Careers in Agricultural Biology: Job Options and Requirements
Agricultural biologists work for companies, farmers, universities and government agencies to find ways to improve the production of farm crops and animals. Potential careers may include research and development scientists, agribusiness sales representatives, extension agents, farmers, farm managers and range scientists.
Careers in Agricultural Biology
Agricultural biologists strive to effectively manage farm crops and animals. To do this they study pests like insects, birds and small mammals. They also study plants, farm animals and beneficial insects like bees. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's and Purdue University's Living Science website lists many specialties, including agronomist, animal geneticist, animal physiologist, botanist, entomologist, horticulturist and toxicologist. Agricultural biologists may work as basic or applied research scientists, as consultants to businesses and farmers or as food production managers.
Job Options in Agricultural Biology
Administration and Management
Some agricultural biologists become administrators or managers of research and development programs in industry. For example, research and development programs may focus on food products, agricultural chemicals or farm machinery. These administrators or managers may not actively conduct research, but manage the people involved in the research program.
Technical and Sales Representatives
Graduates with master's degrees in agricultural biology may become technical or sales representatives for companies that produce fertilizers, pesticides or hybrid plant varieties. These types of careers may require significant travel to meet with farm managers or farming cooperatives to present the available product lines.
Agricultural researchers, like geneticists, may conduct their research at state universities to find ways to develop new varieties of plants or strains of livestock. Publishing the results of these studies is often an important part of these jobs. Some researchers will also spend time teaching college classes.
Job Outlook & Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not offer job outlook and salary information for biological-based administration and management, technical and sales representatives or academic researchers careers. However, the BLS does offer career and income information for agricultural and food scientists and technicians, as well as soil and plant scientists. The job outlook information listed for agricultural and food scientists states that employment in this field will grow by 10% between 2010 and 2020, which is as fast as the national average for all jobs. As of May 2012, agricultural and food science technicians are reported as earning an average income of $36,390 per year, while soil and plant scientists earned an average of $63,290 per year (www.bls.gov).
Agricultural Biology Requirements
These four-year degree programs are offered in specialties such as animal science, agronomy, plant science, poultry science, dairy science or fisheries. Students interested in plant sciences may study crop nutrition, plant pathology, entomology and similar courses. Students interested in animal sciences may study anatomy, animal nutrition, physiology and other courses related to animal care and production.
Master's degree programs may be focused on a single agricultural biology subspecialty, like entomology, or a interdisciplinary focus that includes two or more subspecialties, like plant pathology and weed science. Candidates for a master's degree typically must have completed a bachelor's degree program first. The master's degree program usually requires the completion of at least 30 semester hours of classes. Most of these must be at the graduate level. A thesis may also be required, and some programs may include fieldwork requirements.
Candidates prepare a course of study with their graduate committee that includes advanced courses and fieldwork. The time needed to complete this degree program varies for each student. Proficiency in a foreign language or a research tool like statistics is also required. Most doctoral candidates must complete a dissertation and examinations before the degree is conferred.
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