The EPA relies on a multi-disciplinary approach to science to answer its research questions. That's good news for you, aspiring EPA scientist, because "multi-disciplinary" means the options are endless. One thing is for certain though—you must have a strong scientific background. A broad background is useful as well—focusing on one particular area of science may not make you the ideal candidate for a job, since the EPA is juggling a number of issues at any point in time. But that's not to say that beefing up in a couple particular areas won't be helpful. A solid knowledge in molecular biology, ecology, and genetics may mean you are more qualified for a job than a recent college grad who focused on molecular biology.
You can start honing your research skills during your high school and college years, too. Students can often work on a professor’s research project during the school year and most universities offer summer student research options. While lots of people take science classes, it’s quite different working out in the field. Research experience shows that you are dedicated to science, and that you can cut it in the research workforce.
Leadership ability is also important for landing a career as an EPA scientist. It proves you can take initiative, manage others. Getting involved in your community and volunteering as a leader in a particular environmental project really could prove some EPA bona fides. A big chunk of the job is to clearly represent research and its conclusions. It's the way you show off your snazzy new technology or mind-blowing research finding. Since your research is only as valuable as your ability to explain it, be sure to take those English classes seriously—even if Dickens doesn't strike your fancy.
The EPA itself even sponsors some opportunities for high school and college students. Check this out. They run student internship programs where high school and college students can get a bit of experience in science policy or administration. Another way to gain experience is to become an eco-Ambassador—students who implement an environmental program at their university, like reducing water use. While they aren't hired by the EPA, they get materials and support from the agency. Looks great on the résumé, too.
Student EPA contractors are longer-term positions (full-time or part-time) for recent or current college grads. In these programs, students get hands-on experience working side-by-side with an EPA scientist. They'll get to meet other top scientists and get a real feel for what research science is all about. These internships are invaluable in terms of gaining research experience and determining whether working at the EPA is right for you—and whether you're right for the EPA.