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Food Scientist Training and Qualifications

A bachelor's degree in agricultural science is sufficient for private industry jobs in product development or applied research, but a master's or doctoral degree is generally required for research jobs at universities.

Education and training. Training requirements for agricultural scientists depend on the type of work they perform. Most jobs in the farming and food processing industry require a bachelor�s degree, but a master's or doctoral degree is usually required for research positions at universities. A Ph.D. in agricultural science is also 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 example, degrees in animal sciences may include courses on animal breeding, reproductive physiology, nutrition, and meat 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 to be 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.

Licensure. Some States require soil scientists to be licensed to practice. Licensing requirements vary by State, but generally include holding a bachelor�s degree with a certain number of credit hours in soil science, a certain number of years working under a licensed scientist, and passage of an examination.

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. Certification is not necessary to work in these occupations, but it may improve opportunities by providing proof of a worker�s qualifications. Certification in agronomy requires a bachelor's degree in agronomy or a related field and 5 years of experience, a master�s degree and 3 years, or a doctoral degree and 1 year. Crop advising certification requires either 4 years of experience or a bachelor's degree in agriculture and 2 years of experience. 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 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, 2010-11 Edition

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