Factors to consider when thinking about a career in the Environment and Natural Resources sector:
Each section below gives you links to information on specific career areas – work activities, related professional bodies, employers/job search and other relevant information.
Conservation and Environment
Working in conservation and the environment is a very popular option for many life science students and graduates. The sector is very broad and the range of jobs incredibly diverse. Changes in legislation and the pressures of the green agenda have led to a growth in opportunities particularly in waste management, pollution control, sustainable development, renewable energy and agribusiness. However, the number of graduates is also increasing and entry in to the industry is highly competitive. You need a first degree often a relevant postgraduate qualification, appropriate skills and work experience.
In order to achieve this you need to start early and your aim on graduation is to have a CV where you can split your experience between relevant experience and other employment, thus you will be demonstrating to potential employers that you have a long-term interest in working in the area of conservation and that you have already committed time to gaining valuable experience.
Work Experience - Obtaining work experience in this sector is essential. Given the popularity of this area many of the opportunities are voluntary. It also takes time to build up work experience and to develop a network of contacts so the earlier you start the better. Paid casual work is rarely advertised and often offered to those who have already worked for them as a committed volunteer. See the links below for some examples of the numerous websites offering opportunities in the UK and also abroad (the latter usually require you to raise funds). Also enquire within the department about paid summer research work under the CUROP scheme.
Placement Training Year (PTY)/Employment - A placement training year is a great opportunity to undergo a substantial chunk of work experience, so it is well worth investigating this opportunity. This will give you the ideal opportunity to network with relevant professionals especially as approximately 96% of all business in this sector employ less than 10 people, large traditional graduate management schemes are rare. Below are websites which offer a range of opportunities from short placements and internships suitable for a PTY and graduate level vacancies. Main employers include government bodies eg Environment Agency, Natural England and Defra.
Develop relevant skills through project work - Try to choose as many practical modules as possible and when choosing a project pick one with an environmental focus. This will give you the opportunity to build up contacts and develop relevant skills for example, teamwork, problem solving, creative planning, knowledge of environmental issues, assessments and survey work. Strong communication skills particularly the ability to persuade others and some level of commercial awareness is also highly desirable in several areas.
Keep up to date - Keep up-to-date with topical issues in the environmental press and current legislation specific to your area of interest e.g. The ENDS report or The Ecologist. The relevant professional bodies listed below are also good sources of information.
Network - You could consider joining a relevant organisation or group which would bring you into contact with industry professionals and demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment. If you are interested in finding out what’s available locally below are some useful starting points. Use Social Media sites such as LinkedIn to create a professional profile highlighting your skills and qualifications. It is also a great research tool to identify people in your chosen area of work.
Postgraduate Study - A postgraduate qualification although not strictly necessary in many cases is becoming increasingly common in part due to level of competition. However, you also need to bear in mind that funding for a taught masters is limited and you usually have to fund yourself. You need to research if it is preferred in the area you wish to specialise in and choose your course carefully - prospects.ac.uk has a searchable database of taught and research courses. Talk to the relevant postgraduate admissions tutors about destinations of past students and potential employers to find out which courses they would recommend. The more vocational based courses which provide placements in environmental organisations will allow you to make valuable contacts.
Natural Resources – Exploration, Geosciences, Marine, Mining & Extraction & Energy etc
The career opportunities open to Earth Science graduates cover a wide range of areas in energy and natural resources, environmental management and protection, engineering as well as academic research and teaching. The oil & gas industry is the major employer of geoscience at all levels. However, there are also jobs in renewable energy and mining sectors and government agencies.
Many opportunities are found in small firms that may specifically focus on geological, or environmental issues related to energy, construction, pollution and contamination, water resources and quality or natural hazards. Often opportunities and job roles change over time depending on the state of the economy and fluctuations in the prices of resources, as well as discovery, exploitation and demand of resources.
Growth areas at the moment are environment related – hydrogeology, waste disposal, pollution control and land quality/remediation. The largest employers of geoscientists in the UK are the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the Environment Agency.
Jobs in Earth Science are not advertised as widely or as obviously as jobs in other graduate employment areas such as finance or engineering. It often takes some effort to identify opportunities and employers. Speculative applications, whilst labour intensive, can be successful, particularly with small or medium-sized employers such as those found in the environmental geosciences field.
Higher degrees, particularly Masters degrees are often a pre-requisite for entry into certain fields e.g. hydrogeology, engineering geology, or hydrographical surveying (Diploma) or for certain employers e.g. larger oil companies (who are keen on PhDs). Whilst this may seem a massive financial commitment after three years’ of undergraduate study, it is worth balancing the financial burden of an additional year with the very positive destination statistics of vocational masters courses.
Work experience, either paid or unpaid is highly valued, particularly when it involves developing expertise in practical applications of the degree.
There are some formal work experience schemes in these areas but, depending on your area of interest, the majority of placements result from speculative approaches and networking – so spend time researching the areas and companies you are interested in and start a LinkedIn profile (see also Using social media and come to a LinkedIn masterclass) to help you create your own work experience options.
Placement schemes – these generally have early closing dates, sometimes as early as October, so start considering your options towards the end of the first year and be ready to apply as you start your second year. If you are applying for a formal placement year in collaboration with the University, always contact your department first to find out what partnerships and links already exist with employers.
Volunteering – voluntary work experience can be just as useful as paid work experience in career terms. Groundwork can be a useful site as can the Environment Agency. British Geological Survey advertise summer vacation voluntary work but students are given accommodation and paid £200 per week.
Course work – the mapping project and other similar projects undertaken as part of an Earth Science degree, are also a useful source of relevant experience and technical skill development which can be listed on a CV.
Careers & Employability organises many events throughout the year providing you with the opportunity to meet relevant employers. Check our events calendar here or in your Careers Account and notice boards in your department to find out who has arranged forthcoming visits.
Our STEM Careers Fair in October and Science Careers Fair in November can be excellent opportunities to meet industry professionals.