Studying Environmental Science: What is it like and where can it take you?
In a world where global warming, air pollution, and plastic waste are major topical issues, environmental science is becoming an increasingly valued and relevant degree. Although it is a relatively new field, it combines elements of the key traditional fields of chemistry and biology, and is widely recognised as a rigorous and academic degree. However, due to its newness, many people have questions about what studying environmental science is like and where it can lead. This article will answer these questions and a number of other common questions about environmental science.
What is studying environmental science like?
What do you study in environmental science?
Is it a good degree?
Should I study biology instead?
Where can it take you?
What is the job market like?
Do I need a degree in environmental science to work in the green sector?
Environmental science is an interdisciplinary subject, so it will involve studying elements of biology, chemistry, physics, geography and social sciences; this can be a challenge as each of these fields requires different skills and knowledge. However, by combining an understanding of all of these areas, students are better able to study the environment from an integrated perspective.
Fieldwork is a key part of studying environmental science. How far you travel for fieldwork is related to your areas of interest – it could involve travelling to different countries to experience a range of habitats and climates or it could be focussing on a particular ecosystem and involve a significant amount of work in a single location.
Laboratory work is also a core element of studying environmental science – as part of the degree, you will learn how to test analyse different samples and interpret the results.
It is also common to do work placements or voluntary work as part of the degree; the environmental sector is extremely competitive, and work experience develops valuable skills which are invaluable when job hunting.
As mentioned above, environmental science is interdisciplinary, so topics will draw on different fields to develop understanding.
Core elements of most courses include atmospheric sciences, ecology, environmental chemistry and geosciences.
Atmospheric sciences involves studying the atmosphere, typically covering the chemistry and physics of the atmosphere, and the impact changes can have on ecosystems all over the world. You may also study meteorology.
Ecology focuses on how organisms interact with the environment and each other. This can connect to social sciences as well as biology. Environmental chemistry centres around the impact humans have on the environment and how contamination happens, what its effects are and how it can be prevented.
Geoscience is a very broad field, but focuses on the earth’s natural processes; in environmental science, this will involve learning more about the earth to ensure you have a good scientific basis for understanding environmental changes.>
Environmental science is academically rigorous and involves developing a wide range of transferable skills that are very useful in the job market.
It also offers the opportunity to study multiple branches of science and take part in lab and fieldwork as well as more traditional study.
Top universities register a high employment rate for environmental science, and the US Bureau of Labour and Statistic calculates that the growth outlook is higher than average.
If you are interested in working in a related field or even going on to further study, then environmental science is an excellent degree choice.
If your main interest is in biology, a pure biology degree may be a better choice. There will still be the opportunity to choose modules that are related to environmental science, and it will reduce the number of different sciences you are learning about.
However, if you are happy with interdisciplinary study and you are committed to working in the environmental sector then environmental science might be a better option.
It is also important to consider that a pure biology degree will enable you to access some biology-related careers that an environmental science degree wouldn’t qualify you for. This is because studying a single science will result in a much greater understanding of that specific field than a multi-disciplinary approach.
Environmental science is a degree with excellent career prospects, as well as opportunities for further study – around a fifth of students go on to postgraduate study or research. This may also be necessary if you wish to pursue a career in law or graduate education.
Working as an environmental scientist or in a career directly related to the field may require further study, as their person specifications often require a high degree of specialisation. More information about top careers in environmental science can be found here.
However, due to the interdisciplinary nature of the degree, and the range of transferable skills you develop, there is a wide range of career opportunities outside the environmental science field. Common routes for environmental science graduates include resource management, environmental advocacy, teaching and planning and development. These careers allow you to utilize the skills you have developed, but definitely allow you to engage with immediate real-world problems, rather than researching in a laboratory.
Jobs in the environmental sector are typically very competitive and can require specialised study and significant work experience. However, the sector is growing rapidly, and there are a number of careers, such as environmental engineer or scientist where demand is extremely high. Moreover, as the impact of environmental issues such as plastic waste are studied further, the demand for graduates who are able to support sustainability targets is likely to increase.
Moreover, many countries are likely to need to undergo major infrastructure upgrades in the next decade, and environmental considerations will be a major concern.
New graduates are likely to have good career opportunities but will likely join companies in more junior roles in order to be trained up, as many careers have very specific knowledge and skill requirements. This means that starting salaries may be relatively low, but there will be good opportunities to progress and earn more in the future.
One of the things people are often keen to know is whether they ‘need’ a degree in environmental science to start a career in the environmental sector. This may be because they already have a degree or because they’ve started a degree in another subject but have developed an interest in environmental science.
Firstly, it is important to note that many careers in the sector require further study, so it may be possible to pursue a postgraduate qualification in environmental science without an undergraduate degree in the subject. So if your degree isn’t in environmental science but you want to work in the field, there are still options available.
Secondly, an environmental science degree is only advantageous if you want to work in a scientific role. There are many jobs in the green sector which do not require a science background and are accessible to any graduate, with the right volunteer work and enthusiasm.
So if you are in the process of selecting a degree, are keen to study a scientific subject and committed to working in the green sector then an environmental science degree might be the best choice for you. However, it is not the only route into the field: so if you are passionate about the environment and happy to do volunteer work and potentially further study, then you may not need an environmental science degree.