Earlier this fall, Sweden’s Umeå University announced a scientific breakthrough related to the potential of ionic liquids as solvents. Published in the journal ChemSusChem, these findings are of interest for several reasons. Of course, there’s the fact that this advancement yields new and valuable insights into “enzymatic refinement of cellulose to precious molecules and industrial products.” This has numerous applications, including in the production of ethanol as fuel, which has the potential to significantly reduce oil dependence and greenhouse gas emissions.
But equally as interesting is the pivotal role students played in Umeå’s achievement, in addition to as as part of the teams that drive discovery in environmental research at universities around the world. Whether you’re just beginning to develop your knowledge of the changing environment and steps which can be taken to help safeguard it as a bachelor’s degree student or you’re pursuing advanced studies and research as a master’s degree or doctoral student, there are many paths to making a difference as an environmental researcher.
Our future well-being as people on this planet depends critically on the well-being of the natural systems around us. And while policy development and management are certainly important factors in protecting clean air, water, and other natural resources, another factor also comes into play: scientific knowledge.
With climate change and global sustainability challenges looming ahead, environmental research innovation will play a critical role in helping the world’s biological systems, communities and industries adapt, prevent further loss, and survive in a way beneficial to human life.
As with the important work coming out of Umeå, universities in all corners of the planet are leading the charge when it comes to addressing the world’s most topical environmental issues. Scientists and researchers not only play a critical role in identifying the concerns which face society both now and in the future, but also in developing interventions to mitigate human impacts.
The Field of Environmental Research
With more challenges facing the world than ever before, the need for solutions is increasingly paramount. The task is anything but simple: not only are current consequences difficult to reverse, but doing so also involves acknowledging and integrating a broad range of social, economic and political contexts.
Accordingly, degrees in environmental research cover equally dynamic topic, including the geological, biological and chemical processes which impact the environment, as well as how they come into play in the world around us (climate change, pollution control, population dynamics, ecosystems and biodiversity, etc.). Students and researchers also have plenty of opportunities to practice -- both inside the lab and out in the field.
Why Environmental Research May Be Right For You
All academic degrees offer the opportunity to expand your knowledge and make a difference. However, there’s arguably no path more meaningful at this current juncture in human history than environmental studies.
While the challenges are profound, so are the opportunities: environmental research advancements are happening every day at lightning speed. As a student and researcher in this field, you’ll have plenty of space to innovate -- in academia or in another environment-related sector. Because while environmental research is comparatively new as a dedicated field of study, it is at the top of the list when it comes to disciplines with relevant and topical real-world applications. And as the recent news from Sweden demonstrates, you don't have to wait to graduate to start making a difference. Research opportunities exist for students at all levels which allow them to get their hands dirty while getting the planet clean.
Not to mention that these issues aren't going away anytime soon. The takeaway for today’s career-minded students? There are plenty of jobs to be found. In fact, the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook reveals that jobs for environmental scientists and specialists have a projected growth rate of 15 percent for the years between 2012 and 2022 -- easily outpacing the average for all professions.
One final morsel of food for thought? American Professor of Environmental Science and Policy Rob Sanford once pointed out that, “From an environmental standpoint, the planet doesn’t care if humans are here or not.” In other words, while the concept of “saving the planet” may be somewhat misguided when viewed through this lens, there’s another very real imperative for today’s environmental researchers: to make our lives more sustainable not just as an overarching concept, but also in terms of our own personal ideals, priorities, and how we choose to live our lives.
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