What to Study

What to study: Environmental science

environmental science
British primatologist Jane Goodall visits chimp rescue center on June 9, 2018 in Entebbe, Uganda. Source: Sumy Sadurni/AFP

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

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

What do I need to study environmental science?

Environmental science studies are wide-ranging and interdisciplinary. You will require a basic background in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics to begin. Further knowledge in geology and engineering will also be helpful, as will a grasp of the humanities including economics, history, law, and sociology. Most importantly, you should possess a deep passion for sustainability, and seek to innovate methods and practices within your domain.

environmental science

Environmental scientists taking core samples on the Wolverine Glacier on September 06, 2019 near Primrose, Alaska. The study of the Wolverine Glacier since 1966 show that the worlds warming climate has resulted in a sustained glacial mass loss as melting outpaced the accumulation of new snow and ice. Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP

What will I learn?

As an environmental science student, you will study sustainability through environmental, economic, and social tenets. Your first year will consist of the basics, including earth systems and global issues. In the second year, you may tackle biodiversity, ecology, ecosystems, as well as research methods and policy management. Your third year should consist of electives; it’s all about application and conservation; learning to put the theory you have mastered into practice.

On top of this, expect to engage in a significant amount of field and lab work during your course. Environmental scientists spend time observing, recording and researching natural settings in order to better understand and protect them. Here’s where you will learn how to form a testable hypothesis, collect data, and present your results in a professional manner.

Which universities should I consider?

As the demand for environmental specialisation 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 US, the University of Plymouth and the University of St. Andrews in the UK, the University of Helsinki in Finland, and the University of Barcelona in Spain.

environmental science

Lumbermen work on the felling of eight 230 years old Sessile oak trees selected the week before to be used in the reconstruction of Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral. Source: Jean-Francois Monier/AFP

What are my career options?

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

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

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