How To Become a Successful Soil Scientist

Soil Scientist checking the soil

You may not expressly understand the importance of studying soils. But that is probably because you are not aware of soil degradation and the decline in soil quality, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Soil science does not only help to boost crop production, but it also increases the production of raw materials that are used by millions of industries and helps improve water quality.

Soil Science aids animal and human survival and the recycling of abundant dead materials. Equally, it helps to provide foreign exchange for national income.  It can be an answer to the problems of sustainability and renewability of crop production, which will, in turn, boost economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Furthermore, Soil Science studies the soil as a natural resource. It classifies soils, describes their formation in terms of physical, biological, chemical, and fertility properties.

If one of your career goals is to save the world from malnutrition or help countries grow their national income, you may want to consider becoming a Soil Scientist.

Soil Science

Who is a Soil Scientist?

A soil scientist is a qualified professional who evaluates and interprets soils and soil-related information to understand soil resources. A soil Scientist understands that this role is important because the study of the soil contributes to not only agricultural production, but also helps the environment and ensures the protection of human health.

Soil scientists perform crucial roles in the research and development of food production, plant and animal life sustenance, and global environment development.

Responsibilities of a Soil Scientist

A Soil Scientist:

  • Researches and studies soil characteristics and then produce maps of soils and their distribution.
  • Performs laboratory analysis of soil samples, conducts experiments on things like the micro-organism content of the soil.
  • Conducts experiments to determine the type of soil that is best for different plants.
  • Assumes the responsibility of translating findings to employers, updating them on business policies.
  • Writes research reports and presents findings, including scientific and non-scientific client reports.
  • Attends conferences to be aware of the new practices and developments in the profession.
  • Communicates with relevant industry actors to initiate collaboration projects.
  • Embarks on fieldwork that requires budgets, creates those budgets, and submits reports on the progress of the research.

Skills of a Soil Scientist

If you are considering a career in Soil Science, here are some relevant skills you need to become successful in the field.

Critical Thinking Skills: As Soil Scientist, you need to use logic to solve problems. Soil Scientists identify the strengths and weaknesses of different solutions.  You will also need to adopt different methods of problem-solving.

Active Listening Skills: Having the ability to listen to other people on your team and getting all the details being discussed is also very important for Soil Scientists.

Communication Skills: Soil Scientists need to be able to communicate both orally and in writing. This is because they need to communicate their findings through reports and presentations to their employers and clients.

Decision-Making Skills: As a Soil Scientist, you must know how to make appropriate decisions by considering the pros and cons of different options before choosing the best one.

Time Management Skills: Researches can be time-consuming. Therefore, managing your time is one skill you have to master. You must learn how to avoid distractions and time-wasters like interruptions and procrastination.

Systems Analysis: Soil Scientists know how things should work. They understand how changes in conditions, operations, and the environment will affect the outcome of soil experiments and research. Therefore, learning how to carry out system analysis is key.

A Soil Scientist pouring soil with their hand

Educational Requirements for Soil Scientists

To become a Soil Scientist, you need an undergraduate degree in soil science or other related fields such as Environmental Science and Geology. This means that in your secondary school years, you must have excelled in science-related subjects and pay particular attention to Agricultural Science.  Below are some of the best universities you can bag a university degree to kick-start your career in Soil Science.

  1. Brunel University in the United Kingdom: Offers an Environmental Sciences BSc degree. The program is designed to teach students environmental systems and how humans interact with them. As a student, you will be taught how to create evidence-based solutions to environmental problems. The program will also help you develop your scientific skills in the classroom, laboratory, and in the field. The modes of study are 3 years full-time, 3 years full-time with placement, and 4 years full-time with placement. The tuition for international students is £17,355 full-time with £1,000 for a placement year.
  2. The University of Limerick in Ireland: Offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science. This program has study areas that are relevant to business and industry operations. The program will give you a strong foundation in biology, chemistry, and ecology, and with an in-depth knowledge of environmental technology, environmental management, conservation, and waste management. The duration of the program is 4 years. The tuition for international students is €16,465.
  3. The University of Debrecen in Hungary: Offers an Earth Sciences BSc. The program is structured to help you understand how to research the specific and complex earth system, study its composition, structure, history, material, energy flow, and transformation processes. You will learn raw material and energy resources utilization, learn the features and processes that may prove to be hazardous for humankind. The program’s duration is 6 semesters. The tuition for international students is $6,000.

Muddy Soil

Career Development for a Soil Scientist

Not many changes occur in the job description of Soil Scientists. For soil scientists engaged in education, advancement in their career may translate into higher academic achievements, and more responsibilities. In private business firms, soil scientists have opportunities to advance into positions such as department heads or research directors. Supervisory and manager positions are also available in government organizations such as road or conservation departments.

Job Outlook and Salary of a Soil Scientist

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected growth in employment for Soil Scientists from 2016 to 2026 is 7%. This is a commendable growth rate when compared to those of other occupations.

According to salary.com, the average salary for Soil Scientists in the United States is $71,974 with the range typically falling between $57,600 and $89,090.

The salary for Soil Scientists starts around £21000 to £24000 and more experienced professionals could be looking at somewhere more than £50000 in the United Kingdom. (Tasty Careers)

According to Payscale, the average salary for a Soil Scientist in Canada is C$78,850.

The average salary for Soil scientists in Nigeria is 216,000 NGN. (Salary Explorer)

Typical Employers of  Soil Scientists

As a Soil Scientist, you can work in:

  • Environmental consultancies
  • Research establishments
  • Commercial and industrial organizations
  • Universities and other educational institutions
  • Voluntary or charitable environmental organizations
  • The Civil Service
  • Public education centres
  • Food production companies

Soil and a plant in a bulb

Famous Soil Scientists

  1. Professor Bashir Ademola Raji: He is the President, Soil Science Society of Nigeria. He has taught several courses at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and University of Calabar, Calabar; Uthman Danfodio University, Sokoto; Bayero University, Kano; University of Ilorin, Ilorin and Federal University of Technology, Minna on Visiting Appointments. Professor Raji is the Chairman, CBT Centre, University of Ilorin.
  2. Megan Balks: Megan Balks is an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow position at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. She is currently self-employed but before now, she taught soil and environmental science at the university and supervised over 50 graduate theses.

Careers Related to Soil Science

Farm Manager: A Farm Manager usually works with animal production, dairy, or crop production enterprises. However, it is not impossible to find some farm Managers working with all three at the same time. As a Farm Manager, you will handle finances and production, maintain farm progress within the stipulated budget. You will also perform routine evaluations to check for quality, whether livestock or crops. Sound knowledge of pests as well as diseases that affect them is also very important. Farm Managers provide treatment for diseases, pests, and maintain health and safety standards of farms.

Agricultural Consultant: An Agricultural consultant supports established and growing farmers, as well as anyone in the agricultural business. Agricultural consultancy determines the farming needs and progress of a specific region and connects the region with its agricultural sector. Agricultural Consultants work as research specialists or agricultural scientists. They have efficient knowledge and understanding of the agricultural industry.

Environmental Geologist: Environmental Geologists go beyond soil studies. They carry out technical analysis of soils, rock, groundwater, and other natural conditions. They also conduct risk assessments on geological hazards, to determine the suitability of a site for construction. Environmental geologists manage the geological factors that may come up in a construction project. They sometimes work as advisers for private and public bodies.

Soil Scientist carrying sand with his hands

Postgraduate Options for a Soil Scientist

MSc/MRes Soil Science at the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom. This postgraduate program teaches characterization and basic properties of soils, combined with state-of-the-art techniques. If you choose to enrol, you will learn about soil and environmental sciences, with a primary focus on field/laboratory experience. It will equip you with the ability to apply knowledge in academics to real-world contexts, such as food security or environmental sustainability. The duration for the program is 12 months and the tuition for international students is £21000.

MSc Soils and Sustainability at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC). The program focuses on the soil as a vital resource that supports the sustainability of ecosystems and all agricultural production. It is designed to teach you soil functions and management, soil classification, assessment, and analysis, with a strong emphasis on practical skills. You will gain expertise in the relationship between soil and sustainable approaches to land resource use. The duration of the program is 12 months. The tuition for the program is £27500 for international students.

Soil and Water Management MSc at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. The program is designed to prepare you for the challenges of Soil Scientists and how best to overcome them. Its duration is two years. The tuition for the entire program is 270 000 SEK (Swedish Krona), but you can pay the first instalment of 67 500 SEK.

Professional Certifications in Soil Science

Certified Professional Soil Scientist (CPSS): This certification is from the Soil Science Society of America. It sets and maintains high standards for its holders. However, you’ll need a Bachelor’s Degree with 5 years of Soil Science experience to qualify for the certification. You can check out the specific requirements on the Soil Science Society of America website.

The Institute of Professional Soil Scientists (IPSS): IPSS is a professional body for Soil Scientists that manages the societal perception of the profession. Members enjoy professional recognition and statuses that demonstrate competence at all levels. Other benefits include professional accreditation, career development guidance, professional contacts with national and international experts in the discipline, conferences, and newsletters to keep you informed, representation on national issues, etc. You can enter as a student member, associate member, fellow, or a non-practising member. Visit the association’s website for more information on the requirements and benefits.

Soil Science Society of Nigeria: This is a Nigerian body that coordinates the activities of Soil Scientists in Nigeria. You can visit the SSSN website for details on how you can become a member and earn a recognized certification.

Yes! If you have read this far, it means you are ready to kickstart your career in the Soil Science field. Do not hesitate yo reach out to me through en email, should you need further guidance such as how to enroll in these schools I have shared. I’ll also like to know and discuss your challenges and clarify areas you don’t quite understand yet.  Let’s do this!

 

 

 

 

 

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