Animal scientists work to ensure agricultural productivity and food safety. Most animal scientists work in research universities, private industry, or for the federal government. They work in offices, laboratories, and/or the field. Those working in processing plants may sometimes work in unpleasant conditions. Most animal scientists work full time. Many need at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited postsecondary institution, although many get a doctoral degree.
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Animal scientists typically do the following:
Animal scientists play an important role in maintaining the nation’s food supply. Many work in basic or applied research and development. Basic research seeks to understand the biological and chemical processes by which livestock grow. Applied research uses this knowledge to discover ways to improve the quality, quantity, and safety of agricultural products.
Many animal scientists work with little supervision, forming their own hypotheses and developing research methods accordingly. In addition, they often lead teams of technicians or students who help in their research.
Animal scientists often conduct research on domestic farm animals. With a focus on food production, they explore animal genetics, nutrition, reproduction, diseases, growth, and development. They work to develop efficient ways to produce and process meat, poultry, eggs, and milk. Animal scientists may crossbreed animals to get new combinations of desirable characteristics. They advise farmers on how to upgrade housing for animals, lower animal death rates, handle waste matter, and increase production.
Animal scientists in private industry often work for food production companies, farms, and processing plants. They typically work to improve inspection standards or overall food quality. They often spend their time in a laboratory, where they do tests and experiments, or in the field, where they take samples or assess overall conditions. Other animal and food scientists work for pharmaceutical companies, where they use biotechnology processes to develop drugs or other medical products.
In the federal government, animal scientists conduct research on animal safety and methods of improving food production. They spend most of their time conducting clinical trials or developing experiments on animal subjects. They eventually present their findings in peer-reviewed journals or other publications.
Animal scientists need at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited postsecondary institution, although many obtain a doctoral degree. Some earn a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). Most animal scientists earn a Ph.D.
Students typically gain a strong foundation in their field, with an emphasis on teamwork, internships, and research opportunities. In addition to science coursework, undergraduates sometimes take humanities courses, which help them develop good communication skills.
Some people with bachelor's degrees in animal sciences find work in related fields rather than becoming an animal scientist. For example, a bachelor's degree in animal science is useful for managerial jobs in farm-related or ranch-related businesses, such as farming, ranching, agricultural inspection, farm credit institutions, or companies that make or sell feed, fertilizer, seed, and farm equipment.
Graduate study further develops an animal scientist’s knowledge. It typically takes students six years to complete a Ph.D. During graduate school, there is additional emphasis on lab work and original research, where prospective animal scientists have the opportunity to do experiments and sometimes supervise undergraduates.
Advanced research topics include genetics, animal reproduction, and biotechnology, among others. Advanced coursework also emphasizes statistical analysis and experiment design, which are important as Ph.D. candidates begin their research.
Like candidates for a Ph.D. in animal science, a prospective Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine candidates must first have a bachelor’s degree before getting into veterinary school.
Most animal scientists work in research universities, private industry, or the federal government. Their work takes place in offices, laboratories, and in the field. They spend most of their time studying data and reports in a laboratory or office. Field work includes visits to farms or processing plants. When visiting an animal production facility, they must follow biosecurity measures, wear suitable clothing, and tolerate animal waste and odor.
The median annual wage of animal scientists was $58,450 in May 2010. The lowest 10% earned less than $34,320, and the top 10% earned more than $105,040.