The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is reporting the results of a recent survey of trends related to the soil science profession. The results suggest that employment opportunities in soil and related sciences are increasing, and students, academics, and employers have a positive outlook for the future of soil science. Despite these positive findings, the survey identified areas to be addressed to enhance the soil science profession.
The survey was conducted by SSSA in cooperation with the Social and Economic Sciences Research Center (SESRC) at Washington State University. Survey responses revealed that the proportion of male and Caucasian faculty was higher than the student population, suggesting that greater student diversity may translate to greater faculty diversity in the future.
Most students surveyed were interested in pursuing a career in soil science (86%), and recommended it as a career choice (76%), while responses to open-ended questions suggest areas for improvement. The most frequent comments focused on job opportunities, enhancing the image of soil science, and appreciation of soils in the natural world by the public, the need to better engage young minds in the soil science discipline, and the essential role of soil judging in soil science training.
Most soil science departments report that they had not seen a change in student enrollment in the past 10 years, and would likely not change in the next 10. However, a majority of students foresee a decline in enrollment; they felt that soil science as a discipline was suffering from an outdated linkage to agriculture and cited the need to emphasize an environmental focus.
While most (56%) departments report that the number of faculty in soil science had stayed the same over the last 10 years, 31% reported decreases in full-time faculty, and only 16% reported increases. The average median of full-time positions in a soil science department was 3.6, but only 1.0 if part of a larger department. Only 27% of the departments surveyed offer degrees in soil science, so only a minority of departments are graduating degreed soil scientists.
The survey also revealed how students, departments, and employers view the job market. Most departments (49%) thought that job opportunities for soil science graduates had increased during the last 10 years, while the number of employers who agreed with this was 37%. Currently, 50% of employers reported difficulty in finding qualified employees, and nearly 37% of employers thought it would be more difficult to find trained soil scientists in the next 10 years.
Numerous comments by students suggested that there are difficulties in finding job opportunities, and departments are not fully aware of potential job opportunities. Once students were employed or completed an internship in an organization that engaged in soils work, they were more likely to seek employment in soil science. However, fewer than 25% of soil science undergraduates participate in soil science internships.
Employers also noted that while they were generally satisfied with graduate soil science education and training, they identified several of important skill sets for professionals, including soil classification or survey, soil physical property or engineering assessment, and wetland soils. Employers consistently referred to a need for these skills: field experience, effective communication (written and verbal) and critical thinking skills, and geographic information systems.
To address the various challenges identified by the survey, SSSA recommends integrating soil science curriculum into K-16 education; evaluate its image relative to agriculture and the environment; attract new majors with introductory courses and provide additional projects and internships; increase collaboration between industry and academics; enhance the soil science curriculum to ensure that students graduate with appropriate and functional field skills; and address the lack of recognition of soil scientists with other disciplines.
A copy of the full report is available on the SSSA website:
Soil Science Society of America Journal, www.soils.org/publications/sssaj, is a peer-reviewed international journal published six times a year by the Soil Science Society of America. Its contents focus on research relating to physics; chemistry; biology and biochemistry; fertility and plant nutrition; genesis, morphology, and classification; water management and conservation; forest, range, and wildland soils; nutrient management and soil and plant analysis; mineralogy; and wetland soils.
The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is a progressive, international scientific society that fosters the transfer of knowledge and practices to sustain global soils. Based in Madison, WI, and founded in 1936, SSSA is the professional home for 6,000+ members dedicated to advancing the field of soil science. It provides information about soils in relation to crop production, environmental quality, ecosystem sustainability, bioremediation, waste management, recycling, and wise land use.
SSSA supports its members by providing quality research-based publications, educational programs, certifications, and science policy initiatives via a Washington, DC, office. For more information, visit www.soils.org.