Soil Science

A soil scientist gathers, interprets and evaluates information about the chemistry, biology and physics of soils to inform and influence issues as diverse as agricultural production, environmental quality, human health, climate change, land remediation and biodiversity.
Soil, a natural and renewable resource, is vital to sustaining food production, supporting plant and animal life and providing a foundation for infrastructures across the world. Soil science is an integrated science, covering several scientific disciplines. Therefore, soil scientists can operate in a range of professional areas including:

  • Research for public and private sector institutions.
  • Government policy.
  • Consultancy.
  • Overseas development.
  • Assistance with onsite archaeological excavations and subsequent laboratory analysis.
  • Landscape design.
  • Forensics.
  • Site reclamation and remediation.
  • Conservation.

Typical work activities

  • Applying knowledge of soil science, including the fundamentals of the subject, such as the biological, chemical and physical properties of soils, and their spatial and temporal variability across the landscape.
  • Field work, including the collection of soil samples from a range of environments.
  • Producing maps of soil types and their distribution.
  • Monitoring or supervising laboratory research.
  • Conducting laboratory analysis of soil samples and research experiments.
  • Completing paperwork and cataloguing findings.
  • Writing research reports and making presentations on findings, including scientific research papers and non-scientific client reports.
  • Interpreting science to inform policy.
  • Integrating soil science knowledge into aspects of land management and ecosystems.
  • Keeping up to date with developments in soil science and related areas, as well as environmental issues and changes in legislation that may impact on your work.
  • Attending conferences to keep abreast of the latest developments and to network with people in the profession and in related industries.
  • Travelling to sites within and outside the country.
  • In education posts: writing proposals and making bids for new research projects and funding, making presentations, giving seminars, teaching and advising students.
  • In consultancy roles: tendering for work, reporting to and advising clients, liaising with members of related professions, such as ecologists, environmental scientists, engineers, geologists and hydrologists.

Technical Skills

  • Ability to plan and conduct research and carry out experimental practical work.
  • Logical thinking.
  • Competence in data collection and analysis.
  • Communication skills, oral and written.
  • Ability to identify and solve problems.
  • Presentation and report-writing skills.
  • Time management skills.
  • Ability to work independently as well as in a team.
  • IT skills.
  • An understanding of health and safety in the workplace.
  • Field workers are normally required to hold a full, clean driving licence.

Career Development

Opportunities for career development depend on the sector in which you work. Promotion in most areas is based largely on experience, scientific publication and performance. Soil scientists are expected to have a working knowledge of most areas of soil sciences. However, most soil scientists go on to specialise in one or two areas during their career, for example: pedology; soil physics; soil chemistry; soil biology; soil mineralogy; soil management; soil survey and land evaluation.
Soil scientists working for non-academic research bodies, such as governmental organisations or private sector companies, can expect promotion in their first five to ten years in post. There are opportunities to advance within a technical role, with promotion to senior levels, or by moving into managerial roles.
Soil scientists based in private consultancies are often required to apply their expertise in a wider range of disciplines, as required by their clients.
Soil scientists in higher education institutions can expect structured career progression. After completing a PhD, progression is to a postdoctoral position or a junior lectureship. From here, promotion is to a senior lectureship or a readership, achievable within five to ten years, depending on your publication record and funding. Managerial responsibilities can be gained by applying for head of department or school/college positions. Research-based jobs are typically for fixed periods so progression is commonly dependent on moves to other projects or organisations.
Soil scientists who wish to become self-employed need extensive experience and a specialisation within soil science. As many soil scientists maintain an interest in several scientific disciplines, it is relatively easy to move into other career areas where their skills can be applied.

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