With environmental issues such as global warming and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world needs more scientists equipped to attack the spiral of damaging human behaviors. Environmental science is a branch of science that seeks to sustain the Earth’s environment.
The major is a combination of two different studies. The first considers how physical and biological sciences work together, and the second examines the application of scientific methods to solving environmental problems.
Environmental science is not to be confused with environmental studies. These are separate majors with different concentrations. While environmental science applies scientific knowledge to the environment, environmental studies has a core in the social sciences. Environmental studies looks at legal issues and economic policies, but environmental science looks at chemistry, biology, and physics.
In order to be successful in an environmental science major, students need a strong background in other forms of science. Majors will take classes such as geoscience, ecology, hydrology and land resource science. There will be some required classes in other sciences, and once those are finished, students can decide on a concentration that fits their interests.
Environmental science has many concentrations. Some examples include environmental chemistry, environmental physics, environmental biology, terrestrial ecology, natural resource management and environmental protection. If students find themselves particularly interested in a specific science, such as biology as it relates to the environment, they may choose a concentration similar to the first three. If not, they may specialize in natural resources or protection.
Regardless of the concentration, fieldwork is an important part of the major. Fieldwork provides hands-on experience that labs often cannot provide. Some programs allow students to conduct supervised research with members of the faculty. Paid summer research internships or fellowships are also available for students to gain practical experience.
Students will gain many skills throughout the study of this major. They will gain knowledge of several sciences, and they will learn how to apply this knowledge to real world problems. Majors will gain an aptitude for solving problems and thinking outside of the box.
Because environmental science is by nature collaborative, students will work on many assignments in groups. This develops communication skills and allows students to practice the profession’s jargon.
Finally, students will become proficient with computers. Throughout the study of the major, students will use computers for data analysis, remote sensing, GIS (geographic information systems) and digital mapping.
The career options for majors depends on their level of continuing study. Many entry level research or teaching jobs require a masters degree. Advanced research positions or college-level teaching typically require a Ph.D.
That being said, there are many options for students. Those interested in teaching could teach in a high school or work in environmental education programs. There are also a wide variety of jobs in fields indirectly related to science.
Students who are interested in law can become an environmental lawyer. It would be necessary for these students to earn a law degree. Students may choose to work for the state or federal government as environmental regulators. Another option is to work for advocacy groups or NGOs (non-governmental organizations).
Students interested in the business aspect of things can become environmental consultants or resource managers.
Environmental engineers use principles of engineering and chemistry to solve environmental issues. Environmental engineering technicians collect samples of groundwater and air to analyze pollution levels. Students who want to help fix environmental issues that have already occurred may opt for a career in environmental remediation.
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