How to Become a Soil Scientist

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Soil science is a scientific discipline that focuses on the study of soil and its characteristics that classify it as a natural resource. Soil scientists are trained professionals that study the physical, biological, chemical, and mineralogical composition of soils.


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What does a soil scientist do?

Soil scientists perform in-depth studies on soil and its relationship to plant growth, the growth of habitats, and how it affects animals and human beings. They obtain information and provide advice on soil management and conservation. They also study soil responses to crop rotation, tillage procedures, and different types of fertilizers. Many soil scientists conduct soil surveys and categorize and map soils. They offer information and suggestions to landowners and farmers to help them use their land and plants more efficiently and avoid certain problems. Some soil scientists specialize in classifying soils where they identify which types of soil are most effective for growing crops and for use in construction materials. They categorize and grade soils by their nutrients level, composition, ability to hold water, and erosion resistance.

What kind of training does a soil scientist need?

Soil scientists typically need at least a bachelor degree in soil science or other closely related field. Research and teaching positions require a master or doctorate degree. Students usually complete courses in chemistry, soil chemistry, prevention of erosion, conservation, ecology, and environmental effects of human activity. Many aspiring soil scientists complete internships or work-study programs while pursuing their education to gain practical experience in the field. Some soil scientists gain certification from the American Society of Agronomy or the Soil Science Society of America to remain competitive in the field. Soil scientists must complete continuing education to maintain their certifications and stay up to date on advancements in the field.

What are the prospects for a career as a soil scientist?

Employment of soil scientists is expected to grow about as fast as average for all professions, increasing 8% from 2006 to 2016 (1). The growing population and increased demand for better farming soil will drive job growth.

Job prospects are expected to be good especially for soil scientists with advanced education and extensive experience.

How much do soil scientists make?

As of December 2009, the middle 50% of soil scientists earn annual salaries between $49,672 and $76,829. The top 10% earn annual salaries of more than $90,268 (2).

A career as a soil scientist is a great choice for people with a strong interest in soil science and its application to a variety of tasks. Soil scientists must have a scientific aptitude and love for the outdoors. Good mathematical skills, patience, determination, and self-motivation are desirable characteristics. Soil scientists must also have excellent communication skills and the ability to work effectively independently and as part of a team. Soil scientists must be able to work in a variety of environments and sometimes in less desirable or hazardous conditions.

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