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Information on Higher Studies in Environmental Science
October 1, 2012 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Looking for some information on Higher Studies in Environmental Science

This question is for a student who is pursuing B. Sc. (3-year course) majoring in Environmental Science in India. She would like to pursue higher studies like Masters (MS) and so on in the same major. I have following questions from this student,

- Does this major have enough scope (with regards to job or career as such) in current state? Agreed that cllimatology and stuff becomes little controversial at a times, will you say that this major is good enough to pursue?
- With the limited courses available in India for this major, she may have to leave the country. Which universities in the US (or any other developed country) offer quality courses?
- (US Only) I did a quick google search and there are a few universities offering this course. Since I am not from this field, I don't know, how to evaluate these universities and their courses. Is there any way that I can find, course university X is better than university Y?
- If you work in this field, do you have any advice for this student, with regards to specifics of the courses or even in general?

This student still has 2 more years to go before she finishes this course. I wonder if there is any way that she can do volunteer work with societies/institutes/NGOs working in the same field (and operate in India).

Thanks you very much in advance.
posted by zaxour to Education (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I work in this field, and my advice would be to take more math, chemistry, engineering, and computer classes than are required. While many of the courses I took as an undergraduate and graduate provided a fine broad understanding of climate change/soil science/wetlands plants/energy sources/water supplies, I use almost none of that knowledge in my daily work now, while I do use excel, algebra, and basic toxicology all the time.

If she can also identify an area that is of most interest to her (even broad ones, like "water quality"), that will also help her narrow her focus and get internships/volunteer gigs. That, or develop something like the computer skills that NGOs are often needing.

I haven't known of strong opinions about the quality of schools, but maybe that's because I attended public universities. I do know that the Yale Forestry has often been touted as one of the best.
posted by ldthomps at 10:59 AM on October 1, 2012

I'm currently working toward a BS in Environmental Science at the University of Iowa. I'm considering doing an MS in Geoscience (Geology) once I finish, focusing on environmental stuff.

My program involves a lot of core science classes (physics, chemistry, biology, math) and geology classes (groundwater, fluvial systems, geophysics) and engineering classes (environmental chemistry, modeling natural systems, geologic site investigation for engineering projects) and geography (GIS and remote sensing mainly). IMHO if her curriculum is like mine, she will be well-prepared for a variety of environmental science careers or grad programs (like ldthomps just said). I took climatology too but I think for this degree it's really important to develop your basic science knowledge and skills so you can understand new situations and projects as they come to you. I also recommend putting some work into developing your technical and scientific writing skills. Employers really like hiring people who write well.

I don't know what universities are renowned for this. I think school prestige in this field isn't such a big deal as it is for some other fields. More important is finding research that's interesting and a professor who will work with you to get some lab/field/work experience. I think we have a pretty good program here at Iowa - I have a lot of access to professors, and plenty of opportunities to do real work.

In my experience, it's pretty easy to find volunteer/internship work if you're willing to put your boots on and do boring stuff - I got a really nice internship locally by volunteering to spend half a day every week slogging through creeks testing water quality, and now that's on my resume and looks great, and I learned about working in the environmental field outside of academia. I don't know anything about the environmental NGO scene in India, but probably it can't hurt to ask if there's some hard tedious job you can do for free.
posted by thirteenkiller at 11:21 AM on October 1, 2012

Environmental Science is a very broad, loosely defined degree. In some places, it's a social policy/political science/economics with little science, in others it's a biology/chemistry degree with an emphasis on ecology. Employers sometimes look askance at specifically ES degrees because they are so poorly defined. If this were my relative, I'd suggest looking at graduate work in a specific discipline, rather than a general program like ES.

To amplify on ldthmops' point, you can never have enough statistics courses.
posted by bonehead at 11:26 AM on October 1, 2012

Good information. I don't have her course work handy but have asked her to send it to me. Can I contact you through mefi mail, once I get this information?

I hope her program is at par with yours but honestly, I wouldn't keep high hopes. In India, some universities updated their coursework recently to match the current needs of the job market but some are still running 1980's courses, making them essentially useless. Do you have your program course work details online?

Glad that you found some volunteer gig. These things don't come by easily in India.

Same question to you too, can I contact you through mefi mail?

You are right at the point. Even I thought the same thing, Environmental Science is a broad term, just like Computer Science but since its not my field, here is the question for the folks in that field to give me a hand on figuring out specifics for her.
posted by zaxour at 1:35 PM on October 1, 2012

Generalist employers will do what they always do, and assume that a given degree from a school they've decided is good will be likewise good. Specialist employers know which courses have a track record in fulfilling their recruitment needs, and will ignore school reputation if needed. There's no substitute for alumnus destination information, sadly, and it's hard to come by.

I'd probably agree with a specialist MSc being preferable to a generalist one, everything else being equal - not least because you can tailor your choice to what looks interesting - but school reputation and course content stop everything being equal. I'd definitely go specialist if your student has a specific interest in climate change, water security, energy policy, conservation or environmental legislation as these fields have matured to the point where a specialist degree is almost expected.

The usual postgraduate caveats about not going into personal debt, checking contact hours and facilities, and getting feedback direct from current or former students also apply, of course.
posted by cromagnon at 2:33 PM on October 1, 2012

My BS program

You're welcome to message me!
posted by thirteenkiller at 3:59 PM on October 1, 2012

Yale Forestry is a great program, from what I've heard. Stanford has a good one as well (and they have a tree as an emblem). I got my Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management from U.C. Berkeley's College of Natural Resources - I think it is an exceptional program, particularly for my research focus (I study fire).

In terms of career prospects, I think flexibility is a good trait to inculcate - that is one reason I like the breadth of Cal's degree program. I know some of my peers have struggled finding jobs, but many have found places in academia and outside it. Personally, I am working for the U.S. Forest Service in more applied role: rather than studying fires, I'm putting them out (and, on occasion, starting them). I couldn't be happier: I love my job, and the breadth of the graduate program Cal provided me skills and knowledge that I use every day.

I'd also strongly urge your friend when considering grad school - unless your rationale is very compelling do not pay for grad school. A good program should be well-funded enough to offer good candidates funding and help them find funding to fill the gaps. If a student isn't offered funding, I'd take a very hard look at yourself (is this the right time for you to apply? Is there something you can do to become a stronger candidate?) and the program (if they're not offering support for grad students, why? What is going wrong?). There are a lot of great fellowships and scholarships out there for graduate students as well - at the same time that she is applying for programs, she can begin applying for them.

I'm happy for her (or anyone) to contact me, and given enough lead time, am generally quite happy to comment on grad school/NSF applications.
posted by RachelSmith at 8:41 PM on October 1, 2012

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