Product Development Scientist Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a product development scientist? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary information to see if becoming a product development scientist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Product Development Scientist

Product development scientists use applied laboratory research to develop products for everyday use, including food and other consumables. Here are the pros and cons of working as a product development scientist:

Pros of Becoming a Product Development Scientist
Above-average median income (2014 average salary was about $61,000)*
Experienced food scientists can earn over $80,000 per year**
Variety of work environments (you'll spend time in an office, the field and a lab)*
Voluntary certifications available*

Cons of Becoming a Product Development Scientist
High level of education required for many positions (must have at least a bachelor's degree)*
Not a fast-growing field (projected employment increase of 9% from 2012-2022)*
May require field work with agriculture and livestock (includes being around animal waste and odors)*
Strict adherence to government and industry regulations required*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Food product development scientists develop new and improved methods of producing, packaging and distributing processed foods. They may also be involved with agricultural or livestock processes, including finding new methods of crop cultivation and animal nutrition. Following government regulations, food scientists make products and production methods that preserve consumer safety, promote health and adhere to a company's quality standards.

Many food product development scientists work in a laboratory setting, using applied research to develop new products or make improvements to existing ones. Some professionals conduct field research in direct contact with livestock. In conducting laboratory research, you may utilize computer programs, such as analytic, database and spreadsheet software. You'll also use microscopes, spectrometers and viscometers as well as various cooking equipment, including emulsifiers or dehydrators.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

Based on 2012 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 33% of agricultural and food scientists were employed in the food manufacturing industry. Although continued demand for new and improved products should spur job growth over the coming years, the BLS projected that food scientists would see an 9% increase in jobs from 2012-2022.

According to a survey conducted by Payscale.com, food scientists with over 20 years of experience can earn up to about $86,000 annually. The BLS reported that food scientists earned median annual salary of approximately $61,480 in 2014.

What Are the Requirements?

Top Skills for Food Product Development Scientists

Problem sensitivity, inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning are essential traits for conducting food development research. In many instances, you will supervise a staff of technicians, which will require excellent communication and administrative skills. Many professionals in this field are tasked with maintaining budgets and overseeing other administrative aspects of food production, so being able to make sound decisions is important for this line of work.

Education Requirements

While many positions in this field require an advanced degree, a bachelor's degree in food science, chemistry, biology, nutrition, botany or food engineering may suffice. According to the BLS, all states offer programs in agricultural science at public land-grant universities.

Real Job Listings

To qualify for senior positions in the food manufacturing industry, many companies require years of experience and demonstrated success. Knowledge of government and industry regulations along with supervisory and administrative experience are also desired. Here are some real job postings from manufacturing companies throughout the country that were live in May 2012:

  • A food manufacturer in Miami was seeking an executive food scientist to field technical inquiries and to oversee the quality assurance program for refined sugar and molasses operations. The posting asked for candidates to have a Ph.D. in Food Science or a related field. Candidates are required to have 3-12 years of experience in food manufacturing.
  • A plant that produces convenience foods in North Carolina was looking for a senior scientist/project leader to manage the formulation and testing of new products. Knowledge of government regulations was required. Applicant needs to have a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or a Master of Science (M.S.) in Food Science or a related field plus 5-7 years of experience and proven developmental science success.
  • A New York food and beverage manufacturer advertised for a food product development scientist who would be responsible for the creating new products. A B.S. in Food Science or a B.S. in Food Engineering was required plus 5 years of experience in food product development.
  • A major food manufacturer in Chicago was seeking an associate director/manager of microbiology and food safety for the development of regional programs and to provide technical expertise. The successful candidate would manage expenditures and budgets. A B.S., M.S. or Ph.D. in Microbiology, Food Technology or a related field plus 10 years of technical experience was required.

How to Stand Out

Professional Certifications

Obtaining a certification is not required, but it can definitely boost your appeal to potential employers. You can obtain a specific certification in Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), which is a management system that was developed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Other organizations that offer certifications include the American Society for Quality (ASQ), which issues the Certified Quality Technician, the Certified Quality Inspector, the Certified Quality Process Analyst and the HACCP auditor designations, and the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, which offers the Certified in Hospitality, Nutrition and Food Science credential.

Advanced Degrees and Dual Degree Programs

Pursuing a graduate degree in food science can also provide you with a competitive advantage. Along with courses that cover microbiology, biochemistry and research statistics, specialized programs in food science may cover a variety of specific topics, such as food toxicants, regulatory processes, risk assessment and HACCP principles. Since many positions may require some management or administrative duties, you might want to pursue an advanced degree that prepares you for the business of food development, such as an M.S. in Food Systems Administration or a dual degree program with an M.S. in Food Science in combination with a Master of Business Administration.

Alternative Careers in Product Science and Quality Control

You may wish to consider other careers that either satisfy your desire to research and develop new consumer products or promote quality and safety in manufacturing processes. Here are 2 careers you might want to consider as alternatives to food development.

Materials Scientist

Materials scientists use applied research to develop new and improved substances and compounds for manufactured plastics, cleaners and other household items. Many of these scientists may also develop pharmaceuticals. A bachelor's degree in chemistry is generally the minimum requirement for work in materials science, while many researchers in the field hold a master's degree or a doctorate degree in analytic, organic, inorganic or physical chemistry.

According to the BLS, materials scientists were projected to see a 10% increase in employment from 2010-2020. Although a high level of education will be required for many positions in this field, you'll typically have solid earning potential; the BLS found that materials scientists earned an average salary of about $87,000 in 2011.

Quality Control Inspector

Quality control inspectors mainly work for manufacturing companies. They're typically responsible for monitoring operations, reporting inspection data and accepting or rejecting finished products to promote adherence to quality and safety standards. While these professionals earn a modest median wage of about $16.00 per hour (BLS 2010 data), career opportunities in this field may require only a minimal amount of postsecondary education. A high school diploma may suffice to begin receiving on-the-job training, however, many quality control inspectors obtain some level of vocational education, including training in industrial trades, reading blueprints and computer aided design.

Quality control inspectors may seek professional certification through ASQ to gain a competitive advantage in their field. Although automated inspection systems may contribute to limited job growth over the coming years (the BLS projected an 8% increase from 2010-2020), opportunities will still arise from the continuing need for manufacturers to rely on human senses for effective product inspection.

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