Water is one of the basic necessities of life. For humans, the quality of water used for drinking, food preparation, cleaning, and, not least, hygiene, is critical. Minimum standards of water quality from various sources are mandated across the globe. Water quality scientists are tasked with ensuring that these standards and other compliance requirements are met in their area of operations.
A water quality scientist carries out testing and analysis of water obtained from three main sources: groundwater, surface water (lakes, rivers, ponds, etc.), and drinking water.
Daily work activities include collecting and testing water samples using approved biological, chemical and other scientific testing procedures, providing solutions on improving and maintaining water quality, inspecting and reporting on water pollution issues, and providing expert advice on the prevention of pollution, contamination and the safe release of sewage and industrial effluents into local water environments.
Water quality scientists are employed by water supply and multi-utility providers across the UK, regulatory bodies, local and central government authorities, commercial consultancies and non-profit environmental entities.
Salary & benefits
Water and utility service providers across the UK have annual graduate intakes, with first-year salaries in the range of £18,000 to £25,000.
Increments and annual bonuses are based upon individual performance, and a typical compensation package includes pension, health insurance, travel and lifestyle benefits.
Mid-level and senior managers earn salaries ranging between £25,000 and £50,000 or more, depending on the size of the company and the place of employment. Benefits may also include a company car or a travel allowance.
Most water quality scientists work around a five-day week schedule, though junior employees may have to work in shifts to cover emergency services over a 24/7 period.
Travel across territories served by the company is a frequent requirement for scientists engaged in quality testing and mandated periodic inspections.
A good degree in biochemistry, biology, chemistry, environmental science, geology, or related scientific disciplines will help, as will practical experience, which you can gain through vacation or industrial training placements.
Individual attributes such as organisational skills, logical and analytical reasoning and a detail-oriented work approach are the basic requirements to begin a career as a water quality scientist.
Degree programmes should be accredited by the Chartered Institution of Water & Environmental Management (CIWEM). A postgraduate or advanced degree provides an added advantage, and some employers may look for candidates with such a qualification as a minimum requirement.
Training & progression
Training under the supervision and guidance of experienced colleagues, and classroom or workshop-based training in technical and compliance requirements are typical of the development programmes offered by most employers.
Companies with graduate training programmes also provide study and financial support to obtain relevant professional credentials from the CIWEM. They will provide regular training on new statutory and regulatory standards, as required under UK and European Union laws.
Career progression is based on performance and achievement of annual objectives, though opportunities within the scientific hierarchy are limited. Lateral movements into other functions within the company and diversified work experience are usually the best routes to senior roles.
Other options include working for specialist consulting firms and finding administrative or policy development positions in governments, environmental watchdog organisations and research institutes.