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Career Options- Natural Environment

Natural Environment Graduate Destinations

A survey of graduates 6 months after graduation reveals that Queen's graduates from this School have recently gone into the following…

Accountancy: Accounts Technician

Administration: Trainee Manager

Animal: Kennels Manager

Charity and Development Work: Charity Support Worker

Environment: Biodiversity Officer, Community Ecologist, Ecologist, Environmental Technician, Field Trials Officer, Agricultural Health and Safety Inspector

Research Services: Business Analyst, Policy and Compliance Research Assistant, Research Assistant

Retailing and Wholesale: Sales Manager

As with all programmes at all universities, some graduates have not gone into graduate level work. Recent roles have included: Shop Assistant, Call Centre Operative and Bar Staff.

There can be many reasons to explain this including saving for further study, getting relevant work experience, wanting to take some time-out, but often it is due to a lack of career planning prior to graduating. Reviewing these careers resources and taking advantage of opportunities to Go Further will help to ensure that you fulfil your career potential. If you wish to book an appointment to discuss your options and plan your career you can do this through myfuture.

Some have gone into further study in areas such as:


  • PhD study (various areas)
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Animal Behaviour and Welfare
  • Sustainable Aquaculture
  • Software development
  • Medicine
  • Computational Biology
  • Teaching
  • Animation
  • Management




Environmental Conservation / Ecology

Conservationists and ecologists work in a wide range of urban and rural environments to protect and improve the environment. Most begin their careers in field-based jobs, collecting and analysing data, and progress on to managing projects.. There may also be a community education element to conservation roles. 

Ecologists usually choose a specialist area (e.g. freshwater, marine, terrestrial, fauna, flora) and then carry out a range of tasks relating to that area. With career progression, work is likely to become more wide-ranging, with senior ecologists getting more involved in policy and management work. 

Useful sites include :


Environmental NGO’s (Non governmental organisations)

Work with environmental pressure groups and NGO’s often means adopting a highly visible public profile, although not all groups are frontline. Opportunities in many of the smaller groups for paid work experience are few, but volunteers are often needed. The purpose of the groups is to increase awareness of particular environmental issues, and to campaign directly for change.  A list of local NGO’s can be found on the Northern Ireland Environment link website .


Commercial Environmental roles - Environmental management systems

This involves pollution prevention and control and carbon management- opportunities exist in carbon auditing, carbon offsetting, carbon capture and storage, as well as in the development of cleaner industrial processes, sustainable procurement, low carbon energy generation and improved energy efficiency.

Many companies now employ an Environmental manager to look after this type of work as it has cost benefits for business.  NIEA are NI’s key agency for administering laws to control and reduce pollution. Sometimes this work can also be contracted out to Environmental consultancies.


Environmental Consultancies

Environmental consultants work on commercial or government contracts, addressing a variety of environmental issues. They cover a wide range of disciplines such as:  assessment of air; land and water contamination; environmental impact assessment; environmental audit; waste management and the development of environmental policy; environmental management systems. ENDS Directory contains list of consultancies, many consultancies will advertise opportunities directly from their websites.


Environmental Scientists and Engineers

Apply science and engineering principles to improve the environment, to clean up polluted sites and to provide clean water, air and land. They are often responsible for designing public and industrial water treatment systems, as well as conducting hazardous waste management studies, providing advice and developing regulations.  


Marine Scientists/Aquaculture

Marine scientists are involved in research, analysis and forecasts in relation to the oceans, their life forms and coastal areas. They analyse the sea and its interaction with the land, atmosphere and sea floors and use the information gained to predict changes to the earth’s infrastructure, inform statutory legislation and encourage environmental protection.  


Animal related roles

Typically students coming through Zoology programmes can move into a host of Animal related and broader Bioscience careers. Jobs are available with a wide range of organisations in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.    Gaining experience via Volunteering and the many International programmes that exist can be useful, the following E Books are available via the myfuture information area - Volunteering with Animals   and   Working with Animals   

Typical employers include;


Water Scientist

A water quality scientist is responsible for safeguarding all aspects of water quality through scientific analysis and the setting of targets and standards in response to specific legislation. They compare test results with these standards, investigate shortfalls and take action to remedy problems.


Soil Scientist

A soil scientist gathers, interprets and evaluates information about the chemistry, biology and physics of soils to inform and influence issues as diverse as agricultural production, environmental quality, human health, climate change, land remediation and biodiversity. 

Product / Process Development Scientist (Various sectors)

Companies which manufacture products typically need development scientists who understand and control the processes used to make the final product. Development scientists work across the manufacturing industry, on products as diverse as foods, medicines, cosmetics and paints.  A postgraduate qualification may help you with a move in this direction.

Analytical Testing Laboratories – Lab Assistants

Scientific laboratory Assistants are involved in a variety of laboratory-based investigations within biological, chemical, physical and life science areas. They may carry out sampling, testing, measuring, recording and analysing of results as part of a scientific team. Technicians provide all the required technical support to enable the laboratory to function effectively whilst adhering to correct procedures and health and safety guidelines.  Employers include Food, Environment and water testing labs.  Labs should be UKAS accredited which provides those using their services with a level of quality assurance.  Companies locally who carry out such testing include Biosearch, Chemtest, Beechwood and the AFBI labs amongst others, a fuller list of UK labs is available on the UKAS website.



In Schools: A recognised teaching qualification is essential to find work in this area. The Department of Education Northern Ireland has general details about Initial Teacher Education (which includes the PGCE). The Universities and Colleges offering the training also has information on their websites which include how to apply and the closing dates e.g. Queen’s Initial Teacher Education (PGCE) information.

PGCE courses are very competitive to get into so interested students are recommended to: 

  • Gain experience of working with young people of the age group you hope to teach – usually gained through voluntary work.
  • Get an insight into what work as a teacher is like by trying to arrange to speak to a teacher to ask them about their job, and/or try to get some classroom observation experience. Many students find it easiest to arrange this through personal contacts or with schools where they were once a pupil. It may be possible to arrange with a local school via a speculative application.
  • Keep up-to-date with what’s happening in Education via the Times Education Supplement and the Guardian’s Education section.
  • Apply early.
  • These interview tips are useful when preparing for the course interview.


The Teach First Leadership Development Programme recruits high achieving graduates to work as teachers in some of the most disadvantaged schools in England and Wales.  Its 2 year programme combines this work with business skills training, internship and mentoring opportunities. At the end of the programme around 50% stay in the teaching profession in a leadership position, the other 50% are readily employed in a variety of business areas.

The JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme is an official and prestigious Japanese government scheme that sends graduates to Japan in order to promote international understanding at grass-roots level and to improve foreign language teaching in schools. Although participants teach English to school pupils, applicants for the programme can come from any degree discipline providing they hold a full UK passport.  It is a tough application process that begins in the October preceding the departure the following summer.

The TET (Teach English in Thailand) programme offers students and recent graduates a 9 week placement opportunity as a Teaching Assistant in Thailand.


Science writing, Science Communication and Education

Working to promote areas of Science, this area is very broad and can encompass Environmental education and teaching through to science writing, medical writing, journalism and broadcasting, once again our Careers has an area dedicated to Education and Science Communication.   Our very own School Qubioblog is a great example of the communication of science by staff and students.

Science writers research, write and edit scientific news, articles and features. Many science writers have a science degree . A scientist can either start writing immediately upon graduation, or can move into the industry after several years of scientific research.

Translating scientific and technical information into a style that is easy for others to understand requires specialist knowledge and strong communication skills. This job profile Science Writer has more details about the work. Useful sources of information are European Medical Writers Association, Association of British Science Writers, NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) and

With a first degree in Science, a qualification in journalism can be helpful to make the move to writing. You may find some advertised volunteering opportunities in journalism and PR, and some opportunities through The Gown.  It is also worth making proactive, speculative approaches to relevant magazines and newspapers. It is important to start building a portfolio of written articles.  


General Graduate Options

Approximately 50% of graduate vacancies are open graduates of any subject. Some may require some additional, specialist, post-graduate training but some do not. The list is extensive but includes fields as diverse as accountancy, IT, housing management and recruitment consultancy.  You can get an idea of the variety of opportunities plus find year-long and summer work opportunities by looking on the .


Further study options?

A postgraduate qualification is often required to follow a career in the environmental sector. Further study may be at either Masters or PhD level, depending on the particular career you wish to pursue. For example, whilst a PhD is important for a career in research, taught Masters courses are popular when entering the field of environmental consultancy, or as conversion courses.   Prior to starting research into MSc programmes it is important that you are very clear on your options after the qualifications, Environmental career areas are very broad!


What can I actually do when I graduate?

Many young Biological Scientists (incl Zoology, Marine)and Environmental students express a particular interest in working in areas related to the Environment.  The range of employers who recruit in this area is wide, and includes the following sectors:

  • Voluntary and charity sector, e.g. wildlife and habitat conservation charities and environmental NGOs
  • Public sector – Environment agencies, Councils, Research Institutes, Universities and Land management organisations
  • Private sector - ranging from large, multinational companies, companies involved in implementing Environmental Management systems to improve their Environmental performance, employers can range from manufacturing, water and forestry industries, nuclear, gas, chemical, electricity, oil and mining companies, environmental consultancies and research

The School of Biological Sciences Careers area  has very good information which will help you in your search for information and employers in this area -  and the Prospects sector overview will also help Environment students consider their job and career options

What can I actually do when I graduate?  (Research)

From your research you have some decisions to start to consider.  One of the first things to think about is if you want to work in a Laboratory or not.  Some students will want to work in Lab based Research and Development roles and others may be more interested in working in industry based labs. More information  here.

University research, Research institutes and government agencies:

Academic institutions and research centres carry out much of the baseline research, working to contracts awarded by organisations such as the Research Councils, countryside agencies, Government departments and industrial clients. Other research is done as personal projects, carried out alongside other aspects of the job, such as university teaching. Results of research are published in scientific journals and specialist magazines.

Employers include universities; research organisations funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), including the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), the National Oceanography Centre and the British Antarctic Survey; organisations that carry out environmental and biological research for government departments dealing with agriculture (e.g. Queen’s Institute for Global Food security, AFBI, Teagasc, DEFRA, the Institute of Arable Crops Research (Rothamsted), the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research and the Scottish Agricultural College) (Source: IEMA, Rooting for a Career in Ecology or Environmental Management).

AFBI are an example of a local research institute and their research areas can easily be found on their website, AFBI are one of NI’s leading Scientist employers.  The availability of opportunities varies according to subject, and may be found in government departments (e.g. DSTL, MOD), government agencies (e.g. NIEA, Health Protection Agency) or in institutions associated with charities such as Wildlife Trusts, National Trust and RSPB.  AFBI recruit via recruitment agencies.


How do I make a decision?

There isn’t one right way to make a career decision, but there are a few things worth doing and worth considering in order to make an informed choice:

  1. Don’t think you have to choose just one option – instead a shortlist of preferred options can be a useful strategy. Transferable skills can be gained from any type of work experience, so even if your work experience relates to one area, that won’t restrict you from moving into a different area.
  2. Think about what is important to you and look for evidence of those things when exploring your options e.g. if it is a priority for you to stay in Northern Ireland, look at the Relevant Job Websites for career areas that interest you to see how many job adverts you can find for that type of work here.
  3. The above are just a few of the options related to your degree area. It isn’t a comprehensive list.  Spend some time exploring the Relevant Job Websites to find other job titles and areas.
  4. Look at LinkedIn’s alumni tool (Topic 5 on the LinkedIn for students website) to see the career paths of alumni on LinkedIn.
  5. Speak to company representatives at on campus events (including fairs and employer presentations). Keep an eye on MyFuture for these opportunities.
  6. Need more information – approach any contacts you have, or speculatively approach companies, to set-up an information interview.
  7. If you’ve managed to successfully make use of an information interview, you could ask for a brief period ofwork-shadowing, i.e. observing someone while they work.  As little as a few hours of work-shadowing can give you a real insight into a job and company, and it is often easier for a company to agree to this than it would be to agree to a period of work experience.
  8. Still can’t decide? Sometimes you can only truly get a feel for whether a certain job is for you by trying it out.  Short-term work experience for students is a great method for trying-out different jobs and companies - see "What can you do to Go Further?" to find relevant opportunities.  If you are a graduate, remember, even a permanent job isn’t necessarily a job for life!

If you’d like to discuss any of this with a Careers Consultant please book an appointment through MyFuture.