How to Become an Agricultural Research Scientist

In this video, you will learn about becoming an agricultural research scientist, including taking a look at the job description, education and licensure requirements.

Should I Become an Agricultural Research Scientist?

Researchers in the field of agricultural science attempt to develop effective, safe and environmentally sustainable techniques for raising livestock and harvesting crops. Specialty areas in this field can include animal science, food science, bioresource science and soil science. These scientists generally work full-time in office or laboratory environments, though sometimes they must venture out into the field. The job pays a higher-than-average salary, but can also have lengthy educational requirements. As technology in this field continues to advance, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts jobs will also grow.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Agricultural Business
  • Agriculture Production
  • Animal Science
  • Animal Services
  • Food Sciences and Technologies
  • Horticulture
  • Plant Science
  • Soil Science

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's, master's, PhD
Degree Field(s) Agricultural science
Licensure and/or Certification Voluntary certifications are available; some states require soil scientists to be licensed
Key Skills Critical thinking, analytical, communication, observation, problem solving; ability to operate lab equipment, such as fluorimeters, pH meters, radar surveillance
Salary (2014) $61,480 (median for food scientists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net OnLine

Step One: Complete an Agricultural Science Bachelor's Degree Program

A bachelor's degree in one of the agricultural sciences can prepare students for entry-level research careers. These programs are often available at state land-grant universities and can include degrees in animal science, crop and soil science, bioresource science, food science and fisheries science. A Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Science is also available to students who want a broad overview of the field.

Success Tip

  • Gain hands-on experience. Some schools recommend that students prepare for future employment by taking advantage of volunteer or cooperative education experiences. Many undergraduate programs also offer students the opportunity to participate in research projects at university laboratories and field research stations. Off-campus internships with federal agencies, non-profit organizations and research centers may be available as well.

Step Two: Acquire a Graduate Degree

While a bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for an agricultural research scientist position, a master's or PhD can improve employment chances. Further, a graduate degree may be required, such as for some positions in university research and animal research. Topics of research for those holding advanced degrees include breeding, food safety, and genetics. Degrees can be general, such as crop science, or concentrated in a particular area like the study of weeds. These programs tend to focus on agricultural research methods and experiment design.

Step Three: Earn Certification or Licensure

Voluntary certification from a related professional organization may improve a job candidate's employment opportunities. These organizations include the Soil Science Society of America and the American Society of Agronomy. Certification requirements often entail the completion of a degree program and up to five years of experience.

Some states license soil scientists. Applicants will need to have completed the appropriate combination of education and work experience. Common requirements include a bachelor's degree and 3-5 years of experience. Soil scientists may also need to pass a written examination.

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