If you have a scientific and analytical mind you may be suited to a career as a water quality 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.
Depending on your employer, you may be involved in providing solutions to water quality problems and water quality regulation. More senior roles may involve significant liaison with businesses, the public and other water industry professionals.
You may specialise in one of the following areas:
As a water quality scientist, you'll need to:
Benefits may include a contributory pension scheme, company car and private healthcare scheme.
Figures are intended as a guide only.
Standard working hours are 9am to 5pm, but roles typically include regular extra hours. Most organisations provide 24-hour emergency cover, so employees often work extra time on a rota basis.
Overtime payments and a standby allowance may be available and time off in lieu is often given for bank-holiday working. Extra hours might be expected in response to a serious incident.
Part-time work and career breaks are possible.
This area of work is open to all graduates but will be especially relevant to those with a science degree. In particular, the following subjects are useful:
Entry is possible with a relevant HND, for example subjects that have a strong element of analytical chemistry and/or biology. However it may be difficult to secure a job with a HND only because of the level of competition typical of all environmental roles.
If you have a HND you are more likely to be recruited to technician or sampling roles, with progression possible through experience and further study and training.
The water industry has a history of developing its own staff and seeking to fill vacancies through internal progression where possible. Laboratory experience within a work placement can aid HND entry. It is unlikely that you will be able to enter the career without a HND or degree.
Although a postgraduate qualification is not generally required, it may offer some advantage if your first degree is not closely related to the work. Postgraduate courses with work placements or with strong ties to the industry would be preferred. A number of courses are accredited by the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM). For a list of institutions and courses, see CIWEM: Academic Accreditation.
You will need to have:
As with all environmental careers, work experience, whether paid or voluntary, is often important.
Organisations offering voluntary work include:
It is a good idea to get membership of a relevant organisation to keep up to date with news in the industry. Student and graduate membership is available with CIWEM. This gives access to publications and opportunities to attend conferences and events.
Water companies provide a major source of employment within the industry. There are various companies that supply water and sewerage to England and Wales and a full list can be found at Ofwat - Water Company Contact Details.
Water and waste water services are provided in Scotland by Scottish Water. It acts as the wholesaler to the licensed water and sewerage suppliers.
In Northern Ireland, these services are delivered by Northern Ireland Water.
Other employers include regulatory bodies, such as:
Some consultancies and environmental organisations employ water quality scientists.
Look for job vacancies at:
Useful directories for contact details include the ENDS Environmental Consultancy Directory.
Employers generally provide on-the-job training. Formal training is usually provided for procedural and regulatory issues and is often delivered by relevant agencies or consultants. Self-directed study and distance learning are used by some employers.
Water quality scientists are required to keep their knowledge up to date as there are frequent changes within legislation concerning water quality. For this reason continuing professional development (CPD) is important.
There are frequent changes within legislation concerning water quality so it's important that you keep up to date with CPD. The CIWEM offers CPD courses on a range of relevant topics and also has online CPD units, which can be completed by members and non-members. Find out more at CIWEM e-learning.
Once you have built up some relevant experience you can become a member of CIWEM. To do so, you will need to submit a written report that details your environmental activities and demonstrates your responsibility in water management.
The larger water companies have graduate training schemes or management training programmes, and these tend to concentrate on commercial functions and water operations management, rather than water quality work. They typically provide structured training towards understanding all aspects of the business, as well as support for professional qualifications.
Some water quality scientists are happy to remain in their role, developing their own expertise and authority within a specialist area.
You may decide to gain chartered status with the CIWEM, in which case you'll need a degree and relevant experience. Achieving this will enable you to apply for registration with the Science Council. Having chartered status should aid career progression. Find out more at CIWEM Membership.
If you're ambitious, you could move into a water operations manager role, with responsibility for managing a range of facilities within the water industry and coordinating and directing all activities relating to water operations. However, there is stiff competition for these posts, particularly among graduates recruited onto graduate training schemes.
Other management roles include the management and supervision of sampling, treatment and laboratory facilities and staff. There are opportunities to manage water quality teams or to move into more generic environmental protection roles or national policy and research work within the Environment Agency (EA).
If you become an experienced water quality scientist who is recognised as an expert in your field, you may be able to move into consultancy, providing services to water organisations nationally and internationally. This is only likely with significant experience of research, publishing and/or management.