Environmental scientist job

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Peter Ross is a scientific officer with a city council. Working in its health and environmental services department, he is responsible for the operation of a large landfill site which is used for dumping all the waste produced by a large modern city.

What does your Environmental scientist job involve?

I have to ensure the council's landfill site is operated and monitored to comply with various UK and EC regulations. We have to check for water and landfill gas. I also undertake site visits to follow up environmental public complaints and provide technical assistance when required.

What is a landfill site?

It is a regulated site for the disposal of waste. At the landfill site, the waste is tipped out of a lorry into a big hole, which might be a disused quarry. The waste is spread out and compressed into layers, and at the end of each day, the top layer is covered with soil. Once the landfill site is full, it is capped with soil. Inside, the waste begins to break down or decompose creating methane gas.

If sufficient gas is produced, it can be collected by a network of pipes and used to create electricity. Once the landfill site is full, the top layer can be planted and used for farming or parkland.

What equipment do you use?

I use a number of sophisticated technical scientific instruments to carry out on-site analysis of groundwater and landfill gas. This includes infrared gas detection monitors, pH probes, dissolved oxygen probes, flow meters and gas chromatography equipment.

How did you get into this job?

I went to university to complete a geology degree and worked for a company to oversee its environment management system. I joined an environmental consultancy working in risk assessment and management before joining the council.

What training do you receive?

I have received specific training regarding working on an active landfill site. This includes health and safety and instruction on using some of the more technical monitoring equipment. I recently completed the P402 Asbestos Surveying course.

What do you find satisfying about this work?

I enjoy the versatility of the job. I am not always behind a desk and the tasks I have to complete vary from day to day. I also enjoy the flexible working hours and the opportunities there are to undertake training and personal development.

What are the skills and qualities needed to be an Environmental scientist?

You need to be versatile to do this job and be able to work effectively as part of a team. You must also enjoy working outside sometimes in quite rough weather conditions and be able to make quick decisions on your own.

Peter's route to his Environmental scientist job

  • GCSEs.
  • A Levels – Business Studies, Geography and Sociology.
  • BSc (Hons) Geology.
  • MSc Environmental Engineering from Queens University of Belfast.
  • P402 Asbestos Surveying course.

Peter's tips

  • Gain as much experience as possible, volunteer for summer work. It all helps to get you a job.
  • You need to develop a keen interest in, and knowledge of, chemistry as a large portion of the work will be chemistry related.

Salary of an Environmental scientist

  • Starting salary for a graduate scientific officer can be between £13,000 and £20,000.
  • Most qualified scientists earn £25,000 or more and senior experienced scientists can earn up to £45,000.

How to become an Environmental scientist

  • Relevant subjects at school are sciences, maths and geography or geology for those interested in the earth sciences. The alternative is to use school science grades and do a degree in general environmental science.
  • Although most scientific positions require degree-level qualifications, positions are available at technician level. These usually need at least four GCSE/S grades (A-C/1-3), including two sciences, maths and English, or equivalent qualifications such as an Intermediate GNVQ/GSVQ Level II or Intermediate 2, or a BTEC First Diploma/Certificate in Science.
  • An alternative is to train for NVQs/SVQs through Modern Apprenticeship or Skillseekers training.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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