Environmental Science vs Ecology: Career ROI

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Updated: February 22, 2024, Reading time: 9 minutes

Environmental Science vs Ecology - featured image

Did you know that your fellow high school students are more likely than adults to acknowledge climate change and its causes and effects in relation to human activity?

If you’re interested in learning more about climate change in particular and the natural environment in general, you should consider pursuing a career in environmental science or ecology!

You will find being either an environmental scientist or an ecologist brings numerous benefits including excellent return on investment. You can look forward to numerous job opportunities in government agencies, private corporations, and nonprofit organizations.

You will also enjoy well-paying entry-level jobs with a relevant bachelor’s degree and job promotions with a graduate degree, professional certifications, and work experience. 

But what are the similarities and differences between environmental science and ecology? You can make a more informed choice between these two academic disciplines when these are discussed. 

A Quick Look at The Differences: Environmental Scientist vs Ecologist

Both environmental scientists and ecologists want to understand and address the wide range of environmental issues we’re facing today, but their approaches are different.

Environmental ScientistEcologist
Average Annual Salary$76,480$70,342
Projected Job Growth6% (2022-2032)/6,900 average annual openingsSame
Licenses/Certifications RequiredOptionalOptional
Primary DutiesEnvironmental scientists apply their knowledge and skills in the natural sciences toward the protection of the natural environment and human health.Ecologists use their knowledge and skills about ecosystems and their complex relationships toward the conservation, preservation and protection of natural resources, including their sustainable management.

What Does an Environmental Scientist Do?

What Does an Environmental Scientist Do - Image

Environmental scientists possess the knowledge, skills and resources that can be used in the protection of the environment and, as a consequence, of human health. Their typical roles and responsibilities include: 

Due to their specialized knowledge and skills, environmental scientists are in high demand in many industries! They can work in environmental protection organizations that prevent pollution and reclaim pollution-affected areas.

They can be in the construction industry or the manufacturing industry as environmental consultants who provide expert advice on minimizing the harmful effects of new construction or new production chemicals on the environment. 

Being a successful environmental scientist means being a good analytical thinker, meaning the ability to make careful analysis of collected environmental data. You must also have good communication and interpersonal skills because environmental scientists typically engage in collaborative research with other scientists and professionals. You should also be passionate about finding solutions to problems.

Environmental Scientist Education and Career Paths

The first step in becoming an environmental scientist is earning a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science, but you can also pursue a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering, Biology or Ecology, among other related fields.

Students in these academic disciplines gain a broad education in the natural sciences with courses in Chemistry, Biology and Geology, to name a few STEM-heavy courses.

Students in Environmental Science programs may also be able to pursue a concentration or specialization, such as:

Concentration courses can include:

The best Environmental Science bachelor’s degree programs require students to complete an internship for valuable hands-on learning experiences. The internships can be a combination of office work and fieldwork, too. 

You may also pursue a Master’s in Environmental Science for career advancement in addition to extensive work experience. If you’re interested in leadership positions in research or teaching positions in schools, you should earn a doctoral degree. 

Other popular career paths in environmental science aside from being an environmental scientist and specialist are: 

Environmental scientists can also earn professional certifications, such as the Certified Hazardous Materials Managers awarded by the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management (IHMM) and various certifications granted by the Ecological Society of America (ESA).

These are optional, meaning you may or may not pursue them, but if you want to be promoted, you should consider earning a professional certification. 

A Career in Environmental Science Is for You If: 

A Career in Environmental Science Is Not a Great Fit If You: 

What Does an Ecologist Do?

What Does an Ecologist Do - Image

Ecologists conduct a scientific study of the relationship between living organisms and their natural environment. Their investigations reveal their interactions as influenced by living and nonliving factors, too.

Their work involves a combination of fieldwork (i.e., outdoors) and office work (i.e., indoors), although it’s common for ecologists to consider the outdoors as their office. 

While the specific roles and responsibilities of ecologists differ depending on their position and organization, the common duties include: 

Ecologists must be team players, too, because they work with scientists, engineers and other professionals, as well as community members and stakeholders. Their work means being able to absorb information from a wide range of disciplines, such as Environmental Science and Sociology, and use it in finding solutions for ecological issues.

Ecology majors pursuing grad school enjoy specialization opportunities usually through a combination of education and work experiences, such as in ecosystem management or community ecology. 

Due to the combination of outdoor and indoor work, ecologists must possess a specific set of skills. Their technical skills include fieldwork research, including specimen identification, data collection, and wildlife observation, as well as the use of data analysis software. Examples include Python, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and ecological modeling. 

Their soft skills are just as diverse, with communication, collaboration and interpersonal skills being the most important in their job. Ecologists must also possess good critical thinking, decision-making and problem-solving skills, as well as be resourceful, resilient and adaptable.

Since ecologists can also be involved in conservation projects requiring funding, their grant writing and presentation skills are also the best.

Ecologist Education and Career Paths

Entry-level positions in the field of ecology usually require a bachelor’s degree in Ecology, Biology or Environmental Science, among other related disciplines. These academic programs feature courses in Biology, Chemistry, Ecology, and Environmental Science in addition to general education courses. 

Students, including those in graduate study, are usually required to complete research projects. As hands-on learning experiences, internships are designed to equip students with workplace-ready skills, such as research skills and communication, teamwork and presentation skills. 

Ecologists who want to be promoted at their workplaces or be qualified for leadership positions should earn a graduate degree. The master’s degree is an excellent starting point, which may or may not be followed by a doctoral degree. If you’re interested in research and teaching positions, a doctoral degree is a must.

Gain career advancement by completing lifelong courses, professional certifications, and other forms of continuing education, such as workshops, seminars and industry conferences. Professional certifications include the Professional Wetland Scientist and Certified Ecologist certifications, both of which demonstrate expertise in a specific field of ecology. 

Aside from being an ecologist, a few popular alternative career paths for professionals with a degree in ecology are: 

These professionals are employed in the public and private sectors, too, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Greenpeace. 

A Career in Ecology Is for You If: 

A Career in Ecology Is Not a Great Fit If You: 

Environmental Science vs Ecology - fact

In conclusion, both environmental science and ecology are excellent choices for your future career! You will enjoy good salaries and other compensation benefits, good career advancement opportunities in diverse industries, and good non-monetary rewards, particularly in the protection of the planet we live in.

Of course, your final choice will be influenced by your personal interests and professional goals, so it’s important to carefully consider these factors before choosing a bachelor’s degree program.

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