path.

What does an Environmental Scientist do

What does an Environmental Scientist do? The Simple Answer

Most environmental scientists will work to assess the environmental stability and health of a specific area. This will likely include research and surveys for collecting samples. As an environmental scientist, you will collect soil, water, and air samples to analyze.

What does an Environmental Scientist do? The In-Depth Answer

As an environmental scientist, you will have many different duties and responsibilities. However, the majority of your job will include the following:

Your actual duties may depend on the area of environmental science you work in. There are different types of positions under the category of environmental scientists, including:

Each type of position may come with different daily and weekly duties for the job.

Requirements to Become an Environmental Scientist

You will need the right skills, education, and certifications to become an environmental scientist. If you want to go down this path, looking at the necessary skills is a good start.

Environmental Scientist Skills

These skills are just the start. If you’re capable of critical thinking, have good self-discipline, are analytical, and can communicate well with others, you might fit right into this type of career.

Education Requirements

The right skills are just a start. You will also need to gain the right education to become an environmental scientist. A bachelor’s degree in environmental science is a good start.

This can help lead you to an entry-level position in this field. However, it’s also possible to major in chemistry, engineering, biology, or physics if you want to go into environmental science.

A master’s degree isn’t always required, but you will need to earn a master’s degree if you want to advance. This can help you specialize and gain a higher-level position with a larger salary.


As an environmental scientist, you will likely need specific certifications. What you actually need may depend on the job and who you work for. Commonly, you will need to have the HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) Certification. This is provided by the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

Most of the other professional certifications will be voluntary. You may need to become a Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control or Certified Wetland Delineator. Several professional certifications fit well for environmental scientists.

Common Jobs for Those with a Degree in Environmental Science

While you can certainly become an environmental scientist with this type of degree, there are other jobs you can take on, too. Here are some of the top job options for those with an environmental science degree.

Environmental Specialist

Earn an average salary of about $30K with this entry-level position. You will monitor the impact the environment has on a group and help come up with solutions. Environmental specialists often work with power plants and chemical plants.

Environmental Science Teacher

If you want to become a teacher, this is a great career path if you have an environmental science degree. You can earn a salary of around $40K per year teaching high school courses.

Marine Biologist

Many environmental science degree holders go on to work in marine biology. This position pays an average salary of around $48K per year. If you want to work with life in the ocean, this is a good career path.

Wildlife Biologist

An environmental science degree can be a good step towards becoming a wildlife biologist. This type of job pays about $64K. You will study animals in their natural habitat.

Environmental Consultant

As a consultant, you can earn a salary close to $70K per year. In addition, you will advise clients when it comes to managing environmental issues.


Maybe you want to work with geographic information to assist others. Then, as a geographer, you can make around $72K per year.

Water Quality Scientist

Another good position that pays well for environmental science degree holders is the job of a water quality scientist. You can earn a salary of close to $90K, working specifically with water. You will analyze the quality of groundwater, surface water, and drinking water.

There are many other great career opportunities you can enjoy with a degree in environmental science. These are just a few of the most common options.

Frequently Asked Questions About Environmental Scientists

What is the average salary of an environmental scientist?

If you decide to go into this career, you can earn a salary ranging from $41K to about $122K. The average salary is nearly $73K per year. Of course, your actual salary will depend on your specialty, education, location, and employer.

The top-paying states for environmental scientists are:

All of these states have an average salary above $84K per year. Many other states have average salaries between $60K and $80K per year.

How long does it take to become an environmental scientist?

You can gain an entry-level position with a bachelor’s degree. However, it will take four to five years to earn your degree, complete an internship, and land a job.

However, if you want the best career opportunities, you want to earn a master’s degree. This could take an additional 1 to 3 years.

What is the work environment like for an environmental scientist?

It’s common for environmental scientists to work in an office, laboratory, and out in the field. Some work will happen outdoors when collecting samples and observing the environment. However, most work will be done in an office or a lab.

What type of hours do environmental scientists work?

Most environmental scientists will work at least 40 hours per week. The hours they keep are typically a predictable 9-to-5 type of schedule. However, there may be times when the hours are not quite as regular, depending on the project.

Is the field of environmental science growing?

Yes, this field is growing faster than the average occupation. Experts expect environmental science to grow by about 8% over the next 10 years.

Which associations and organizations are good choices for environmental scientists?

There are several associations and organizations you can join as an environmental scientist. These associations and organizations can be very helpful with finding jobs, continuing education, and more. Some of the top choices include:

All of these associations and organizations can provide tools to help you grow your career.

Who hires environmental scientists?

Many environmental scientists work for government agencies and consulting firms. However, you might also find a job with another type of business or organization. For example, engineering service providers are a big employer of environmental scientists, too.

Do I need a master’s degree to become an environmental scientist?

No, but it can be very helpful for career advancement. For example, about 23% of those in the environmental science field have a master’s degree. Another 4% have a doctoral degree. So if you want advancement opportunities and more career options, getting a graduate-level degree is a good idea.

If you want to work with the environment, the career path of an environmental scientist might be perfect for you. This type of career includes many different specialties and potential paths. Make sure you understand the answer to what an environmental scientist does before you start heading down this path.

Take the time to do your research and even look at the different specialties. Your research can help you choose the right major and specialty for your career path as an environmental scientist.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.