To characterize soil types for optimal utilization and maximum productivity. A soil scientist studies the effects of tillage, fertilization, nutrient transformation, crop rotation, environmental consequence (water, gas or heat), and industrial waste on soil.
There are two major categories of soil scientists: researchers and educators.
A researcher works for government agencies, private land owners, large companies, and on non-profits studying effects of grazing and population on national parks, urban areas, pesticides on crops, water management (both surface and ground), classifying soils using chemical analysis, projects relative to plant growth, and maximizing productivity of the land. Researchers also draft and submit permit proposals.
Research soil scientists are often self-employed. As governments downsize, many cross over to the private sector. There used to be a lot of soil surveying for pesticides and toxic elements on orchards and farmlands, but the focus is shifting to studies involving water quality and wetland restoration.
Generally, researchers will work on several projects simultaneously. "The best thing you can do is to get your name out to as many places as you can," says Joseph William Noel, a self-employed soil scientist in Redding, California. "It is a very competitive field with fewer and fewer job opportunities each year."
Most soil scientist have a master's degree with an emphasis on a variety of subjects, that allows them to understand not just the soil, but other components that effect the ground, like trees, plants and animals. Because it is an aggressive trade, diversification is advantageous.
"Don't close the doors by obtaining a specific degree without broadening your base of knowledge. If you want to be a soil scientist - that's fine, but take a class or two in different areas like wild land or resource management, so you will have a better chance for employment" recommends John Kelly, United States Forestry Ranger of the Mount Pinos District in California.
"I am a botanist by study and a soil scientist by trade, " says Noel. By acquiring more education he has an advantage over other people in this field.
Salaries range from the mid $30,000's and up and requires a lot of travel in the field. "For the last 13 years I have spent eight to ten months out of the year traveling, with several 12-hour days in a row doing nothing but research," says Noel.
Education also offers career opportunities to soil scientists, teaching methods of studying the effects of grazing on the land, water management, soil classification and mapping.
John's favorite part about teaching is being able to use the forest as a classroom. " We are breaking social barriers," exclaims Kelly. "More and more minorities are utilizing the national parks and land, not just for recreational purposes, but educational purposes, and becoming researchers and doctors of the world."
While both jobs are very difficult, they share a similarity in that the pay is good, but the work is hard and the days are long. It is 60% field work and 40% paperwork, and lots of travel.
Saleries range between $36,000 and $90,000. An advanced degree is required as is certification from ARCPAC.