Career opportunities after an Environmental Science degree

A degree in environmental science from Ulster University opens many new doors in terms of your career choices. This section looks at some of the careers chosen by our environmental science graduates and presents short profiles of alumni outlining a variety of career paths.

Environmental scientists work to identify, control, or eliminate sources of pollutants or hazards affecting the environment or public health. At Ulster you will develop a range of quantitative and qualitative research skills to address these issues. Our graduates are employed across a wide range of fields. Their work generally involves determining data collection methods; collecting and analyzing air, water, and soil samples; analyzing environmental data gathered by others; and analyzing for correlations to human activity. They often advise government officials that make policy, and businesses that need to follow regulations or improve their practices.

Where are they now?

Alumni case studies: find out what some of our environmental science alumni have to say about their time at Ulster and what they are doing now.

Niamh McDermott: Environmental Consultant

I graduated in 2015 and then started work as an Environmental Scientist in the private sector with SpillAssist Ltd., based in Armagh. The company specialises in the remediation of contaminated land, particularly contamination by fuel oils. The work is varied and involves lots of environmental sampling, mostly soil but also water sampling and some atmospheric sampling for volatile compounds. I really like this variation and being outside on investigation as much time as being in the office. I’m also really pleased to be working for a consultancy in the private sector so soon after graduating and this is the direction I’d like to pursue for my future career.

Edward Lockhart: PhD research student

I graduated in 2014, having completed an industrial placement with the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute. During my degree,I undertook several marine geophysics and marine science modules which formed the foundation for my passion for marine geophysics. These skills led me to conduct a dissertation project which involved reconstructing the palaeo-glacial environment of the North Channel using glacial features identified from multi-beam echo-sounder data. My interest in the use of marine geophysics in palaeo-environmental reconstructions led me to then pursue an MSc in Applied Marine Geoscience (Bangor University). This course enhanced my experience in the collection, processing and interpretation of various geophysical datasets, along with giving me knowledge of the geotechnical investigation of glacigenic sediments. I am now doing a PhD at Bangor using geophysical data and sediment cores to reconstruct palaeo-glacial environments, specifically the extension of the last British-Irish Ice Sheet into the Celtic Sea. This will improve our understanding of how past ice sheets behaved due to changing climate and sea level, allowing us to apply this knowledge to current ice sheets to predict changes in their ice mass due to similar environmental stresses. This research forms part of the BRITICE Project, which aims to reconstruct and constrain the deglaciation of the British-Irish Ice Sheet through targeted terrestrial and marine sampling strategies.

Chris Finlay: Environmental Intern

After graduating in 2013, I successfully applied for a Graduate Certificate in Professional Practice course that was advertising a position to work for Fermanagh District Council as an Environmental Science Intern. The work is challenging, gets me out and about all over Fermanagh, which is a beautiful place, and it’s a good chance for me to learn how science is applied in industry. A great thing to come from this internship is that I will have six months of strong work experience and will leave after finishing an independent project which I can use to back up applications for other jobs. Importantly, however, I’ve realised I want to keep learning and developing. Teaching is something I’m looking into as well as I’ve found that helping others (particularly those my age and younger) is a big motivator for me.

Lynda Byrne: Mapping and Charting Officer

I graduated in 2013. During my time at the University I successfully applied for a place on the Marine Institute’s summer bursary program and completed the work experience year. During my placement I gained valuable professional experience using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) within conservation. This was augmented during my final semester when I took part in the iMap project where I developed my presentation and project management skills. I am currently employed as a Mapping and Charting officer with LPS and will be starting as a GI Consultant with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development at the end of January 2014. The support I gained throughout my studies from the University of Ulster has given me a good base on which to develop a career which both interests and challenges me.

Gail McAleese: Offshore Marine Geophysicist

I graduated in 2011 after developing a keen interest in seafloor mapping and marine geology after taking modules in these areas as part of my degree. Subsequently I completed an MSc in Applied Marine Geosciences at Bangor University. I was lucky to be a recipient of the Society for Underwater Technology Educational Support Fund (ESF) at Ulster and Bangor, which was a big financial help. My undergraduate and postgraduate degree paths led me to make the natural progression into the offshore industry, and I’m currently employed by Gardline Geosurvey Ltd as an Offshore Marine Geophysicist, working on site investigation projects for the the oil and gas and offshore renewable energy industries.

Colin Armstrong: Government Freshwater Scientist

I graduated in 2003 and I’m currently employed as a Principal Scientific Officer in the Department of Environment’s Marine Division. In this role I’m managing the Conservation and Reporting team which has responsibility for marine nature conservation and archaeology. I had previously worked for the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) where I spent 8 years as an ecologist working on the lake monitoring programme and a year in the Strategy Group where I had the opportunity to be involved with policy development. During my degree I completed a 51 week placement with NIEA and this experience, together with the skills that were taught as part of the Environmental Science programme, have proved to be very valuable in preparing me for the various roles I have had within the Department of Environment and NIEA.

Deborah Ballantine: University Lecturer

I graduated from Ulster in 2002 and continued my studies at the University of Exeter, with a PhD in Physical Geography, researching soil erosion and pollutant transport in river catchments. Following this, and after working with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, I moved to New Zealand as a water quality researcher with Ag-Research and NIWA. In 2013, I relocated again to an academic post at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province in China where I am Acting Head of the Department of Environmental Science. I’m still thankful to the University of Ulster lecturers who brought my subject to life, and who inspired me to continue with my studies and to make my career in environmental science.

Richard McFaul: Water Quality Inspector

I graduated in 2001, after completing a 12-month industrial placement with the Fisheries Conservancy Board for Northern Ireland. I pursued my interest in water science and management by remaining at Ulster to complete a PhD on the ecology of Lough Beg and then a year as a post-doctoral researcher. In 2006 I worked as an environmental consultant in the field of renewal energy and since 2007 I have worked as a Water Quality Inspector for the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. I am primarily involved with legislation enforcement, specifically in relation to water pollution from sources such as oil spills, farms and industrial premises. This involves investigating reported pollution incidents, determining and stopping the source and, where necessary, proceeding to court action. My lifelong interest in the natural environment has moved my career towards environmental protection and the education I received at Ulster served as a good basis for this work.

Alastair Fenn: Environmental Officer

I graduated in 2009 and went straight into employment to gain experience. I realised that given the competitive nature of employment in Northern Ireland I would have to broaden my horizons. In October 2009 I took up a position with the Deveron, Bogie & Isla River Charitable Trust in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, as their Biosecurity and Fisheries Development Officer. During the next 3 years I gained valuable skills and was directly responsible for deploying the UK’s first catchment-wide biosecurity project. In October 2012 I took up a position with the Lough Neagh Partnership as Environmental Officer for Lough Neagh and continue to develop and build on skills and knowledge that began at the University of Ulster.

Pete Rodgers: Hydrogeologist

I graduated in 2004  and then completed a Masters in Research in 2005 focusing on palaeolimnology. After leaving University I began a career as a hydrogeologist at White, Young and Green, an engineering consultancy in Belfast. I moved to Melbourne in 2011 and now project manage the assessment and remediation of large-scale contaminated sites with Golder Associates, a large international engineering consultancy. In 2013 I became the Vice-President of the Victorian chapter of the Australian Contaminated Land Consultants Association. I really enjoy the diversity of work and mix of people I get to interact with on a daily basis. No two projects are ever quite the same and I get to visit and work in some amazing locations. The degrees I completed at the University of Ulster provided me with a flexible skill set which I have been able to apply to a number of different technical roles.

Dellwyn Kane: Ecologist

I graduated in 2003 and then continued on in the School of Geography and Environmental Sciences working as a Research Assistant on a lake ecology project and a palaeolimnology project. In 2004 I began my doctoral research into freshwater pollution pathways, working as a teaching assistant in the School at the same time. In 2007 and 2008 I briefly worked with the NIEA as a Water Quality Officer, with White Young Green as an Ecological Consultant and also as a private consultant. Following this I took up a position as a Countryside Management Advisor for DARD. In June 2013 I launched my own Ecological Consultancy, Kane Ecology, to provide ecological surveying and assessment services for the planning and conservation sectors.

Mike McLaughlin: Soil Scientist

I graduated in 1977 and then went on to do a M.Agr.Sc. in Soil Science at the University of Reading. I then worked in South Africa at the Soil and Irrigation Research Institute in Pretoria for 3 years as a soil chemist before starting a PhD at The University of Adelaide in Australia in 1983, graduating in 1986. After a postdoctoral fellowship with CSIRO Plant Industry Division in Canberra for 3 years, I moved to Melbourne to work in the fertilizer industry for the Australian Phosphate Corporation until 1991. I then moved back to Adelaide and commenced with CSIRO Division of Soils as a Research Scientist working on soil and environmental chemistry. I have been with CSIRO since and am now a CSIRO Fellow. I joined the University of Adelaide in 2004 as a Professor in the School of Agriculture Food and Wine and now lead the Mosaic-sponsored University of Adelaide Fertiliser Technology Research Centre. My undergraduate training at the University of Ulster stimulated my interest in soils, agriculture and environmental issues, and encouraged me to gain further qualifications in these areas where I have now specialised.

Thomas Smyth: Numerical Modeller

I graduated from Ulster in 2009. After completing my undergraduate dissertation on simulating nearshore waves to predict beach slope, I became interested in continuing my studies and was awarded a PhD scholarship to study airflow and sediment transport dynamics in coastal dune blowouts. Following the completion of my PhD in 2012, I moved to Australia to work as a postdoctoral research fellow at Flinders University. The combination of field, lab and computation skills I developed at Ulster has enabled me to collaborate with a range of scientists investigating fluid dynamics in terrestrial, marine and Martian environments. The research involved in both my PhD and current role have also provided me the opportunities to travel throughout Europe, North America, Asia and Australasia to perform fieldwork and attend conferences.

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