Most agricultural and food scientists need at least a masterís degree to work in basic or applied research, whereas a bachelorís degree is sufficient for some jobs in applied research or product development, or jobs in other occupations related to agricultural science.
Education and training. Training requirements for agricultural scientists depend on the type of work they perform. A bachelorís degree in agricultural science is sufficient for some jobs in product development or assisting in applied research, but a masterís or doctoral degree is generally required for basic research or for jobs directing applied research. A Ph.D. in agricultural science usually is needed for college teaching and for advancement to senior research positions. Degrees in related sciences such as biology, chemistry, or physics or in related engineering specialties also may qualify people for many agricultural science jobs.
All States have a land-grant college that offers agricultural science degrees. Many other colleges and universities also offer agricultural science degrees or agricultural science courses. However, not every school offers all specialties. A typical undergraduate agricultural science curriculum includes communications, mathematics, economics, business, and physical and life sciences courses, in addition to a wide variety of technical agricultural science courses. For prospective animal scientists, these technical agricultural science courses might include animal breeding, reproductive physiology, nutrition, and meats and muscle biology. Graduate students usually specialize in a subfield of agricultural science, such as animal breeding and genetics, crop science, or horticulture science, depending on their interests. For example, those interested in doing genetic and biotechnological research in the food industry need a strong background in life and physical sciences, such as cell and molecular biology, microbiology, and inorganic and organic chemistry. Undergraduate students, however, need not specialize. In fact, undergraduates who are broadly trained often have greater career flexibility.
Students preparing to be food scientists take courses such as food chemistry, food analysis, food microbiology, food engineering, and food processing operations. Those preparing as soil and plant scientists take courses in plant pathology, soil chemistry, entomology, plant physiology, and biochemistry, among others. Advanced degree programs include classroom and fieldwork, laboratory research, and a thesis or dissertation based on independent research.
Other qualifications. Agricultural and food scientists should be able to work independently or as part of a team and be able to communicate clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing. Most of these scientists also need an understanding of basic business principles, the ability to apply statistical techniques, and the ability to use computers to analyze data and to control biological and chemical processing.
Certification and advancement. Agricultural scientists who have advanced degrees usually begin in research or teaching. With experience, they may advance to jobs as supervisors of research programs or managers of other agriculture-related activities.
The American Society of Agronomy certifies agronomists and crop advisors, and the Soil Science Society of America certifies soil scientists and soil classifiers. To become certified in soil science or soil classification, applicants must have a bachelor's degree in soil science and 5 years of experience or a graduate degree and 3 years experience. Certification in agronomy requires a bachelorís degree in agronomy or a related field and 5 years experience or a graduate degree and 3 years. Crop advising certification requires either 4 years of experience or a bachelorís degree in agriculture and 2 years of experience. To receive any of these certifications, applicants must also pass designated examinations and agree to adhere to a code of ethics. Each certification is maintained through continuing education.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition
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