Environmental Chemistry Jobs to Consider Pursuing

scientist working on environmental chemistry jobs

If you feel called to protect the only planet humanity calls home, you might consider exploring environmental chemistry jobs. There are many different environmental chemistry careers to consider, each with its own area of focus and specialization.

However, as a whole, environmental chemists work to improve our understanding of how chemicals (e.g. pollutants) enter the environment, what effects they have and how people can correct the problem. It’s an ideal career path for people who are passionate not only about nature, but also about the future of our planet.

What Do Environmental Chemists Do?

Humanity relies upon a stable, healthy environment. It’s the job of environmental scientists to protect and conserve that environment. Environmental chemists specialize in researching how chemicals enter the environment, how these chemicals affect the environment and how the environment can be damaged or restored by human activity. 

The specific job responsibilities of an environmental chemist will depend largely on their employer and particular role. In general, environmental chemistry careers can involve any of the following responsibilities:

  • Conduct work in the field, such as by taking samples and measurements
  • Analyze samples in a lab and interpret the findings
  • Use computer software to develop models on chemical circulation and impacts
  • Apply for environmental permits and design plans for remediation strategies for sites affected by hazardous waste
  • Develop scientific reports of their findings and present the data to other employees, supervisors or external stakeholders (e.g. industry executives or government policymakers)
  • Stay on top of the latest research and trends in the field by periodically reviewing new scientific literature in environmental science

Some environmental chemists could ascend to the rank of manager of their department. These professionals will typically have additional job responsibilities. These may include developing the departmental budget, overseeing the quality and tracking of all data, identifying project scopes and priorities, supervising fieldwork and communicating with sister agencies.

Where Do Environmental Chemists Work?

Environmental chemists typically work in blended settings. They may perform some of their work duties in an office setting and others in a laboratory. Chemists may also travel locally or regionally to perform fieldwork.

There are several types of organizations that may employ environmental chemists. Many of them work for local, state and government agencies, such as regulatory agencies and land management agencies. Others work for environmental consulting companies and remediation firms; these chemists focus on mitigating the environmental impact of businesses and cleaning up hazardous waste in the environment.

Still other environmental chemists decide to go into academia. They fulfill teaching positions at colleges and universities to engage in part-time research. It’s common for a scientist to gain some practical experience in the field before deciding to go into academia.

Specific Environmental Chemistry Jobs

Many environmental chemists do indeed bear the job title “Environmental Chemist.” However, others have subspecialties and different job titles, such as the following:

  • Industrial ecologist – An industrial ecologist or industrial environmental chemist works with private businesses, such as manufacturing plants. Many businesses, particularly industrial manufacturers, have an impact on the health of the environment. An industrial ecologist works with these businesses to mitigate their environmental impact while being cost-efficient as well.
  • Climate change analyst – As the title suggests, a climate change analyst assesses how human activities affect climate change and, in turn, how climate change will affect human life. Climate analysts may publish their findings in scientific journals, consult with government officials on environmental policies and conduct educational outreach activities.
  • Environmental auditor – Industrial manufacturers and other private businesses are required to comply with all applicable legal regulations regarding the environmental impact of their activities. In order to ensure compliance and to identify lawbreakers, audits on an organization’s environmental impact may be conducted.

Some of these occupations may require specialty certificates beyond their academic requirements. For example, an environmental auditor may need to become an Environmental Professional – Compliance Environmental Auditor (EPCEA) or an Environmental Professional – Environmental Management Systems Auditor (EPEMSA).

Similarly, environmental chemists who deal with hazardous waste may need to undergo specialty training. The Institute of Hazardous Materials Management (IHMM) offers a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager credential (CHMM).

Important Skills and Characteristics

If you find these types of environmental chemistry jobs appealing, you can work on cultivating the essential skills and characteristics that these professionals need. Of course, all scientists need fundamental math and science competencies. However, the following are also important:

  • Critical thinking skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Written and verbal communication skills
  • Teamwork and collaboration skills
  • Intrinsic motivation and self-discipline (independent work is often required)
  • A passion for environmental conservation

Becoming an Environmental Chemist

With all of the exciting environmental chemistry jobs out there, you may feel motivated to get started working on your future career plans right away. If you’re still in high school, you can talk to your guidance counselor about adjusting your course load to reflect your career ambitions.

An aspiring environmental chemist should take courses in math and the sciences, including chemistry, biology, geology, ecology and natural resource management. Earning excellent grades in your math and science courses may enable you to enroll in an Advanced Placement (AP) chemistry course. AP classes can allow you to earn college credit while you’re still in high school.

You should also try to take computer science classes; environmental scientists must often use advanced software to perform their analyses and record their findings. In addition, look for relevant part-time jobs during the summer and ask your guidance counselor about internship and job shadowing opportunities.

You can also participate in extracurricular activities that reflect your professional interests, such as an ecology club. Consider submitting an entry to the International Science and Engineering Fair. You could also volunteer for a local environmental group, such as one that strives to clean up beaches or rivers. All of these activities will bolster your college application.

Earning Your Environmental Science Degree

Before you can begin looking for environmental chemistry jobs, you’ll need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree. An aspiring environmental chemist must have in-depth expertise about different aspects of chemistry, including biochemistry and organic chemistry. You’ll also need a strong grounding in environmental science as a whole; this is a multidisciplinary field that includes microbiology, biology, environmental geology and zoology.

You can earn an environmental science degree to become an environmental chemist. However, your degree program should include multiple introductory and advanced chemistry courses. Another option is to earn an environmental science degree with a minor in chemistry. You could also double major in chemistry and environmental science.

The curriculum will vary from one school to the next. In general, however, you can expect to study topics such as the following:

  • The principles and procedures of fieldwork and methodology, with a look at data collection and analysis, as well as common problems in fieldwork
  • The interactions between people and the geologic environment, examining earth resources, pollution and regional planning
  • Environmental protection laws in the U.S., including those that pertain to air quality, water quality and toxic substances
  • The principles of microbiology, including microbial cell structure, microbial genetics and pathologies

Landing that first job out of college can be easier if you already have some work experience. Be proactive about looking for opportunities. For example, visit your campus’ student services department and ask for help finding an internship experience. Making a good impression at your internship will help you secure professional references later on.

Do You Need an Environmental Science Master’s Degree?

It’s not strictly mandatory for an aspiring environmental scientist to earn a master’s degree. There are entry-level jobs in the field available to new chemists with a bachelor’s degree. However, many employers do prefer — and some require — that their environmental chemists have a graduate degree.

If you’re eager to enter the workforce right away, you can look for an entry-level position in the field while also applying to graduate school. These days, it’s easier than ever to earn a master’s degree online with a flexible schedule to accommodate your professional commitments.

A full-time master’s degree student might graduate in two years. If you’re working while going to school on a part-time basis, you may need three or more years before you’ll earn your advanced degree. Once you graduate, you may be qualified to pursue higher-level positions in the environmental chemistry subfield.

Does an Environmental Chemist Need a Doctoral Degree?

Many environmental chemists have successful careers with just a bachelor’s or a master’s degree. It isn’t a requirement to earn a doctoral degree. However, there are a few reasons why you might consider taking this next step.

After spending some time working in the field, you may eventually decide that you would like to return to academia as an instructor in order to inspire the next generation of environmental scientists. You may be able to land a teaching position at a community college with just a master’s degree. However, to teach at a more prestigious university, you’ll need a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).

Even if you don’t intend to become a university professor, you might consider earning a PhD for other reasons. A PhD may significantly enhance your career qualifications, enabling you to pursue the highest-level positions in the field. You may command a higher salary with a PhD. Plus, you’ll be widely recognized as an expert in your field and a leader among your peers.

Should You Join a Professional Organization for Environmental Chemists?

Another way that environmental chemists can gain a competitive edge in the job marketplace is to join a professional organization. Two possibilities to consider are the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) and the American Chemical Society (ACS).

SETAC is a global, nonprofit organization dedicated to furthering the understanding of environmental problems and their solutions. You can join for free as a guest to get access to some of the membership benefits or become a paying member to enjoy greater benefits, like access to scientific publications. Student memberships are also available, which allow you to post your resume, benefit from a mentoring program and apply for fellowships.

Is There a Demand for Environmental Chemists?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not track statistics or employer demand for environmental chemists specifically. However, the BLS does track data for all types of environmental scientists as a collective group, and according to the data, the job outlook for these careers looks quite robust.

The demand is expected to be particularly strong for environmental scientists who work for state and local governments, as well as those who hold a consulting role in various industries. There are a few factors contributing to the robust job growth rate in environmental science, including the increasing hazards the environment faces with continued population growth.

Furthermore, as the public as a whole becomes better aware of the many consequences of environmental harm, there is expected to be a greater demand for professionals who specialize in these issues.

If you feel called to serve in a profession that seeks to protect the environment we all rely on, you’re invited to apply to the environmental science degree program with an emphasis in environmental chemistry at Grand Canyon University. The Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science degree with an emphasis in Environmental Chemistry blends classroom instruction and hands-on lab work to instill in students the fundamental principles of evidence-based scientific research. In addition, students acquire crucial workplace skills, including communication, critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills, as well as a strong sense of professional ethics.

Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to learn more about becoming an environmental scientist with the full support of the GCU learning community.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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