Agricultural Scientists


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Follow your high school's college preparatory program, which will include courses in English, foreign language, mathematics, and government. Also take biology, chemistry, physics, and any other science courses available. You must also become familiar with basic computer skills, including programming. It may be possible for you to perform laboratory assistant duties for your science teachers. Visiting research laboratories and attending lectures by agricultural scientists can also be helpful.

Postsecondary Training

Educational requirements for agricultural scientists are very high. A doctorate is usually mandatory for careers as college or university professors, independent researchers, or field managers. A bachelor's degree may be acceptable for some entry-level jobs, such as testing or inspecting technicians, or as technical sales or service representatives. Promotions, however, are very limited for these employees unless they earn advanced degrees.

To become an agricultural scientist, you should pursue a degree related to agricultural and biological science. As an undergraduate, you should have a firm foundation in biology, with courses in chemistry, physics, mathematics, and English. You should also complete at least one internship. Most colleges and universities have agricultural science curriculums, although liberal arts colleges may emphasize the biological sciences. Every state has at least one land grant university, which offers a strong curriculum in agriculture, engineering, and natural sciences. For a listing of land grant universities, visit the members section of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities at https://www.aplu.org.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that “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.”

While pursuing an advanced degree, you'll participate in research projects and write a dissertation on your specialized area of study. You'll also do fieldwork and laboratory research along with your classroom studies.

Visit https://www.careerplacement.org/colleges for a list of agronomy, crop science, soil science and environmental science college programs and courses.

Other Education or Training

Conferences, webinars, classes, workshops, and other continuing education opportunities are provided by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, American Dairy Science Association, American Society of Agronomy, Biotechnology Industry Organization, Crop Science Society of America, Institute of Food Technologists, Renewable Fuels Association, and Soil Science Society of America. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Certification is not required for most agricultural scientist careers, but it can improve a candidate's chances of landing a job in this field. The American Society of Agronomy certifies agronomists and crop advisers, the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists certifies animal scientists, and the Soil Science Society of America certifies soil scientists and soil classifiers. In general, requirements include meeting a minimum education level and having a certain amount of work experience (for example, a bachelor's degree and five years of work experience or a master's degree and three years of experience), passing an exam, and having appropriate references. Recertification requirements typically include the completion of a certain amount of continuing education credits every two years in addition to payment of dues and adherence to a code of ethics.

According to the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, agricultural engineers must hold an engineer's license. Applicants for registration (licensing) must have received a degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program and have four years of experience. They must also pass a written examination administered by the state in which they wish to work.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Aspiring agricultural scientists should participate in at least one internship during college to gain valuable experience, explore career options, and make industry contacts, which could lead to a job offer after graduation.

As a researcher, you should be self-motivated enough to work effectively alone, yet be able to function cooperatively as part of a team. You should have an inexhaustible curiosity about the nature of living things and their environments. You must be systematic in your work habits and in your approach to investigation and experimentation and must have the persistence to continue or start over when experiments are not immediately successful.

Work performed by agricultural scientists in offices and laboratories requires intense powers of concentration and the ability to communicate one's thoughts systematically. In addition to these skills, physical stamina is necessary for those scientists who do field research in remote areas of the world.