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How to Become a Certified Soil Scientist

by W D Adkins

The ground you walk on every day is a complex world of plants and animals, many of which are too small to see. This is the world a soil scientist studies. Some soil scientists focus on the chemistry, biology and composition of soil. Others examine the impact of soil on ecology and the environment. Soil science is important for understanding and improving the production and quality of food and other plant products. Certified soil scientists typically are employed by food and agricultural companies, universities and both federal and state agencies.

Prepare for the college education you will need to become a certified soil scientist starting in high school. Classes in biology, chemistry and mathematics will help you develop an understanding of science and the habits of observation and attention to detail you will need. Soil scientists often work in cooperation with government agencies and food producers, so strong verbal and writing skills are necessary.

Major in soil science or a related field as an undergraduate. Allied disciplines include agronomy, biology, botany and chemistry. Programs leading to a bachelor’s degree in soil science are available at land-grant universities, agricultural colleges and many major universities. Students take basic courses in biology, chemistry and mathematics. You also will take specialized courses in food chemistry, soil chemistry, food biology and soil biology. Getting a job as a lab assistant or working as an intern will add valuable practical experience as well.

Pursue a master’s degree and/or doctorate in graduate school. Although a bachelor’s degree is sufficient to get you an entry-level job, you probably will need a graduate degree to advance to a management or research position. As a graduate student you will focus on topics such as biotechnology, genetics and ecology.

Take the certification examination administered by the Soil Science Society of America. Certification is based on passing the written exam plus your education and experience. Some states require certification. You also may have to take continuing education classes from time to time to maintain certification.

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