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The complexity of the ecosystem requires that scientists who work to understand and protect the environment often need to work across traditional disciplines. In order to further our knowledge of the ecosystem while also preserving it, this requires an understanding not only of biology, chemistry, and engineering but also of the intricacies of policy making and the human factors related to use of the environment. Policies that are too expensive to implement or that leave populations without a means of earning a living often result in worsening conditions, despite the best of intentions. Because of this, past policies of unilateral preservation have evolved into those of sustainability that work for the benefit of all parties involved.

Environmental science is a broad term that covers the basic sciences, geography, geology, atmospheric sciences, and marine biology. Scientists within the field work to improve our understanding of the natural environment, track changes within the environment, and look for ways to make conditions better or maintain systems to keep them in their natural balance. In catastrophic situations, such as a flood or wildfire, environmental scientists may be called in to assess the level of damage to the environment and provide recommendations on cleaning up the area, tracking migration of species that were native to the destroyed area, and restoring the area to its previous state. Those who are specialists in environmental resource management may work with governments and businesses to form sustainable policies that allow companies to earn a profit while also promoting the environmental health of the area.

The global nature of environmental sciences means that great schools can be found at home as well as abroad, including names you probably know, like Oxford, but also schools like National University of Singapore (NUS) and Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Top school on the west coast of the US include those in the University of California system and the University of Washington. On the east coast, Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) offers graduate and doctoral programs in Meteorology, Environmental Science, and Environmental Resource Management. FIT’s strength in engineering empowers students to have the skills to explore environmental dynamics and environmental modeling in depth.

As more people are becoming aware of the importance of sustainability, a larger number of schools are offering degrees in this interdisciplinary field. Undergraduate degrees in Environmental Science typically allow students to take classes across the disciplines in order to provide a foundation of knowledge and prepare students for entry-level jobs within the field. Graduate programs are usually more specialized and give students the opportunity to work on more complex projects, often as part of an interdisciplinary and international team. Combining theoretical knowledge and practical experience can pave the way to a rewarding and meaningful career in protecting the environment.