What to study: Environmental Sciences

Environmental science is essentially the study of the relationship between man and his environment. A discipline older than civilization itself, today it is used to deepen our knowledge of the natural world, as well as to develop policies and regulations to protect it. Every sustainable practice has its roots in the study and application of environmental science – positioning it as an important discipline in the future workforce.

Before you embark on a degree in this discipline, let’s look at what awaits us.

What do I need to study environmental science?

Studies in environmental science are broad and interdisciplinary. You’ll need a basic background in biology, chemistry, physics, and math to get started. Additional knowledge of geology and engineering will also be helpful, as will an understanding of the humanities, including economics, history, law, and sociology. Most importantly, you must possess a deep passion for sustainability and seek to innovate methods and practices in your field.

Environmental scientists take core samples from Wolverine Glacier September 06, 2019 near Primrose, Alaska. The study of Wolverine Glacier since 1966 shows that global warming has resulted in sustained loss of glacier mass, as melting has outpaced the accumulation of new snow and ice. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP

What will I learn?

As an environmental science student, you will study sustainability through environmental, economic, and social principles. Your first year will include the basics, including Earth systems and global issues. In the second year, you can cover biodiversity, ecology, ecosystems, as well as research methods and policy management. Your third year should consist of electives; it’s a matter of enforcement and conservation; learn to put into practice the theory you master.

On top of that, expect to do a significant amount of field and lab work during your course. Environmental scientists spend time observing, recording and researching natural environments in order to better understand and protect them. This is where you will learn how to formulate a testable hypothesis, collect data, and present your results in a professional manner.

Which universities should I consider?

As the demand for environmental specialization grows, so does the number of institutions offering relevant courses and qualifications. This includes the University of California, Berkeley and the Massachusetts University of Technology in the United States, the University of Plymouth and the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom, the University of Helsinki in Finland and the University of Barcelona in Spain.

environmental science

Lumberjacks are working on the felling of eight 230-year-old sessile oaks selected the previous week to be used in the reconstruction of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Source: Jean-Francois Monier/AFP

What are my career options?

At a time when conservation is more important than ever, environmental science graduates can explore a wide range of career options. They can advise, educate or build. They become engineers, waste management officers, law enforcement officers and water quality scientists. Some work closely with the environment they protect as oceanographers, microbiologists or marine biologists.

Graduates from developing countries, in particular, may be in high demand as the most populous countries in Asia like India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Bangladesh are among the most vulnerable to climate change. If that sounds like a future you’re excited about, check out the work of leading environmental scientists like primatologist Jane Goodall, glaciologist Eric Rignot and oceanographer Sylvia Earle.

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