If you love food -- like down to the molecular level -- you could consider becoming a professional food scientist. The work requires a lot of detailed knowledge and can be technologically heavy, but don’t think it will be just you and your test tubes in a basement lab. Food scientists perform a variety of work depending on their particular specialties, but it all revolves around researching the underlying structure and content of the foods that we eat every day. One of the more practical benefits of studying to become a food scientist? Though job growth is predicted to be about average from 2010 to 2020 -- 10 percent according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics -- food science jobs should keep popping up, due to the continuous need for safe and healthy food sources.
Variety in Work
Even though it sounds like a fairly specific career, there are a large number of places where you can work as a food scientist. Food science is used at research centers, in the federal government and in groups that form part of private industry, such as food manufacturing or packaging companies. In addition, you won’t be chained to your desk all day. You might spend at least some time in the office, but you’ll also frequently find yourself in labs or out conducting field work. Places you might work out of the office can include farms, processing plants or animal facilities.
Food scientists don’t usually spend a lot of time twiddling their thumbs and wondering if they could be pursuing a more meaningful career. In brief, they perform groundbreaking research that can improve food and, subsequently, people’s lives around the world -- not too bad for a day’s work. As a food scientist, you could work on developing new sources of food, improving food safety and nutrition, or enforcing government regulations designed to keep food healthy and sanitary. Technological developments and intellectual leaps in the field will be sure to keep you on your toes and make you stay engaged in your work.
Working as a food scientist is usually a way to make a pretty good living. According to the BLS, food scientists earned an average of $64,170 per year as of May 2011. The middle 50 percent of the group took home between $43,240 and $80,300 per year. The greatest number of food scientists was employed in the sector of scientific research and development; however, these scientists made the most money when working for business, professional, labor, political and other similar organizations, with an average salary of $92,560 per year.
Opportunities for Education, Advancement
As a food scientist, you’ll get to work on interesting new topics related to food and nutrition, but you’ll also have the chance for further education and professional advancement. It’s possible to get into the field with a degree in sciences such as biology or chemistry, but every state has at least one land-grant university that offers degrees specific to agricultural science. You might need a graduate degree for some positions, and many food scientists even have a Ph.D. You can specialize in one of many advanced areas, including genetics and biotechnology. With an advanced degree or even a certification, you could be ready for leadership opportunities within your field.
2016 Salary Information for Agricultural and Food Scientists
Agricultural and food scientists earned a median annual salary of $62,670 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, agricultural and food scientists earned a 25th percentile salary of $47,880, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $84,090, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 43,000 people were employed in the U.S. as agricultural and food scientists.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Agricultural and Food Scientists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011: Food Scientists and Technologists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Agricultural and Food Scientists
- Career Trend: Agricultural and Food Scientists
Samantha Ley writes career and education articles for various online publications. She also works in social media management and creates test materials and other educational content for various companies. Ley holds a B.A. in English and Spanish from Kenyon College and an M.Ed. from the University of Virginia.