Animal Science Master's and PhD: Degrees at a Glance
Animal science programs are usually found in schools that conduct research in agricultural and veterinary science. Farm animals are typically the main subject of study and can include horses, chickens, cattle, and pigs. You can choose to concentrate on a specific area of animal science, such as biotechnology, genetics, nutrition, or production management. Research in these subjects can lead to healthier animals for human food consumption and more efficient breeding practices.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists animal scientists under agricultural and food scientists, and the group as a whole was expected to have a job growth of 10% from 2010-2020. Animal scientists earned a median annual income of $61,000 in 2011.
|Who Is this Degree for?||Those who have an interest in livestock management and production||Individuals interested in conducting basic research or teaching animal science at the university level|
|Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salaries)||- Agricultural manager ($65,000)*|
- Animal scientist ($61,000)*
|- Postsecondary teacher in agricultural science ($80,000)*|
|Time to Completion||2 years full-time, up to 5 years part-time||5 years full-time, up to 8 years part-time|
|Common Graduation Requirements||- Can choose thesis (research-based) or non-thesis (coursework-based) option |
- Core and elective courses
- Oral exam
|- Core and elective courses |
- Comprehensive exams
|Prerequisites||- Bachelor's degree in related field |
- Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores
- Letters of recommendation
|- Bachelor's or master's degree in related field |
- GRE scores
- Letters of recommendation
- Resume of supplementary relevant experience
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).
Master's Degree in Animal Science
If you are interested in animals, particularly in animals that would be found on a farm or used for food consumption, then you will find this field has many opportunities for you. You might consult with ranchers on the most efficient breeding practices or the best diets to keep their animals healthy. Lab work might also be part of your job if you focus on genetics or biotechnology. Research interests and work conditions might overlap with those of wildlife biologists and ecologists because many domestic animals spend a lot of time in the same environments that wild animals do. Job growth for food and agricultural scientists is expected to be driven by the demand for food safety measures and agricultural sustainability.
Pros and Cons
- You can choose to work with specific agricultural animals that interest you most.
- Not only can you can make a difference in domestic animal health and nutrition, you could improve human health and nutrition.
- Opportunity to help the environment by improving agricultural sustainability.
- Working with animals in a farm setting can be physically demanding.
- Biosecurity measures must be taken when visiting animal production facilities to minimize health risks.
- You may come across ethical issues when it comes to animal food production.
Courses and Requirements
Coursework in a master's degree program in animal science is strongly directed towards the business side of agriculture, so not only will you learn about animals, you'll take courses in business administration, management, and economics. You could choose to focus your studies on a particular aspect of animal science, such as biotechnology, physiology, genetics, nutrition, or animal well-being.
Examples of master's-level courses for a program in animal science include:
- Animal nutrition
- Cellular biology
- Reproductive physiology
- Livestock production
- Animal breeding
Some programs may also require that you complete a teaching assistantship in which you aid in teaching an undergraduate class for a semester. If you choose a thesis option, you'll need to conduct independent research and defend your thesis in addition to completing course requirements. A final oral exam is also often required to graduate.
Online Degree Options
Though online master's degree programs in this field are not very common, some do exist. The requirements are the same as they are for on-campus programs; the only difference is that courses are completed online. If you feel you need additional hands-on experience, you could look into internships with biotechnology firms or livestock production companies.
Getting Ahead with this Degree
Participating in an internship is a wonderful opportunity to gain hands-on experience in your area of interest and meet people already working in your desired field. You could also consider earning voluntary certification to signify your expertise to prospective employers. The American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists (ARPAS) awards board certification to experienced animal scientists who have earned at least a master's degree and pass a written exam in a specialization area. Continuing education is required to maintain membership with the ARPAS and can help you keep up with changes in the industry.
PhD in Animal Science
Whether you want to go into a PhD program directly after receiving your bachelor's degree or don't mind earning a master's degree first, there are PhD programs in animal science to meet your needs. These programs allow you to teach and conduct research in your area of interest. Research in animal science covers many topics that concern the world today, such as food shortages, human health, and nutrition. It might be your job to find how to manipulate the DNA of a certain species of domestic food animal so it can breed more efficiently and remain healthy, resulting in a more nutritious and less expensive product. You might also study the effects that cattle have on the health of local wildlife, working with both ranchers and wildlife biologists.
Pros and Cons
- You'll have the opportunity to teach university students in addition to conducting research.
- Your research could benefit the environment.
- Research in certain animal science fields could someday reveal a major solution to food shortages around the world.
- Collecting research samples might require working with uncooperative animals.
- Long hours in a laboratory might be required.
- PhD programs in animal science can take up to 8 years to complete if not done full-time.
Common Courses and Requirements
Courses in a PhD program in animal science include many of the same courses you might find in a master's degree program, such as agriculture, business, and animal physiology. If you have completed a master's degree program, you'll usually be able to transfer some credits to your PhD program, reducing the amount of time it takes to earn your PhD. Some schools require you to complete teaching assistantships and report your progress in the program every year. Before you can begin your dissertation research, you must submit a proposal to be approved. You'll also need to pass a comprehensive exam to be admitted to candidacy. After completing your dissertation, it must be defended to your peers. Finally, you'll need to pass an oral exam to earn your degree.
Online Degree Options
There are currently no animal science PhD programs available online. As with many science-focused doctoral programs, online courses would not provide the teaching and research experiences that are required for the degree. If you want to complete at least some of your graduate education online, an option might be to complete a master's degree program online and then enter a PhD program. Before enrolling, make sure that the online master's degree program would fulfill all your prospective PhD program requirements for admission.
Stand Out with this Degree
If you want to become a postsecondary teacher, teaching experience is very important. Some programs offer college teaching certificate programs that you can complete while earning your degree. Programs may include workshops, seminars, coursework and supervised teaching experiences. You may also be required to create a teaching portfolio, which could be an asset when applying for work. Research is also an important consideration when trying to gain tenure as a college professor. While completing your PhD, you could try to get your research published.
Other Degrees to Consider
If you find that you are very interested in the care and well-being of farm animals or if you want to work with different types of animals, a program in veterinary medicine might be a better route for you. The BLS reported that the annual median wage for veterinarians was $83,000 in 2011, which was higher than what the BLS reported for animal scientists and postsecondary teachers in agricultural science.
Also, veterinarians were expected to see a 32% increase in jobs from 2010-2020, which is higher than the 10% increase expected for animal scientists. With a degree in veterinary medicine, you still have the option to teach and to conduct research, but you could also work on the clinical side of veterinary medicine to diagnose and treat illnesses in animals. To become a veterinarian, you'll need to complete a 4-year veterinary medicine program after completing your undergraduate education and earn licensure. You also have the option to earn board certification in a specialty.