Fancy a scientific career where you can get your hands dirty? Well then, you’ll definitely ‘dig’ this profession (sincere apologies for those two awful puns!).
Essentially, soil scientists examine different soils from a diverse range of terrains and geographical locations in order to study their physical composition and chemical properties. This scientific work isn’t simply carried out because these people love messing around with mud – this area of science actually has many practical applications.
Indeed, soil scientists assess and evaluate the impact of certain soils on agricultural enterprises. Furthermore, their research findings are vital for investigating the feasibility of construction, landscaping, conservation and archaeological projects.
Soil scientists are employed by private and public sector organisations, such as research and development facilities, land use and construction companies, environmental consultancies, academic institutions that are planning archaeological projects, conservation charities and landscape design enterprises.
If you enter this profession, your work will involve a mixture of laboratory work and field investigations. You’ll be collecting soil samples, analysing them and recording your observations. Off the back of your research findings, you’ll be writing reports, giving presentations and attending conferences to share your conclusions with the scientific community.
More importantly, you’ll be providing expert advice directly to professionals from other fields, such as archaeologists, agricultural consultants, conservationists, forensic scientists, hydrologists, petrologists and construction engineers.
Salary & benefits
Soil scientists in the early stages of their careers can earn around £15,000 to £25,000 per annum, while scientists who have gained a wealth of experience can earn anything between £25,000 and £60,000 per annum.
Your potential earnings will primarily be dependent on the sector you work in, your qualifications, your level of experience and the size of your employer. Professionals working for commercial companies tend to be paid higher salaries than people working for government agencies or not-for-profit organisations.
Working hours are not usually fixed, and depend on the specific projects assigned to soil scientists. People working exclusively in laboratories are more likely to have regular working schedules than scientists who are primarily engaged in field work.
Field scientists also work in adverse conditions and hazardous locations from time to time, especially those working in the oil, gas and mineral mining industries.
In order to break into this line of work, a strong undergraduate degree (2:1 minimum) in a relevant science subject is sufficient. However, employers often prefer candidates with postgraduate degrees (MSc or PhD).
Studying subjects such as earth sciences, environmental geoscience, soil science, geology, geography, chemistry, biology or archaeology will definitely give you a great foundation for entering this fairly niche profession.
Training & progression
Apart from ‘on-the-job’ training, practical work experience and continued professional education, obtaining membership of professional bodies such as the British Society of Soil Science (BSSS) and The Institute of Professional Soil Scientists (IPSS) will provide you with an added advantage in pursuing a successful career as a soil scientist.
Some of these guys choose to become freelance consultants as they gain more experience, while others may choose to work in more of an academic capacity, giving lectures and conducting independent research.
Soil scientists can also expand their knowledge base by taking up qualifications in related fields such as geology, oil exploration and surveying.