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Advice on what to specialize in


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Hey everyone, I'm a recent graduate (May 2014) with a B.S. in Environmental Science from Queens College in NYC. I'm about to start applying to grad school for next Fall but I'm not totally sure what to specialize in and I want some advice.

 

I'm slightly inclined towards environmental microbiology or something related (like soil science) since I have a bit of experience in that, but what I really need to know is where the jobs are. Based on my job hunting it seems to me like anything related to environmental policy or water science/hydrology is marketable for employment, but I want to hear some other opinions on this. As far as what type of work I'm seeking, I'm not very picky (you can't be, nowadays), but I would much prefer to do some actual hard science as opposed to policy. I don't mind lab work or field work at all.

 

P.S. It's my first time posting on this site, if I should have posted this in another sub-forum then please just let me know and I'll change it.

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I have no idea about job prospects in your field, however, I would imagine that work involving climate change, conservation, water, or food will be turning into a growth industry soon.

 

I do have some advice for you. Read the peer reviewed journals in your area(s) of interest. You should know what your basic research interests are so you can find a program that will help you do what you want to do. Reading the journals will show you what work is being done in your area(s) of interest, which will also give you some basic ideas about what's out there to research and what you might like to pursue, yourself.

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I would venture to say that if you don't know what you want to specialize in, then perhaps you aren't yet ready to apply for graduate school for next fall (fall 2015), particularly for doctoral programs.  Most deadlines are coming up between early December and mid-March; PhD deadlines tend to be earlier (before the end of January, usually).  At this point you should really have a decent solid (but flexible) list of programs and a good draft of a personal statement.  Both of those things require some insight into what it is you might like to do.

 

Furthermore, graduate school really isn't a time to explore new interests per se.  It's a time to specialize in a specific field geared towards a specific career or set of careers.  Of course there's room to grow within a specific area - but within a specific area.  Basically, by the time you start applying to programs you should already identify what kinds of jobs you think you might enjoy and what areas in which you think you might like to specialize, and apply to programs geared towards that.  It's a bit late to be doing that, particularly for doctoral programs.  (If your goal is an MS program, some of this advice might be less applicable, since the deadlines tend to be later and the programs tend to be less specialized.

 

As a last note - while I am very much in favor of being practical and orienting yourself towards topics and skills that are in-demand...make sure that you are also picking based upon your interests, too.  You don't want to get stuck doing something that is very marketable but makes you miserable.

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Thanks for your answers guys.

 

I have thought about waiting until Spring 2016, but due to some personal circumstances - and the fact that I've found it hard to get a job with just a B.S. and little experience - I really want to go in 2015, for an MS program. I've been doing some research and am feeling inclined towards studying water; I actually read a good deal of scientific literature on the topic as an undergrad, and water conservation/management will almost certainly be a big thing in the future. I think it's a good balance of practicality and my interests. However, I want to talk to some people in my field before proceeding. I've looked at some programs and I see that some of them have the deadline in early February, so yeah I definitely should have started sooner but I think it is still do-able.

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What was your focus in undergrad?  Environmental microbiology is completely different than hydrology (unless you're interested in water quality of course).  What science courses have you taken?  What math have you taken?

What questions do you have? 

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What was your focus in undergrad?  Environmental microbiology is completely different than hydrology (unless you're interested in water quality of course).  What science courses have you taken?  What math have you taken?

What questions do you have? 

I didn't have a clear focus, I went for a relatively varied selection of courses (although this also had to do with course availability and whatnot) as an undergrad.

 

I took one environmental microbiology class but I suppose I'd consider it my focus because I spent about 8 months working in my env. microbiology professor's lab so I got some hands-on knowledge. Some of that did involve water quality (e.g. we took water and air samples at various sites in NYC to examine the link between aquatic and aerobic microbes), and I also took another class where I read much peer-reviewed literature about the water cycle (mostly in relation to plants and soil). Other than that I took classes related more to climatology and geology, as well as the usual bio, chem, and physics. For math I've done stats and calculus (one class for each).

 

As for my actual questions, I'd like to know what specializations (hydrology, climatology, etc.) have the best outlook in terms of employment. I've found a bit of data on this but I also like to hear from people in the field. Also, what are some good schools for environmental programs (I think I'll make a separate thread for this topic)? I've noticed several that just have an MA or MS in environmental science and don't seem to give much attention to the subject.. the only ones I've seen that really interest me so far are University of Delaware and University of Colorado (I heard Rutgers was good but the deadline is too soon).

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Since you're going in for a Masters, it's okay to not really know exactly what you want to specialize in.  I would first focus on what kind of job I want to get after finishing my degree.  Also, focus on analysis techniques as these are the most useful things to list on a resume.  For example, if you would rather sit in an office and crunch numbers, take more quantitative analysis classes.  If you'd like to do field work, find classes that have a field work component.  Wherever you go, definitely take a GIS class. 

The highest paying field (and still in the most demand) is petrology.  Oil is money, as they say. 

Most of the data that has been released is showing an aging population in most geological science fields.  So there will be the regular job growth (I think the last numbers I saw for hydrologists was 10%) along with replacing these people who are close to retiring.  Here is a good website: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/environmental-scientists-and-specialists.htm

Most geo-fields are growing so any specialty is pretty safe. 

As for schools, that really depends on what you want to focus on.  I've noticed that a lot of EnviSci programs focus on policy or the "social" side rather than the physical sciences so you may want to look for Geoscience programs instead. 

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Since you're going in for a Masters, it's okay to not really know exactly what you want to specialize in.  I would first focus on what kind of job I want to get after finishing my degree.  Also, focus on analysis techniques as these are the most useful things to list on a resume.  For example, if you would rather sit in an office and crunch numbers, take more quantitative analysis classes.  If you'd like to do field work, find classes that have a field work component.  Wherever you go, definitely take a GIS class. 

The highest paying field (and still in the most demand) is petrology.  Oil is money, as they say. 

Most of the data that has been released is showing an aging population in most geological science fields.  So there will be the regular job growth (I think the last numbers I saw for hydrologists was 10%) along with replacing these people who are close to retiring.  Here is a good website: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/environmental-scientists-and-specialists.htm

Most geo-fields are growing so any specialty is pretty safe. 

As for schools, that really depends on what you want to focus on.  I've noticed that a lot of EnviSci programs focus on policy or the "social" side rather than the physical sciences so you may want to look for Geoscience programs instead. 

Thanks for the link, and the advice.. I definitely wish I'd taken a GIS class as an undergrad (my school had it but I don't think it was offered while I was there), software skills are important and it took me too long to really notice that. I am looking at the Geoscience programs, although so far it seems like many of those are purely geology-based material which I'm not too interested in.

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