After four years of studying sustainability, ecosystems and climate change, you and your classmates are all committed to finding careers that will help preserve Earth's resources. So how do you make this goal a reality and become an environmental scientist?
In eight steps, we've broken down how you can leverage your science background and your passion for the environment to get your foot in the door of an environmentally-focused business or organization.
1. Get your hands dirty
If you're planning on an environmental science career in marine research, hopefully you've spent real time in the field. "We encourage [students] to do one internship off campus and one on campus," says Leslie Sherman, co-chair of the Department of Environmental Science and Studies at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland.
The faculty there also suggest that students conduct summer research, and Washington College professors frequently offer opportunities for students to do so over the summer months. Many other colleges and universities offer similar programs to prepare their students to enter the workforce.
Didn't have an opportunity to do an internship? Be prepared to discuss how your project and coursework in school and outside activities and interests have prepared you. It wouldn't hurt to look for volunteer experience now, too.
2. Hone your skills
A biology or environmental science degree can lead to many different career paths, but you'll want to make sure you build core skills that will put you in a good position for future employment. Sherman says entry-level candidates should have the following environmental science skills:
- Laboratory skills
- Field skills
- Numeric skills, like GIS (geographic information systems) and computer modeling
- Statistical analysis skills
"If you can show you are strong in chemistry, that looks really good, too," she says. "Don't shy away from some of those hard sciences." Skim a variety of environmental science job descriptions and really think about what skills and experience you have that are relevant and think about how to fill gaps.
3. Include your interests as you form your goals
If you're still figuring out what kinds of entry-level environmental scientist jobs you want to apply for, think about the projects and research you've enjoyed the most throughout your college years. While there might not be an exact correlation between, say, your senior thesis and a job, you may be able to find common threads throughout your life and college years. According to Sherman, your school projects offered you valuable experience "reading the literature, analyzing data and being able to present it."
Here's an example: one student developed an interest in microplastics through her coursework, so after graduation, she looked for an environmental science job at a hazardous waste Superfund site.
4. Consider a term of service
Sherman says some of her students join the Chesapeake Conservation Corps, a service-based organization where recent graduates can earn a stipend and work with various conservation-based organizations. Service assignments can be a great way to learn what environmental scientists do and network with leaders as well as other young professionals. Here are a few other ways you can pair environmental experience with giving back:
5. Meet with alumni, professors and other environmental scientists
Environmental science is a broad field, and graduates go on to work for government agencies or research labs, or do policy work. When you meet people in the field (like professors, alumni or on-the-job mentors) ask them questions about their experiences and careers.
Practice your elevator pitch for networking opportunities like these. An elevator pitch is your 30-second explanation of your skills and experience. Dry running provides a few benefits:
- Practice helps overcome interview jitters because you already know what you're going to say.
- You'll get feedback on the way you present yourself and your experiences.
Role play your elevator pitch with a friend who shares your major or a mentor. One caution: Don't over-rehearse. You'll want to sound confident and natural, so skip the word-for-word memorization.
6. Make your application materials shine
It's critical to present yourself and your materials in a way that will catch the employer's eye and highlight why you will be successful and add value to their organization.
Create a personal website documenting your research and interests and complete a profile page on LinkedIn. Connecting with your peers, mentors and professors on the networking platform will give you a better understanding of other opportunities in the field. That might lead to your first job in environmental science or an exciting opportunity later in your career.
Be sure to submit a polished resume and a cover letter that you tailor and update for every position you apply for. Our Resume Builder and Cover Letter Builder are full of tips and inspiration that assure you put your best foot forward during the job application process.