What’s it all about then?
Soil is a natural and renewable resource, and is vital to the global primary production of food.
As a soil scientist you’ll gather, evaluate and interpret all scientific information about soils and soil resources and use this to improve agricultural production.
The efficient management of soil is also vital for the benefit of the environment and your research into the soil composition of various locations could be used to inform construction, landscaping and even agricultural projects.
What might I be doing?
There is a large range of separate tasks with which you might be involved but the following will likely be included in your role:
Tasks can vary depending on the sector but most soil scientists are involved in some of the following:
- Using your knowledge to design sampling programmes and other experimental research to solve problems and make improvements to agricultural production
- Collection of soil samples and other related field work
- Conducting or supervising laboratory analysis of soil samples and other relevant experiments
- Accurately recording findings and cataloguing information
- Generating maps of soil types and their geographical distributions
- Writing scientific and non –scientific reports and presenting findings to stakeholders
- Keeping up to date with developments in your area of expertise
- Informing policy on a local or national scale
- Travelling around to various sampling sites
- Writing proposals for research funding as applicable
What will be expected of me?
You’ll need to be willing to work outdoors in conditions that are not always ideal in order to collect your soil samples for future laboratory analysis – your work will all be logically planned in advance prior to collecting the data via field sampling.
Whilst a lot of what you do will be team based there will also be occasions that you’re working alone so a degree of independence is required.
You’ll be expected to identify problems and propose cost effective solutions for the farming community.
Your ability to communicate extremely effectively, both verbally and via written reports, is vital for success in the role of soil scientist as you will be explaining the findings of your work to both fellow scientists and also those who have no scientific background.
What can I expect?
The job is a combination of work in the laboratory and collecting field samples and you can expect to work long hours at times and also over weekends occasionally.
You can also expect to get the opportunity to present your work to your peers which will be of great assistance in your career development.
There are plenty of opportunities for soil scientists around the country and with experience comes the opportunity to specialise further if you wish.
What about the pay?
Like many other jobs the salary will depend on the sector in which you work your qualifications and experience, and the organisation for which you’re employed.
In the private sector you’ll likely earn more than the equivalent sort of work in the public or not for profit sector.
Salaries will typically start at around £21000 to £24000 and with experience you could be looking at somewhere in excess of £50000.
The most experienced and qualified soil scientists can expect to earn more than £60000 per annum.
Please note that these figures are intended as a guide only and you should always check when applying for any job.
What qualifications do I need to get in?
If you’re looking to forge a career as a soil scientist then you’ll want to study for a degree in science; the following subjects are particularly relevant
- environmental science;
- earth sciences;
- physical geography;
However many employers will look for a postgraduate qualification
Where would I get these qualifications?
Degree level qualifications in science are available widely throughout the United Kingdom and you should consult prospectuses for details of course contents so that science as a module or module component.
For further details of university courses that offer soil science related disciplines you could also check the website of The British Society of Soil Science.
If you wish to specialise in the subject of soil science at undergraduate level, the University of Aberdeen offers a degree programme in plant and soil science.
As mentioned above, many employers will prefer a post-graduate qualification if you’re looking for work in the soil science profession.
These are available from various universities including the following:
- Aberystwyth University;
- Cranfield University;
- Lancaster University;
- the University of Aberdeen;
- the University of Edinburgh;
- The University of Reading.
What about further training?
This will depend at what level you enter the profession – if you come into the soil scientist role as a graduate then you may want to pursue a post graduate level qualification. On the other hand your career may have commenced with you already in possession of a Masters Degree or Doctorate and you may not need or want any more academic qualifications.
Of course soil science covers a variety of disciplines so you may want to undertake qualifications in a related field such as geology or chemistry – again this is an option.
Either way you will likely receive training on the job, depending on your employer – this will likely involve the use of specific equipment to complete a project.
You could also join the relevant professional body the Institute of Professional Soil Scientists (IPSS) which will also likely assist in your career development.
Anything else I might need to know?
Yes, Soil Science covers a variety of scientific areas; this means that although the role is recognised to be rather niche in nature, the integrated nature of the subject means that soil scientists can operate in a range of professional areas.
This means that your job choice of soil scientist could be a really good move!