Are you thinking of studying Environmental Science?
The relatively new field of Environmental Science feels as if it is becoming more relevant by the day.
With debate still raging around the potential impacts of man-made climate change, fears for the environment are commonplace; this degree looks not only at these problems but also at the environment as a whole from an integrated, interdisciplinary perspective.
What kind of things can I expect to study?
Environmental Science is an interdisciplinary field that covers a wide range of different areas, including elements of Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Thus, the modules that you might be offered in an Environmental Science degree are quite varied. Here are the key elements that you can expect.
This is the study of the atmosphere, which in itself includes many branches, such as meteorology (the study of the weather). You’ll learn about the chemistry of the Earth’s atmosphere (and potentially that of other planets, too) as well as its physics and the impact that the changes to the Earth’s atmosphere have on ecosystems.
This is the study of organisms and their interactions with each other and the environment. While it’s linked to evolutionary biology and genetics, it is also a human science, as the study of human ecology can also be included, and it is connected to areas such as conservation biology as well.
This area is more than just the chemistry of the environment; it specifically looks at the impact of human activities on the natural environment, and is therefore concerned with the effects of environmental contamination.
Geosciences are a potentially huge field, covering geology, physical geography, oceanography, geophysics, soil sciences and more areas besides. It aims to understand the Earth as a system from a qualitative perspective. Environmental Science is a subset of geosciences, so this module will aim to put the rest of what you learn in a broader scientific context.
What do I need for an Environmental Science degree?
The two A-levels that most universities want to see from prospective Environmental Science students are Geography and Biology, though beyond that, the more science subjects you have (which in this instance includes Geology), the better. Aside from that, you’ll need good attention to detail alongside an eye for the bigger picture.
What skills will I acquire?
As Environmental Sciences is so interdisciplinary in nature, you could gain a correspondingly broad range of skills, depending on how (and how much) you choose to specialise over the course of your degree. You will certainly gain skills in research and problem-solving, in project management and in statistics. Fieldwork can be a significant part of Environmental Science degrees, so you will become comfortable in working in a wide variety of different environments and locations. You’ll also gain skills from a variety of different disciplines that will make it relatively easy for you to take your studies in a different direction at postgraduate level, if you want to.
Will I get to travel as part of my degree?
Yes – fieldwork is an important part of Environmental Science degrees. Where you end up travelling to will depend on your areas of interest within Environmental Science. For instance, students at the University of Birmingham might do fieldwork as close by as Kings Norton or as far away as Tenerife, while students at Exeter have the opportunity to go even further, to California. Be warned, though – you might choose Environmental Science filled with excitement about travel to exotic locations, and then discover a fascination with fens in your second year and spend the rest of your degree with water up to your knees in East Anglia.
What careers are possible with an Environmental Science degree?
Just under a fifth of Environmental Science graduates in the UK work in conservation or as environment professionals. It’s also a popular course to take to postgraduate level, as 17% of graduates continue on to further study. As with most STEM degrees, it gives you transferable skills in research and problem-solving that are highly valued by employers; it has one of the lowest rates of graduate unemployment, perhaps because the broad span of the subject gives you an insight into a wide variety of different fields.
If you’re interested in Environmental Science, you might also want to consider studying one of the following:
- Geography – especially if you would like a less science-focused approach.
- Oceanography – this is just one example of the many areas that are touched on by Environmental Science (see ‘What kind of things can I expect to study?’ above for more) that you may choose to focus all your attention on instead.
- Social sciences – if you are more interested in the part of Environmental Science that deals with people and policy.
A final thought on Environmental Science
Environmental Science is more than just a go-to degree for eco-warriors. Not only does it have real relevance for some of biggest problems that we may face as a species – it also covers a broad and fascinating spectrum of other fields. Few other sciences are so genuinely interdisciplinary, so if you don’t want to stop learning about any of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and even Geology, it may well be the degree for you. While the chances of getting a job that is directly related to what you studied are relatively low, job prospects in general are very good. You might end up in town planning, or in something unglamorous but vital like waste management. Your problem-solving and planning skills will also be valuable in anything relating to logistics or management. And if, in fact, you are a dedicated eco-warrior, then this degree will equip you with the knowledge and skills to make a genuine difference to the problems affecting everyone alive on Earth today.