You’ve got your choice of angles for entering the fields of earth science, environmental science and water science. Whether you’re interested in studying coral reefs, managing tree populations, keeping water safe to drink, probing the layers of the Earth’s crust, leading park tours, or educating tomorrow’s generation of environmental scientists, you’re likely to find at least a few entry-level jobs that require only a high-school education and a solid work ethic – along with a broad spectrum of related career paths that demand years of specialized training.
But whatever route you choose to take, you’ll need a network of other professionals in your field to help guide you through each step. So here, we’ll explain how to start cultivating that network – and how to make effective use of the information you harvest from it.
Survey some societies
You probably already know that environmental conservation is one of today’s hottest topics for nonprofit activism – but what you might not know is that plenty of specific professions within environmental work also have their own dedicated societies and associations. Whereas many nonprofit organizations campaign for public awareness of environmental issues – and can often be worthwhile places to inquire about employment, too – it’s still worthwhile to seek out professional societies specifically, because they tend to be more heavily focused on helping the career development of members in the fields they represent.
Each professional society provides its own particular range of contributions, and many societies offer exclusive benefits to paying members only. But to give you a general idea, a society dedicated to your own area of environmental interest can likely connect you with mentors and scholarship opportunities, help you earn an official certification that’ll qualify you for higher-paying positions, and keep you updated about the latest news and professional gatherings in your subfield.
All it takes to locate societies in your area of environmental work is a few quick Google searches for terms like (for example) "earth science professional association" or "sustainable agriculture society." The American Institute of Professional Geologists, for instance, offers scholarship and career guidance to geology aficionados; the American Meteorological Society provides news and continuing education for atmospheric experts; and the Soil Science Society of America educates and certifies those who study soil.
Even if you don’t join a professional society right now – and in fact, depending on how far along you are in your career, the membership benefits may not even be worth the dues to you – you can save yourself time in the long run by bookmarking the websites of societies that look like they might be useful to you eventually. And even at the earliest stages of your environmental career, a society can be a helpful resource for finding out what your next steps ought to be.
Branch out your job search
One of the most obvious places to start an environment-related job search is on USAJobs.gov, the user-friendly website where many federal agencies – including the U.S. National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service – post job openings and contact information. You can also track down info on state-level agencies by running a Google search for terms like, "California fish and wildlife department," "Minnesota parks department," or "Montana forestry division" – substituting the name of your state or province of interest where necessary. Even if your state’s sites don’t provide online job listings, they’ll at least provide contact info for a person who can point you in the right direction.
But government agencies are just the tip of the employment iceberg. As the previous section of this article explained, a wide range of nonprofit organizations also exist to address environmental issues; and in addition, many private agencies – and even some corporations – keep experts in environmental sciences on their payroll. So if you aim to maximize your job-search potential, you’ll want to take advantage of two other types of resources: Staffing agencies and job databases.
Staffing agencies (sometimes also known as recruiting agencies or staffing firms) earn a commission on every employee they’re able to place in a job with one of their client companies – which means they’ve got their own motivation to keep looking until they’ve found you a job. The largest staffing agencies that serve the environmental field – such as Sequence Staffing and Aerotek – cover a variety of different subfields, including engineering, science, construction and resource management. Smaller agencies, on the other hand, focus on particular sections of the field, or on specific geographical regions. Work for Water, for example, recruits for water-related openings; and Alaska Earth Sciences recruits specifically for geology-related jobs in Alaska.
Online job boards follow a similar pattern: Some of the largest of these databases, such as EarthWorks and the Conservation Job Board, cover just about every area of environmental work – from ecology and forestry to aquaculture and geotechnical engineering; and more specialized boards target specific segments of the field. The EElinked Networks, for example, are a handy resource for environmental education jobs; WiserEarth specializes in connecting workers with nonprofits and community organizers; GeographyJobs provides exactly what its name suggests; and the GIS Jobs Clearinghouse offers openings for those who work with geographic information systems technology.
Finding recruiters and job boards in your own region or area of interest just takes a little Google-searching. Try plugging in terms like (for example) "reef conservation job openings," "soil science staffing," or "Chicago environmental education jobs" – swapping in your own region and/or specialty, or course – and you’re likely to find at least one or two websites that can help you look for work in your field.
Put down roots in social networks
Professional societies can help guide you career, and staffing firms and job databases can connect you with employment opportunities – but when it comes to day-to-day professional networking, there’s just no substitute for social-network communities. Many of the most active of these communities exist on the same websites you already use to stay in touch with your friends and colleagues – so jump on Facebook, Google Plus and LinkedIn, start typing the name of your specialty into the search box, and see what kinds of community suggestions pop up.
The Facebook communities "Green Energy" and "Environmental Science Techniques," the Google Plus groups "Geology/Earth Science" and "Meteorology and Oceanography," and the LinkedIn groups "Meteorologists" and "Soil Science Education" are all examples of active groups packed with informative updates. And Facebook, Google Plus and LinkedIn all offer their own sets of advanced search features – including group suggestions – that’ll help you refine your searches even further.
Some social-network communities in the environmental field act mainly as information clearinghouses, where a small group of admins post news updates and other handy info – while others act as discussion hubs in which many members participate. You can quickly evaluate a community’s usefulness with a few simple checks: How recent are the most recent posts – and how regular are they? Do members discuss what’s posted, or just click "Like?" All these can be key indicators – but at the same time, don’t let the fact that a group is marked "closed" or "private" prevent you from clicking that "request to join" button. The worst the admins can do is say "no" – and if they approve your request, you may get the chance to meet experts you’d never have encountered otherwise.
Getting started in an environmental, earth, or water science career just takes some time and determination – but as long as you stay in touch with professional societies and staffing firms, keep browsing job boards, and seek out new friends and colleagues in social-networking communities, you are taking steps in the right direction. Put the information you find to practical use, and the first big break in your environmental career could be just around the bend.
Wiser.org — A social-networking site specifically for nonprofit groups, community organizers, and concerned citizens interested in environmental sustainability.
Earth Science World — News, photos, career tips and a job board for anyone interested in the earth science field.
The EElinked Networks — Job resources, grant resources, news and community links for environmental educators.Other places on Riley that could be of interest include Civil Engineers who will want to look at Engineering, Building, and Mining. Alternative Energy professionals as well as Waste Water and Clean Water professionals should look at our page for Utilities & Telecomms. Additional resources may be found under Natural Sciences, Agriculture & Forestry, Science Writing, and Animal Sciences.