The Top 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions


Thomas Boobar, Graduate Student - CSUN


The purpose of this section is to explore 10 questions most commonly asked by new students entering the field of Environmental and Occupational Health. All new students have many questions they want to ask, but sometimes they feel uncomfortable asking them. This section can be an invaluable tool for all students launching themselves into the exciting world of Environmental and Occupational Health!


1. How should I choose classes in the EOH major?

You should begin with general biology, chemistry, and physics courses and include one or two EOH classes in your lower division program. The best way to proceed through the program is to gradually work your way into the upper division courses. The key to understanding the more complex scientific concepts lies in your basic understanding of science. Most of the drudgery is in the basic sciences anyway. Once you dive into upper division EOH classes, interest in the subject compensates for any difficulty you might face. Choosing classes also depends on your interests in the field. If your focus is Community Environmental Health, concentration of study should be in the following classes: Vector Control, Water and Wastewater, Air Pollution, , Housing, and Public Health Microbiology. The Industrial Hygiene concentration would be the following: Industrial Toxicology, Industrial Safety, Evaluating Occupational Health Environment and Radiological Health. Many of these classes cross back and forth from the Community Health to Occupational Health environments. (e.g., Environmental Law, Hazardous Waste Management and Risk Analysis.) Once you become a professional in the field, you will need knowledge in both the Community and Occupational environments.


2. Is a Masters Degree necessary in the Environmental and Occupational Health field?

The EOH Masters Degree elevates you to a new level of academics. It gives you the opportunity, reputation, contacts and professional development for a broader spectrum in the field. As Dr. Tom Hatfield prefaced when asked about the need for a Masters Degree, "it depends on the employer, on the job itself, and of course on the individual student." Dr. Hatfield further stated, "Some employers put a premium on the masters degree and others do not...Supervisory positions do tend to be filled by those with graduate degrees. Finally, some students simply may not feel the need for an advanced degree." According to a Los Angeles County employee, "The Masters Degree helps when you plan to own a business or when you are competing with others for jobs, also it will give you an edge and some added clout." After speaking with several professionals from government agencies, they agreed that government organizations may value the Masters more than the private industry. It seems that private industry is more interested in on-the-job experience than formal education. Once again, this varies tremendously among employers.

 In either case, the Masters Degree is still a fabulous tool for a future career. Experience is priceless but an education is a lifetime treasure. In addition, obtaining the precious contacts through classmates and professors is also an invaluable experience.


3. How should I prepare for the Registered Environmental Health Specialist exam?

The REHS exam is not easy! Anyone that tells you, "it wasn't that bad" probably studied more than they want to admit. Without the proper study skills, knowledge of Environmental Health, and focus on the details of the field, your odds of passing decrease significantly. The 356A and B series is a fabulous tool when studying for the exam. New students should remember to keep all of their notes when progressing through the major. The trend setting that occurred while I was in the undergraduate program was typing notes. These notes became priceless when studying for the exam. Several of the questions on the REHS attempt to twist your mind with two concepts. A possible issue addressed on the exam could be, "Is solid waste the same as hazardous waste? The test expects you to understand the differences between these two concepts and then interpret their meaning. The test also addresses specific questions such as, " What species of mosquito is directly responsible for the transmission of Malaria?" Your knowledge of Vector borne diseases and other electives will also be tested.



4. What is the difference between an CIH and REHS professional? Which makes more money?

According to the Candidate Preparation Manual prepared by Cooperative Personnel Services, "The Environmental Health Specialist in California works toward the promotion and protection of the health of the citizens by enforcing statutes, codes and ordinances relevant to environmental health." A REHS professional is an investigator of community health and issues directly related to citizens in the environment. Several areas of interest include: Food and Consumer Protection, Air Quality, Water Quality Management, Noise Control, Radiation Protection, Housing, Land usage, and Pests and Vectors. The REHS can also be used in the occupational health environment.


A CIH is a Certified Industrial Hygienist. According to many professionals in the field, " The CIH exam is much more difficult than the REHS." The CIH is broken into several exams which ultimately lead to the CIH certification. The CIH professional specializes in the occupational environment. The designation of Certified Industrial Hygienist is a person that has received special education, lengthy experience, and proven professional ability in the Comprehensive Practice or in an Aspect of industrial hygiene," according to Fundamentals of Industrial Hygiene ( book) Several additional areas within the CIH abilities include: Acoustical, Air pollution, Chemical, Engineering, Radiological, and Toxicological.


National figures suggest that the IH makes a slightly higher starting salary than an Environmental Health Professional. However, it is equally true that individual differences outweigh group statistics. In other words, if you pursue the area you enjoy the most, you'll probably be more successful. Professionals in both areas are capable of 6 figure salaries, and they often end up relying on their training in BOTH Environmental Health and Industrial Hygiene.


5. How did you find out who was hiring? How difficult was it to get a job? How long did it take?

The real question regarding employment is , " Do you really want a job?" This is a vital question to ask before considering the hunt for a new job. The question may seem obvious but I've talked with people who claim that jobs are sparse and nobody is hiring. Baloney. There are many ways to find out who's hiring: newspapers, magazines, professional organization pamphlets, internet, job flyers, and posters. All of these are logical solutions to finding a job. However, the number one way to find a job is networking with fellow students, professors, and professionals in the field. This may be a difficult task early on in your career but as you progress further into the major, it will become routine to ask questions regarding employment. Be honest with people about your intentions, ask them a question. A friend in the professional world can give you inside advice and options for employment. A CSUN graduate searching for employment stated, "I targeted companies where I decided I wanted to work ( as opposed to waiting for a job listing to appear). I found out the contact person and addressed my cover letter personally to them. It took three months from when I actually submitted my resume to when I was hired." Personal contacts in private industry are imperative to a good job. Another graduate student who worked for the county of Los Angeles stated, " If you want to work for the government, be prepared for as much as 6 months to 1 year before knowing if you got the job; civil service rules of rating employees in bands and checking backgrounds on candidates delays the process."


My experience: It took three months to receive the job I have currently. I had a friend employed with a company; she hand delivered my resume in May. One month later I received a call and an interview. The interview was very intense, approximately an hour. The next step was a reference check. The scrutiny involved was overwhelming. They called 5 of my previous bosses and asked detailed questions concerning my attendance, reliability, problem solving abilities, strengths, weaknesses. I never realized being a conscientious employee would pay off in the future. Three weeks later I was called for a second interview. This time it was a panel interview. Finally, I was offered the job on July 30. What a relief!


6. How do you get interviews and what is the most commonly asked question?

You must have a good resume. Invest 15 dollars in a resume book or read the appropriate section in this handbook, it could make you a rich person. Ask several friends and family to read your resume and allow them to make comments. When you are in the field, your writing will be critiqued by all levels of management; your resume is an indicator of your writing ability and criticism is something you need to get used to. A resume is suppose to reflect your qualifications, focus, and the real you. Remember to put personal accomplishments depicting your life. For example, I played trumpet for 5 years while working toward my degree; I listed this ability under extracurricular activities. In each interview the interviewer commented about my instrumental abilities; whether or not they play an instrument, someone they know does. Try to link your abilities to the needs of the potential employer. Relate to their needs. Stubbornness will not get you a job.


The most commonly asked interview question is, "Why should we hire you and how can you help the company?" Be ready for this question. All employers will ask this question in some form while in the interview. They could ask, " how in your experience have you dealt with situations that have alleviated the problem and helped the company overcome a disaster?" Believe it or not, this question is addressing whether or not you can stand up in a pressure situation and help the company save business. Your ultimate goal when working for a company is how you can help them. These companies do not run on thin air, they run on people who are focused on company needs.


7. What are some tips that are important to be successful in the field? What are employers searching for in an individual?

The most important general tips for success for an individual are keeping an open mind and a positive attitude. Employers want people that are able to communicate with others in a successful manner. Negative employees do not move up in organizations nor do they receive respect from all levels of management. Employers also want dependable and flexible employees who will adapt and grow into their position. Of course, there must be a certain amount of technical knowledge and professional achievements such as by obtaining the Registered Environmental Health Specialist license, Certified Safety Professional license, or becoming a Certified Industrial Hygienist.


Employers are searching for qualified individuals with some practical experience and a good fundamental education. They want someone that can grow into a position as a result of their background. One profession stated, "we want mature individuals with the ability to respect and deal with people effectively." Employers are not expecting you to know everything when you first get a job. In a lifetime career, your goal should be to learn something new everyday. Well... maybe take one or two days off.



8. Are classes in the EOH major going to help me in the "real world?" How good is this program at CSUN?

On the one hand, there is no question that EOH classes do prepare you for the real world. The real world requires you to know the fundamental concepts of Environmental Occupational Health. Concepts such as the routes of exposure into the body. It is your job to know toxicity and how it can affect various aspects of the human physiological system. For example, one aspect of my job is to inspect chemistry laboratories. My toxicology class at CSUN required an understanding of dose response concepts and the ability to look up specific quantities to determine human effects. I learned this in school. While inspecting chemistry labs, I've needed to know the law regarding storage of science chemicals. This concept I did not learn in school. Another example, the 457 Water Quality class taught me the basic understanding of pool chemistry and various laws involving there operation. The concepts I learned in school such as pool chemistry, proper sanitation, and filtration techniques for algae bloom potential are used when I inspect pools in my current employment. All of the environmental classes I took in college provided pertinent information for on the job skills.


On the other hand, school does not and cannot fully prepare you for the detailed report writing, technical language involved in particular permits, and the art of communicating environmental issues to non-science personnel. The art of communicating with a "source - message - receiver" format is overwhelming when a manager has a depleted budget. The hardest part of environmental health is politics. This topic could be incorporated into another book!


As for our full time program faculty, all of them have won major awards in their profession for professional service, publishing, or teaching, and at least half have won major teaching awards. With a cumulative experience of over 50 years in the field, they bring that field experience into the classroom far more than most programs. Furthermore, with degrees from Stanford, Harvard, Berkeley, UCLA, Michigan, and others (not to mention CSUN), they represent diverse and respected educational backgrounds. Finally, they maintain contacts at the local, state, national, and international levels. Students from the CSUN program have won numerous local, state, and national awards. CSUN is a remarkable program.


9. Is the EOH field primarily field work or does it involve office work as well?

It depends on the job. My goal is to get out into the field 90% of the time ( this is in my job description). Is this realistic? Not really, but this is the goal. As a consultant, the objective is to help your clients. If they need your assistance on site you are required to travel to their company. Office time for writing reports usually is 20% of the time. The private industry is much more unpredictable. One week you could be in the office and the next week primarily in the field. According to a graduate of CSUN, "A new professional in EOH tends to be involved in more field work than office work, but experienced EOH professionals tend to do more office work as their skills become more technical and they become more management oriented." Anyone working as a county or government inspector are more realistically in the field 80 to 90% of the time. In the EOH field there will always be a considerable investment in documentation and record keeping, as well as designing, developing, implementing and managing programs (i.e., office work).


10. What type of job should I consider while obtaining a degree?

If your intentions are to obtain a job that will help lead into a future career, avoid the urge to be picky. All jobs can be a learning experience. A graduate from CSUN commented, "Don't discount unrelated work experience or marginally-related experience. Employers look at all experience - - and they look for any experience that will contribute to your value as an employee, interaction with the public, writing and verbal skills, all experience adds to a person's overall perspective, and employers know this." Despite the inherent need for money, remember a job in the field can be more valuable than money.


Create jobs for yourself, make yourself indispensable. The regulation SB198 requires all businesses to have an Injury and Illness Prevention Plan. This regulation addresses identification, correction, communication, investigation, and training among other issues in regards to the occupational environment. For example, if you are a server in a restaurant you should become the shift safety leader or have responsibilities for food protection against foodborne illnesses. These responsibilities could potentially be utilized in front of a panel that is interviewing you for a job. The ability to create a job for yourself will be a valuable tool in the search for a future job.