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Environmentalists: What does your typical work week consist of? All sub-specialties welcome.

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I'm an undergraduate student struggling to commit to a major, after changing time and time again. After finally settling on a general area of study, it's time to determine a more focused area. The top bachelors degree programs that I am looking at include environmental engineering, environmental studies (ecology, water resource), agriculture, agribusiness, botany and horticulture (possibly vocational cert opposed to bachelors). #science #college #environment #sustainability

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Shelly’s Answer

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Hi Candice,

I did my BS and MS in Biology with particular attention to aquatic ecology. As a graduate student, I got to do field work, lab work, publish research, and present at conferences. I would say that depending on your job, the day-to-day could be going out in the field and collecting data and lots of time in the lab doing data analysis. For me, it was a lot of time spent identifying and counting diatoms (a type of microscopic algae) under the microscope, analyzing the results. I imagine that any environmental studies field you choose will have elements of conducting scientific research. I have friends who studied fields related to environmental studies and now work for government agencies such as Georgia Environmental Protection Agency to the Environmental Protection Agency in DC. Much of the work consists of the same responsibilities as I mentioned above. Doing scientific research allows them to use the data to inform land management decisions to environmental policies.

Good luck on selecting your major!
Shelly

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Katherine’s Answer

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I have a BS in Civil and Environmental Engineering. My typical week is anything but typical!

I've done everything from construction to roadway and drainage design. Most relevant to your interests, I'm actively involved in research about stormwater infiltration in the built environment. I wrote the problem statement under the supervision of a senior drainage engineer and consulted with colleagues leading up to requesting funding for the study. In the future, I'll be serving on the technical advisory committee and I'm very excited about the opportunity to contribute new knowledge to advance the state of the practice in stormwater management.

While it is not part of my job description, I also serve on an internal "wildlife vehicle conflict" task force, which gives me the opportunity to work with other dedicated environmental professionals and researchers in a completely different discipline.

Civil and Environmental Engineering is a challenging field with very transferable skills that rewards persistence, determination, and a desire to improve the world around you.

Katherine recommends the following next steps:

  • Attend a Society of Women Engineers (SWE) meeting on campus. Learn more about engineering from your fellow engineering students!
  • Attend a meeting of your school's student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Civil and Environmental Engineering may be a combined degree program at your school.
  • Apply to research laboratory internships at your school in your areas of interest. This is a good way to find out if lab work and research is something you want to do longterm.
  • If you have math anxiety (like me!) consider taking summer math classes to take advantage of smaller class sizes, greater personal attention from instructors, and a more relaxed campus environment.
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Meaghan’s Answer

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Hi!

I got my BS degree in Environmental Science concentrating in water management and hydrology. I then went on to get a Masters in Water Management.

I now work at an environmental consulting firm doing hydrologic and hydraulic modeling. The current project I’m working on aims to decrease flooding in a wildlife management area to allow the native trees to reproduce and grow (they don’t like wet soils). My day typically is spent in front of a computer in an office looking at data and numbers to make sure the data/numbers in the model make sense to real life. Every now and then I will go into the field to see what exactly it is I’m modeling but that is rare since I can usually use google earth or have survey guys get me pics when they’re out there. There is also a lot of report writing.

My other colleagues do environmental outreach related to water pollution which involves putting together presentations and flyers to educate the public on various types of water pollution. They spend most of their days coordinating with trying to schedule and prepare trainings across the state.

The environmental Scientists do a lot of work related to government regulation. They go into the field and collect asbestos, groundwater, air quality, soil samples you name it. These are usually done for environmental site assessments and to make sure the places are following the tiles correctly or to identify if they’re not. When I listen to the people who do field work talk it mostly seems like they do 80-90% driving and 10-20% sample collection.
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Mike’s Answer

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It is very imprtant to have a science background to be an environmentalist. You dont need to be a scientist but focus on STEM type programs.
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