What is this career?
As a college or university professor you will use your extensive background in environmental and natural resource economics to prepare the next generation of environmental economists, and to engender an appreciation and understanding of the interactions between our environment and our economy among the general public.
In the Junior or Community College education setting, teaching jobs will usually require a Master and the associated responsibilities are to teach introductory environmental economics classes, develop the curriculum and advise students.
At four-year colleges and to an even greater extent at universities that have graduate programs in environmental and natural resource economics, such as URI, one is required a PhD and additional post-doctoral experience plus demonstrated competency in research (i.e. peer-reviewed journal publications). A university professor is expected to teach undergraduate and graduate classes and mentor graduate students, develop research and extension programs in a particular area of interest in the field of resource economics, pursue external grant funding, participate on committees at the department, college, university level and publish research results in refereed journals and outreach media.
Professors are in the business of selling knowledge to students, their consumers, hence in both education settings, they are expected to be very good communicators and have the ability to help and motivate others. They also need to posses strong analytical skills and to keep themselves updated on all relevant issues and news in their field.
Positions in academia are highly competitive, and a strong academic record in environmental and natural resource economics and the allied field (i.e. environmental sciences) is a prerequisite. On the up-side, despite cutbacks in state and federal funding for education, the number of positions becoming available in academia, in the future, should increase. This is primarily a consequence of the aging of the (baby boomer) faculty, and the need to replace them.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor,Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), for year 2008-2009, full-time faculty earnings were reported to range from $52,436 to $108,749 per year, depending on the rank held. You can read below an excerpt from the BLS website about earnings for faculty members.
“According to a 2008–09 survey by the American Association of University Professors, salaries for full-time faculty averaged $79,439. By rank, the average was $108,749 for professors, $76,147 for associate professors, $63,827 for assistant professors, $45,977 for instructors, and $52,436 for lecturers. In 2008–09, full-time faculty salaries averaged $92,257 in private independent institutions, $77,009 in public institutions, and $71,857 in religiously affiliated private colleges and universities.” (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Teachers-Postsecondary, Earnings.
College and university professors may supplement their income by publishing, consulting or teaching additional courses to their regular load. Among many other benefits, professors can enjoy tuition waivers for their dependents, housing and travel allowances and a paid leave for sabbaticals. (Source:Bureau of Labor Statistics)
What can I do to prepare for this career?
A strong academic record in environmental and natural resource economics and math (calculus, algebra, and statistics) is essential. Two year college positions require a Master. Candidates for faculty positions at four year college or university level should posses a doctorate in agricultural economics, environmental and resource economics, or an equivalent field.
Extracurricular experience is very helpful in successfully securing a position in this field. Internships, awards, fellowships, teaching experience, consulting, and refereed publications are all preferred and sometimes even required qualifications for jobs in academia. Additionally, applicants may need to demonstrate a track record in securing external funding or ability to do so.
The potential for advancement with a graduate degree in this field presents itself in form of attaining tenure in a tenure-track position. While this is a lengthy process that may take up to several years and requires meeting certain strict criteria, “[..]Tenured professors cannot be fired without just cause and due process. Tenure protects the faculty member’s academic freedom—the ability to advocate controversial or unpopular ideas through teaching and conducting research without fear of being fired.” (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Teachers-Postsecondary, Advancement) After being tenured, faculty can pursue executive or administrative positions within their institution, such as chairperson, dean, vice-president or president. To find out more about advancement in this field.
For practical learning opportunities in the Environmental and Natural Resource Department refer to the Experiential Learning tab.
Where can I find more information?
The following web sites act as portals to, or provide information about, jobs in the academic area.
Two highly renowned and influential environmental and natural resource economists in academia are Richard T. Carson and Robert N. Stavins. Both of them are the recipients of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists “2009 Fellow” award. You can read about them here and here.
Director, George Perkins Marsh Institute
Professor, Department of Economics
Environmental and natural resource economics provides a practical and effective perspective on environmental policy and natural resource use – one that recognizes the benefits of the environment to the public and incorporates the role of human behavior and incentives into policy design. With human effects on the environment intensifying, successful environmental management increasingly requires that policymakers appreciate the often complex relationships between natural and human systems. As environmental and resource economists, we apply the formal, rigorous tools of economics to study these interactions. More so than perhaps any other social science, environmental and natural resource economists have an opportunity to influence the ways in which society manages, protects and uses our scarce environmental resources. Whether through the study of regulatory mechanisms and impacts, the benefits and costs of environmental policies, the optimal use and preservation of natural resources, or myriad other topics, our research provides relevant policy insights unavailable elsewhere.
From my beginnings as an environmental and natural resource economist at the University of Rhode Island, my work now touches on areas as diverse as farmland preservation, fisheries management, ecosystem services, wetland and river restoration, tourism economics, and industrial regulation—with direct policy impacts in these and many other areas. I often find myself working alongside other natural and social scientists to help integrate economics with other disciplines in order to provide interdisciplinary perspectives on environmental problems. As a professor in this field, you will often be involved in a combination of teaching and research, sometimes in combination. College and university faculty will frequently seek support for their research from government and private foundation grants, and often work closely with partners from government agencies, nonprofit groups and private industry.
The strength of our discipline is grounded in a combination of economic insight with rigorous theoretical and empirical techniques. Preparation for such a career within high school requires a strong background in mathematics and science, including calculus. My own collegiate preparation was in a broad liberal arts economics program at Williams College—although some larger universities offer undergraduate programs targeted towards environmental and natural resource economics. As a college and graduate student, the most useful courses will be those that provide you with the broadly applicable theoretical and empirical tools that form the foundation of economic analysis. These include often challenging courses on advanced statistics, econometrics, modeling, economic theory and research methods. Also useful are supplemental courses in natural science disciplines related to the field of economics in which you intend to work (e.g., conservation ecology, hydrology, fisheries population dynamics, etc.); these can assist in the interdisciplinary aspects of your work. Also crucial as a college or graduate student is research experience outside of the classroom. The majority of methods I currently apply were not learned as part of formal coursework, but rather during the course of applied research projects. Don’t underestimate the importance of writing and communication. Many fine ideas fail to be published (and many grant proposals fail to be funded) not because of any limitation in the underlying economic content, but rather because of poor writing and communication. Finally, find a mentor—a senior faculty member with whom you can work closely, and who can show you the ropes. There is no substitute for the wisdom and insight you can gain through close collaboration with your more senior colleagues.
Many of the ideas that shape environmental and natural resource policy and dialogue today have their origin in environmental and natural resource economics. The relevance of economics for environmental policy is increasingly recognized, not only by economists but by the broader science and policy community. A course of study in environmental and resource economics provides the training necessary to participate in this exciting and relevant field.
Gina Louise Shamshak
Assistant Professor, Economics
My interest in the field of environmental and natural resource economics stemmed from one very simple question: why do we live in a world plagued by environmental degradation? As an undergraduate, I wanted to understand why firms (or individuals) chose to pollute, or why natural resources, such as aquifers, forests or fisheries, were over-used. Further, I wanted to know if there was anything that could be done to change these outcomes.
Economic theory can be used to understand why we observe these outcomes in society. The root cause of many environmental problems can be traced back to the incentives facing the users of the resource. More importantly, when incentives are changed behaviors are changed, and thus, economic and environmental outcomes are changed. In this way, policymakers can address many of the environmental problems that plague society today.
As an undergraduate, I focused my studies on economics with a minor in environmental studies. I soon realized that I wanted to further my studies in the field of environmental and natural resource economics. Pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Rhode Island allowed me to deepen my understanding of environmental economics and my skills as an applied economist. My doctoral training provided me with the theoretical framework and empirical tools necessary to address a diverse set of resource use and management problems. Coming from a graduate program that specializes in marine resource economics, my dissertation research focused on the management and exploitation of bluefin tuna globally by examining the economics of capture-based bluefin tuna aquaculture.
Currently, I am an Assistant Professor of Economics at Goucher College, located in Baltimore Maryland. When I teach I aspire, through my teaching and my research, to call attention to the importance of sustainable use of our natural resources management for both present and future generations. I take seriously the responsibility of training the next generation to become the future stewards of the economy, of the environment and of each other.
Assistant Professor, Food & Resource Economics
University of Florida
An advanced degree in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics provides students with the necessary tools to build careers on a great variety of challenging (and rewarding!) professional fields. For an example of this, just take a look at the exciting career opportunities I have found as a marine resource economist.
I am originally from Colombia, where I trained as a marine biologist. From early on I developed a great interest on aquaculture (the farming of aquatic species in controlled environments) and its potential to meet the nutritional needs of an ever-increasing world population. I also learned to recognize the important role aquaculture could play in improving the economies of developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Upon the completion of a M.Sc. degree in Aquaculture/Fisheries at the University of Arkansas, I enrolled in the Ph.D. program in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics at URI. The training I received at URI helped me understand how sound economic reasoning can be used to improve the management of aquatic resources, including both aquaculture and fisheries. Throughout my dissertation work I became very familiar with the economic potential and challenges faced by the Atlantic sea scallop fishery in New England and the salmon fisheries in Alaska. This work allowed me to make meaningful recommendations to improve the economic performance of these fisheries, which have been affected by low harvests and/or low prices in recent times.
After graduating from URI, I joined the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome, Italy, where I worked for the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department as an Aquaculture Economist. This job allowed me to visit many places in Africa and Latin America and work along with their governments to promote the sustainable growth of their national aquaculture sectors.
Working in Africa was in particular a very enriching experience: the continent is endowed with plenty of natural resources, yet for a number of geographic, historic/political and economic reasons, African governments have failed to trigger substantial economic growth in their nations. In the particular case of fish resources, Africa is blessed with extensive coastlines and unpolluted lakes and rivers, yet fish production is minimal. As a result, most African countries depend on imports of low-quality frozen fish from China to feed their citizens. Many African governments want to reverse this trend and have asked for technical advice from development organizations such as FAO in order to do so. Promoting economic development in Africa is no simple task as very little investment has been made on infrastructure and most countries have yet to create business environments conducive to economic growth (e.g. curbing corruption, reducing interest rates, cutting down red tape, etc.). However, some African countries are slowly making progress (e.g. Ghana and Nigeria, where aquaculture production has been steadily increasing over the last few years), which can make this type of work a very rewarding experience.
While I was always aware about the importance of pursuing education at the graduate level (M.Sc., Ph.D.), working within the United Nations system made me realize how crucial this aspect is in today’s very competitive job market. The United Nations is a great organization to work for, yet openings are relatively few and the number of applicants keeps increasing year after year. Advanced university degrees are becoming an essential requirement for the most appealing and sought-after positions.
While my job with FAO was satisfactory at many different levels, the “research bug” kicked in after a couple of years (jobs within the UN fall under the category of economic development/extension/technical advising, with relatively few opportunities for doing basic research), which made me return to the U.S. I am currently an Assistant Professor at the Food and Resource Economics Department at the University of Florida, where I teach classes on international economic development and conduct research on a number of marine resource economic issues. Despite being based in Florida, I am still very much involved with global aquaculture development as I have maintained contact with colleagues at FAO and the World Bank.