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How to Become a Physical Science Technician with the National Park Service (NPS)

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Physical science technicians, as the title suggests, assist senior resource scientists by collecting, managing, analyzing, and interpreting a wide array of physical science information.

Physical science technicians must have the ability to:

  • Apply the methods, concepts and principles or physical sciences and long-term monitoring in natural resources projects
  • Install and manage remote environmental monitoring instrumentation and data collection equipment
  • Use computer software to manage, analyze and create data depicting physical science datasets and data collection methods
  • Communicate methods and results of physical science based natural resources monitoring and research projects
  • Plan and carry out complex field logistics

Within the National Park Service (NPS), physical science technicians are part of the natural resource management and biological sciences occupational group. As of 2010, there were 305 positions within this occupational group, 48 of which were physical science technicians.

Job-Specific Duties for Physical Science Technicians

Physical science technician job descriptions can vary widely depending on setting, as their work may be conducted in an office, in a lab, or in the field.

For example, a recent job posting for a physical science technician at Denali National Park reveals a wide array of job duties based on current programs and studies:

  • Contribute to the development of an aerial digital photogrammetry program that utilizes park aircraft
  • Support ongoing geomorphology monitoring and reclamation efforts related to mining and infrastructure impacts
  • Assist with the implementation of a landslide risk assessment of the Park Road corridor
  • Assist with the implementation of a permafrost monitoring program
  • Assist with current activities related to a study focused on Cretaceous subarctic dinosaurs, including supporting ongoing paleontology inventory, monitoring, research and outreach activities
  • Install and retrieve data from remote environmental monitoring equipment, including weather stations, acoustic monitoring devices, remote cameras, etc.
  • Take samples of environmental parameters, including stream flow and geological materials, and collect water and sediment samples
  • Analyze physical science based natural resource monitoring data

Another job posting at the Parashant National Monument at the Grand Canyon displays reveals a different set of requirements for a physical science technician. Job duties for this position include:

  • Perform water quality on selected springs
  • Maintain and deploy weather stations
  • Maintain and retrieve data from soundscape stations
  • Process data files form soundscape and weather stations
  • Assist with cave gate construction
  • Project bi-weekly and project complete reports

How to Become a Physical Science Technician: Education and Experience Requirements

Physical science technicians perform technical work in any number of scientific fields, including (but not limited to):

  • Astronomy
  • Geology
  • Chemistry
  • Geophysics
  • Metallurgy
  • Health physics
  • Oceanography
  • Physics

Although physical science is considered to include geology, chemistry, mineralogy, meteorology, and physics, a few subsets do exist, including:

  • Astrophysics
  • Chemical physics
  • Physical chemistry
  • Geophysics

An overlap between the physical and biological sciences may also be included in the physical sciences in subsets such as:

  • Biochemistry
  • Biophysics
  • Virology
  • Geology/paleontology

A formal education is typically an important component of achieving a job as a physical science technician. Physical science technicians are usually hired through the NPS at the GS-7 level, which requires one or more of the following:

  • One year of specialized experience equivalent to the GS-6 level, which includes work in:
    • Physical sciences research
    • Natural resource-based studies
    • Collecting environmental monitoring data

OR

  • One year of graduate-level education in courses related directly to the position, such as:
    • Physics
    • Geophysics
    • Botany
    • Forestry
    • Ecology
    • Chemistry
    • Engineering
    • Geography
    • Hydrology
    • Meteorology
    • Oceanography

OR

  • A combination of education and experience

Physical science technicians may, at times, be hired at other federal pay levels, including:

  • GS-3: Requires the completion of at least one year of post-secondary study, which must include at least 6 semester hours in courses related to:
    • Physical sciences
    • Engineering
    • Mathematics
  • GS-4: Requires the completion of at least two years of study, which must include at least 12 semester hours in courses related to:
    • Physical sciences
    • Engineering
    • Mathematics
  • GS-5: Requires the completion of a four-year course of study that leads to a bachelor’s degree; degree major must be in an appropriate field of physical science or it must include at least 24 semester hours in any combination of courses related to:
    • Physical sciences
    • Engineering
    • Mathematics

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