Nutrition Researcher Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a nutrition researcher's career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary information to see if becoming a nutrition researcher is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Nutrition Researcher

As a nutrition researcher, you'd help ensure the field crops and farm animals grown for food are safe for consumption and of the highest quality. Check out the following pros and cons to help you decide if this career is right for you.

Pros of Being a Nutrition Researcher
Above average wages (mean annual salary of about $57,440 in 2014)**
Helping to improve public health*
Variety of specializations available (animal scientist, food scientist, soil/plant scientist)*

Cons of Being a Nutrition Researcher
Need at least a bachelor's degree**
Possible exposure to biohazards**
Enduring animal odor and waste*

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

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Nutrition researchers, also known as agricultural and food scientists, create new foods and methods of packaging and shipping those foods. As a nutrition researcher, you might study animals, develop food products, search for food contaminants and offer advice to farmers on how to better care for their animals. Researchers may also gather and analyze food samples and study animals for health complications. Nutrition researchers work in research institutes and in the field, as well as in food manufacturing and private industry.

Job Prospects and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that food scientists and technologists earned a mean annual wage of about $66,000 in 2014. During the 2012-2022 decade, the employment growth of these workers could rise 21%, due mostly to the increasing use of technology to improve overall food safety. Nutrition researchers might also work as postsecondary teachers, who earned a mean annual salary of about $65,000 in 2014, according to the BLS. Postsecondary teachers are expected to experience 19% job growth from 2012-2022, which is about as fast as average for all occupations.

What Are the Requirements?

To become a nutrition researcher, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree in agricultural science. Degree programs will instruct you on the chemistry and pathology of plants, biochemistry and insects. Some researchers also earn a doctorate (PhD) degree in food science, which can take up to three years. If you aspire to be a postsecondary teacher you'll need a bachelor's as well as a PhD degree, which could mean up to ten years of higher education. Skills useful for nutrition researchers include clear communication, sound decision making, good listening, active learning and analysis.

What Employers Are Looking For

For higher level positions, employers may look for applicants who have leadership experience in addition to a PhD degree in a biological science-related area, such as molecular biology or immunology. Following are some job postings open during May 2012:

  • A research institute in Washington, DC advertised for a program leader to initiate program development and do networking. Other responsibilities included cooperation with partners and stake holders to identify relevant issues and opportunities that require Federal attention.
  • A research service in Maryland sought a researcher with a PhD or MD degree in biology, physiology or nutrition to develop, manage and supervise nutrition research projects. Knowledge and comprehension of standard bioinformatic methods, tools and databases was essential.
  • An East Coast nutrition research center looked for a director to oversee human nutrition research programs, provide accountability for activities and supervise research. Applicants were requested to have a doctoral degree in physiology, biological sciences, nutrition or chemistry.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Nutrition researchers who are Certified Nutrition Specialists may find better job opportunities. To earn this credential, you'd need a master's or PhD degree, the required experience level and to pass the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists' exam. Being a member of the American Society for Nutrition might help with career advancement as well. Depending on the category, membership requires a bachelor's, master's or PhD degree; some categories also call for leadership experience or being published in a nutrition journal.

Other Career Paths


If you like the nutrition field but are more oriented towards nutrition planning than research, you might consider becoming a dietician. Dietitians help people of all ages learn how to eat in a healthy way by teaching about diet and nutrition, creating meal plans and/or overseeing nutrition programs in places like schools, hospitals and nursing homes. For this career, you'll need a bachelor's degree. Programs cover nutrition, biology, physiology, dietetics, food service management and chemistry. Dieticians are also required to have extensive supervised training, and a license is needed in most states. The BLS reported a mean annual salary of about $55,000 in 2011. While this is less than for a nutrition researcher, dieticians can expect a higher job growth rate of 20% from 2010-2020.

Health Educator

If you like teaching but are interested in overall health rather than just nutrition, health educator might be a good career for you. You could work at a college, healthcare facility, nonprofit organization or private business teaching people how to be healthier. Health educators are well versed in nutrition, diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure, substance abuse, child safety practices and aging. You'd need a bachelor's degree to get started, though government positions may require a master's degree, and you may also need certification. According to the BLS, health educators earned about $52,000 in 2011. This lower salary may be worth it due to the plentiful jobs (37% growth) projected for the 2010-2020 decade, driven mainly by the increasing emphasis on preventive healthcare.

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