Environmental Engineering Job……save the earth through science?

I’ve been an Environmental Engineer for approximately 7 years. There is the good and the bad, but overall I am not sure why I keep doing it. I’ll give the good first, because I don’t want to sound too pessimistic.

There can be a lot of variety in Environmental Engineering jobs if you want it (if you work at a mid size consulting company for example), or one can become very specialized as well (say, in academia or with larger environmental engineering companies). The work is not always sedentary. One can perform office design work and field work in the same day. The work, being varied, requires thinking. If you like to problem solve with numbers, code type logic, or geometrical problems, environmental engineering can be fun.

The personalities of your workmates, to me, can be classified (albeit broadly) into 2 different groups…The first group are the stereotypical science people. Usually they are fairly introverted, difficult to get to know but very decent people. The other broad category are the types that like to use all those corporate cliches and seem to be trying to convince you of something every time you are forced to speak to them. Unfortunately, this seems to be what most of the environmental engineering managers are like. There is a considerable amount of racial diversity across engineers, but only 6 percent of engineers are women. In my opinion, engineers tend to be conservative, family oriented males.

Environmental engineers tend to work for larger, established companies and consulting companies. If you like corporate type work, the established companies are stable and usually well paying. The consulting companies, like all businesses, vary depending on ownership. In the environmental science field, turnover at these companies tends to be large, the pay low, and job availability cyclical.

The biggest word of warning is as follows: I think if anyone is considering “environmental” or other feel good engineering fields for moral reasons they had better reconsider their options. Engineering across the disciplines is very similar. If you don’t like the aspects of, say, electrical engineering you probably will not like environmental. These are project base disciplines that are approached with a lowest cost attitude. Managing engineers are running businesses and project engineers are an expense.

In 5 years, I think I will have shifted to something more human oriented, perhaps teaching sciences.