Crop, soil, and environmental scientists are responsible for research and the preservation of the global food supply for humans and agriculture, as well as helping to conserve soil, water, and other natural resources. In pursuing a PhD in crop, soil, and environmental sciences, candidates study agronomy, a scientific discipline focused on crop production and management of farm land, in addition to plant growth, crop sustenance, soil characteristics, the eco-system, and environmental resources. Doctoral degree students typically choose a more concentrated area of study, as this field can be quite broad. Common specializations at the Ph.D. level include crop physiology, plant breeding, plant genetics, biotechnology, seed technology, soil chemistry, and pesticide residues. A doctorate in crop, soil, and environmental sciences provides the necessary qualifications for a career as an Agronomist, soil conservationist, environmental technician, farmer, soil scientist, agricultural firm manager, or conservation planner, among many more.
PhD programs in crop, soil, and environmental sciences are designed to provide students with the opportunity to explore advanced concepts and research methods in this field, combining scientific and academic curriculum centered on the candidate's specialty concentration. At the doctoral level, course work is typically tailored to a student's individual academic needs;required credit hours, candidacy pre-requisites, and current graduate standing are assessed individually. Some Ph.D. programs require written and/or oral preliminary exams. Many students participate in teaching or research assistantships with professors, the academic department overseeing their degree program, or within general college administration. A doctoral dissertation is typically required to complete this degree.
About Online PhD Programs in Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences
PhD programs in crop, soil, and environmental sciences provide an advanced education in the scientific study of agronomy, and the majority of the course work is comprised of on-campus lectures and lab work, also sometimes involves on-site professional research and/or academic assistantships. Hands-on lab work historically plays an important role in this Ph.D. program. While no fully online doctoral programs currently exist in this field, an increasing number of doctorates in a wide range of subjects are offered online daily, so the availability of this degree online is possible in the near future. For now, most colleges and universities providing a doctorate in crop, soil, and environmental sciences offer courses similar to the selection below, a sample from the University of Arkansas which features a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Agronomy, in various specializations:
- Advanced Crop Science. This course covers the basic concepts of crop physiology, crop improvement, seed science, and crop production systems.
- Soil Classification and Genesis. Consisting of lectures as well as field evaluations, this course focuses on soil properties in relation to soil genesis and soil classification, and emphasizes local Arkansas varieties. Completion requires a co-requisite lab component.
- Weed Identification, Morphology, and Ecology. In this class, candidates study weeds as pests to the economy, and explore the concepts of poisonous plants in general, as well as other specific weed problems occurring in diverse geographical settings. Students learn how to identify plants by their familial scientific characteristics, and discuss other topics as part of a lab co-requisite.
- Special Problems Research. As a process typically reserved for graduate-level students, candidates perform original research on assigned problems in agronomy, and are prepared to present their findings as part of their dissertation, if applicable.
- Advanced Soil Fertility and Plant Nutrition. In this course, students research the study of water uptake, ion absorption, translocation and metabolism in higher plants. This is a lecture class, requiring pre-requisites in biology and chemistry.
- Scientific Presentations. Through this course, students gain the experience they'll need to present their research and findings through various methods and in both professional and academic settings. Curriculum is focused on organization of materials, visual aids, and public speaking.
For Ph.D. candidates, the dissertation process is of the utmost importance, demonstrating a culmination of their skills as the final step in their academic careers. As is typical of the dissertation process in general, doctoral crop, soil, and environmental sciences students are required to formally present original research in their field of expertise. Successful dissertations on the subject of crop, soil, and environmental sciences bring to light original ideas or concepts, supported by the analysis and concepts of the student's own research, throughout the course work that has led up to their doctoral degree.
Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences
When deciding whether or not to pursue a PhD in crop, soil, and environmental sciences, students should weigh both the benefits and drawbacks of this program. As a highly specialized scientific field, the curriculum required to complete the graduate-level studies in this discipline is challenging. Students are expected to prove their dedication by enduring years of demanding course work, including extensive campus labs and lectures, as well as full-time clinical internships. Prospective students may feel apprehensive about the time and money it takes to complete this doctorate. In addition, it may be the case that the career they aspire to doesn't require a doctoral degree in this field, anyway, so they would be a waste of their time.
On the contrary, many students clearly see the advantages of pursuing a PhD in crop, soil, and environmental sciences. For one thing, the job market is expected to grow in the coming years. In fact, employment of environmental scientists and specialists was projected to grow by 19 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Also, the schedule may be demanding, but completing a doctoral degree in this field means a wider range of professional opportunities, as there are many diverse areas of specialty within the industry, and the availability and affordability of Ph.D. programs is steadily improving, with new online options being added to many colleges and universities all the time.
Application & Admission Requirements
PhDs in crop, soil, and environmental sciences typically require certain pre-requisites for admittance into the program. Although specific procedures vary by school, most colleges and universities require a master's degree in crop, soil, and environmental sciences or a related field, a grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.0, and various exams and evaluations to assess the student's level of skill. In addition, most programs require a minimum of prior academic credit hours and documented internships or professional experience. Students should be prepared to submit letters of recommendation, and a statement of goals or research plan, as they will likely coordinate their curriculum with the help of a faculty member or student advisor.
Career Options & Job Market
Career options for graduates of a PhD program in crop, soil, and environmental sciences are diverse, reflecting an expanding field of exciting options. Armed with a doctorate in this field, Ph.D.s can readily find jobs in state departments, conservation agencies, and even waste management, or continue to build on their academic scientific skills as a soil microbiologist or chemist, among many more opportunities. With a wide variety of options covering a multitude of specialty areas of study, lucrative job opportunities for crop, soil, and environmental scientists and closely related fields are available for qualified candidates. Natural sciences managers, for example, averaged an annual salary of $116,020 in May 2010, according to the BLS.
Where to Find Information
- Cornell University Department of Crop and Soil Sciences As a well-respected program in this field, Cornell University provides comprehensive industry insight and supports why many successful academics have pursued Ph.D.s here.
- University of Arkansas Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences This state-of-the-art degree program features extensive information for prospective students, and the web page features award-winning scientists who are also UA alumni.
- U.S Department of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Service This resource explains the responsibilities of a soil scientist, and what kind of jobs and careers can be achieved with graduate-level qualifications in this field.
How to Get Funding
Ph.D. students in crop, soil, and environmental sciences can find viable options for financial aid to help them complete their degrees. To apply for federal aid, including government-funded financial assistance and Stafford and Perkins loans, state-specific aid, and federal student grants, students should always start by completing and submitting the FAFSA form. As opposed to undergraduate aid, financial aid for graduate programs often requires seeking out further financial assistance from individual lenders and decentralized resources, though, so the next step should be to research what additional funds are available, and determine which of those sources the student is eligible for. Also, individual colleges and universities offer options for financing education specifically through their institution, typically in the form of work-study programs and assistantships.
- Federal Direct Stafford Loan. With a maximum per year of $20,500 and a fixed interest rate of 6.80%, this aid program makes low-interest loans available to Ph.D. students.
- Federal Perkins Loan. This low-interest loan, at an average of $3,500 per academic year and a fixed interest rate of 5.0%, is intended for full-time students with the most need for financial assistance.
- Campus-Based Aid. While each university's financial aid office is responsible for managing its own campus-based aid programs, all schools actively participate in available government financial aid programs.
- Am I making the right decision — think it over, making sure that you're comfortable with making this commitment. You should feel confident that the long-term benefits will outweigh what may seem like minor obstacles in the beginning. Ask around to get feedback from others who are in the Ph.D. program.
- Once you feel ready, get to work on your application. It may have taken some research to get here, and the application process will undoubtedly take a bit more time to get through. By starting early at this stage, you can give yourself some extra time and flexibility so you don't have to rush.
- Whenever you can, get in some work experience. Approaching a Ph.D. program in crop, soil, and environmental sciences fresh from a previous degree can be tough. Consider taking a breather to gain some professional experience, which may allow you to gain some perspective and ensure you made the right choice.
- Financial Aid- Getting a doctorate in crop, soil, and environmental sciences can be lucrative down the line, but getting through the intense course work may require many compromises. However, one way to lessen the burden of your course load and improve your state of mind while pursuing the degree is to know in advance where your aid is coming from.