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Two scientists collect soil samples

A soil scientist could...

Study the composition of soils on Mars to determine what elements they contain. A large field of dirt and rocks Chemically evaluate soil nutrient levels in a farming community to determine what crops would grow best there. A scientist using testing equipment that produces flames
Analyze soil from an archeological site to determine how the landscape previously looked. A scientist collects soil from a barren field Help determine the likelihood of future soil erosion in an area, given soil composition and placement. A steep bank of a river
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview Not all dirt is created equal. In fact, different types of soil can make a big difference in some very important areas of our society. A building constructed on sandy soil might collapse during an earthquake, and crops planted in soil that doesn't drain properly might become waterlogged and rot after a rainstorm. It is the job of a soil scientist to evaluate soil conditions and help farmers, builders, and environmentalists decide how best to take advantage of local soils.
Key Requirements Good critical thinking skills, willingness to get dirty, and the ability to communicate clearly
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry, calculus, English; if available, Earth science and environmental science
Median Salary
Soil Scientist
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%)
  • Meet Fausto Pedrazzini, a soil scientist for NATO.
  • Read this interview with Elvia Niebla, a soil scientist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

A bachelor's degree in soil science or a related environmental field is necessary. Some employers prefer a master's degree or doctorate, too. Those who'd like to work as a professor will need to obtain a doctorate degree.

In addition to formal education, on-the-job training through internships can be very valuable for securing good employment. Soil scientists who have completed their bachelor's degrees may apply for certification through the American Society of Agronomy and Soil Science Society of America. This certification is not mandatory, but candidates who are certified may be preferred by some employers.

Education and Training

Students interested in pursuing a career as a soil scientist should take as many math and science courses as possible in high school. For college, they should attend a four-year agricultural college, or other university that offers a bachelor's degree in soil science or in environmental science, with a sub-specialty in soil.

Some employers prefer candidates with additional education. Both master's and doctoral degrees are available in soil sciences from agricultural colleges. A PhD is necessary for soil scientists who would like to teach and do research as university professors.

Other Qualifications

Soil scientists are often brought in as consultants for farmers, other environmentalists, or construction projects. For this reason it is critical that they have excellent communication skills, both written and verbal.

Nature of the Work

Soil scientists study the chemical, physical, biological, and mineralogical composition of soils as they relate to plant growth. They also study the responses of various soil types to fertilizers, tillage practices, and crop rotation. Many soil scientists who work for the federal government conduct soil surveys, classifying and mapping soils. They provide information and recommendations to farmers and other landowners regarding the best use of land, and plants to avoid or to correct problems, such as erosion. They may also consult with engineers and other technical personnel working on construction projects about the effects of, and solutions to, soil problems. Because soil science is closely related to environmental science, persons trained in soil science also work to ensure environmental quality and effective land use.

Watch this video for an overview of a day in the life of a soil scientist.

Employment for soil scientists usually falls into one of two sub fields:

  • Agricultural Soil Scientist: These soil scientists focus on the food and farming aspects of soil. They often serve as farm advisors, crop consultants, or representatives of agricultural companies.
  • Environmental Soil Scientist: These soil scientists focus on the soil's role in a healthy ecosystem. They often work in environmental positions dealing with water quality concerns, remediation of contaminants, or for on-site evaluation of soil properties in construction, waste disposal, or recreational facilities.

Work Environment

Soil scientists work both indoors, in laboratories and offices, and outdoors. The work may require walking over rough terrain and doing physical labor, such as digging, to gather samples. Soil scientists tend to work regular hours.

On the Job

  • Communicate research and project results to other professionals and the public or teach related courses, seminars, or workshops.
  • Provide information and recommendations to farmers and other landowners regarding ways in which they can best use land, promote plant growth, and avoid or correct problems such as erosion.
  • Investigate responses of soils to specific management practices to determine the use capabilities of soils and the effects of alternative practices on soil productivity.
  • Develop methods of conserving and managing soil that can be applied by farmers and forestry companies.
  • Conduct experiments to develop new or improved varieties of field crops, focusing on characteristics such as yield, quality, disease resistance, nutritional value, or adaptation to specific soils or climates.
  • Investigate soil problems and poor water quality to determine sources and effects.
  • Study soil characteristics to classify soils on the basis of factors such as geographic location, landscape position, and soil properties.
  • Develop improved measurement techniques, soil conservation methods, soil sampling devices, and related technology.
  • Conduct experiments investigating how soil forms, changes, and interacts with land-based ecosystems and living organisms.
  • Identify degraded or contaminated soils and develop plans to improve their chemical, biological, and physical characteristics.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Soil Scientists

Ask Questions

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Additional Information


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