5 STEM careers that will get you into the great outdoors

5 outdoor jobs if you can't bear being chained to a desk - hiker walking with boots close up on mountain and sun in the background

Think about it: your career is how you’ll be spending most of your waking hours for decades – so the nitty gritty of what your 9 to 5 work day actually looks like is pretty important, and for some people, regular opportunities to get their hands dirty outside could mean the difference between career satisfaction and searching job boards in their spare time.

To get you started, here’s a list of 5 outdoor jobs that will see you spending a healthy portion of your work week living it up in the great outdoors.

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1. Marine Scientist

Dr Vanessa Pirotta

This one’s for ocean lovers. Sure, a career in marine biology won’t mean you’ll be swimming with dolphins every day, but you might find yourself out on a boat catching the mucous of whale blows – a la a day in the life of Dr Vanessa Pirotta (pictured) – and it doesn’t get much more wild than that.

“I always knew that I wanted to work with animals, especially marine animals, but I never knew how I would get there,” says Vanessa, who studied a Bachelor of Science at the Australian National University and is recently submitted her PhD in marine biology at Macquarie University.

If you have your sights set on a career in the marine sciences, you’ll need an undergraduate science degree, followed by postgraduate qualifications in relevant marine science fields. And if academia isn’t your thing, your knowledge and skills could take you to a career in ecotourism, conservation or management.

Salary: $34,255 – $103,210*

 


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2. Geoscientist/geologist

Kat Gioseffi

It’d be tricky to study the earth’s composition and structure if you didn’t get outside every once in a while. Geoscience comprises the study of the earth’s soil, minerals, water and energy resources, and is closely aligned with the disciplines of earth science and geology.

Kat Gioseffi (pictured) has undergraduate and Master’s degrees in science and applied science majoring in earth science and ecology, and now works as an operations geologist with natural gas company, Santos. In her new role, Kat says she will spend about half of every month outside on a drilling rig.

“If you love the outdoors, adventure, the thrill of exploration and problem solving – geoscience ticks all the boxes,” says Kat. “There are jobs suited to those who want to spend majority of their work time outside, exploring local and exotic areas; to those who want to split their time in the field and in the city; to those that want to work in a lab or office.”

Salary: $65,574 – $193,023*

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3. Behavioural biologist

Dr Ben Pitcher, Behavioural biologist, Taronga Conservation Society

If hanging out with animals sounds more like a fantasy than a day’s work for you, then a career like this could be perfect – and could see you working at the zoo like Dr Ben Pitcher, a behavioural biologist with Taronga Conservation Society. Ben’s research focuses on animal behaviour, communication and cognition.

Ben says a normal working week sees him getting outside for a couple of hours every other day to conduct studies with animals at Taronga Zoo in Sydney. He also travels to remote locations a few times a year to conduct fieldtrips, which can last for up to two months working outside every day. “On these field trips we might be camping in a seal colony or living in a lighthouse keepers cottage to study penguin behaviour,” he says.

“Getting outside and watching animals is the best part of working in field biology,” says Ben. “A lot of the work involves sitting at a computer to analyse and write-up the studies, but to get the data you have to go to where the animals are.”

If you like the idea of having your office at the zoo, there are many pathways – Taronga Zoo has even launched a conservation degree this year in partnership with the University of Sydney.

Salary: $35,745 – $90,604*

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4. Ecologist

Andrea Sabella

“If you connect with an ecologist on any social platform, you’re likely to be bombarded with #myoffice pics of wetlands glistening in the morning light or sweeping views from a mountain top. You may even be graced with an image of a leech pulled out from a soggy foot or a pygmy possum resting in some scratched up hands, definitely with dirt jammed under the nails,” says Andrea Sabella (pictured), who knew she wanted to protect the environment when she signed up to study renewable energy engineering at UNSW, but soon switched to a degree in environmental science, with a focus on wetland ecology for her Honours year.

Ecology or environmental science is probably the most obvious career path for those looking to connect with nature. The work often includes surveying sites, for example to assess whether an area should be protected from urban development.

Andrea – who worked as an ecologist for several years before switching to high school science teaching – says her surveys were often to remote areas and could last for weeks, months or even up to a year. “Of course, surrounding the fieldtrips are periods of data analysis, writing, communicating with clients and local communities, project management, running workshops, attending conferences and looking for new projects,” she adds.

Salary: $48,605 – $79,903*

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5. Sports scientist

Daniel Belchen

Sports is big business, and the world’s elite athletes and sports teams know it pays to have science on their side. Sports science is a broad field and involves applying science – from physiology and psychology to computer science and physics – to improve the performance and wellbeing of athletes.

Sports science is the perfect way to incorporate a passion for sports with your STEM career. You could end up with a gig like Daniel Pelchen, sports analyst at Collingwood Football Club. Daniel says he always enjoyed dealing with numbers studying economics at university “but I came into my element when I found them in something I was passionate about – football.”

Now, Daniel monitors the stats of more than 3000 players each year, and indicates to recruiters who’s performing well. “It’s so rewarding when they draft a player I’ve ‘flagged’ through my work,” he says.

Salary: $51,521 – $103,477

 

*Salary information is approximate. Source: payscale.com

Gemma Chilton

Author: Gemma Chilton

Gemma has a degree in journalism from the University of Technology, Sydney and spent a semester studying environmental journalism in Denmark. She has been writing about science and engineering for over a decade.

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