Food Science Salaries in the Spotlight Mary Ellen Kuhn | February 2016, Volume 70, No.2

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Table 3. Job Satisfaction and Salary
Table 3. Job Satisfaction and Salary

A Labor of Love
Those working in the science of food continue to have a positive perspective on their professional lives. Levels of job satisfaction identified in the 2015 survey were nearly identical to those reported two years earlier. The vast majority reported that they were either highly satisfied (38%) or somewhat satisfied (48%) with their jobs. As it did in 2013, intellectual stimulation led the list of factors that contribute to job satisfaction; it was cited by 39% of respondents in 2015, followed by salary and benefits, noted by 25%. (See Figures 1 and 2 for breakouts on job satisfaction and the factors responsible for it.) Not surprisingly, there is a strong correlation between salary and degree of satisfaction, with the median salary for highly satisfied employees coming in at $102,500 versus $70,500 for those who described themselves as highly dissatisfied. (See Table 3 for the rest of the details.)

Figure 3. How stressful is your job?
Figure 3. How stressful is your job?

Comments from survey respondents indicate that many find their professional lives to be meaningful. “I consider the field so vital to human existence,” said one respondent, adding that “it’s particularly satisfying to practice food science and technology, especially in a developing country, where there are a lot of postharvest challenges.” Other responses were more pragmatic but equally enthusiastic. “People will always need to eat, and as our population grows and market expectations change, companies will need food scientists to stay relevant and meaningful.” Many respondents said they enjoy the diverse challenges their jobs afford. “Food science is an ever-changing profession, and there are many areas to utilize various individual strengths,” said another. “With food science, there is always a challenge and improvement opportunity to keep one energized.”

Figure 4. What is the biggest challenge you face on the job?
Figure 4. What is the biggest challenge you face on the job?

This year’s survey asked participants if they would consider the field of food science and technology if they were currently preparing to enter the job market, and only 6% said they would not compared with 60% who definitely would consider it and 24% who probably would do so, leaving 10% who said they probably would not. Among those who said they would make a different career choice if given the opportunity to do so, many cited other scientific professions, including engineering, medicine, and pharmacy. Other frequently mentioned alternatives include sales, marketing, finance, and other areas of business.

Every job has its stressors, of course, and the science of food is no exception. Nearly one-third (32%) of respondents described their jobs as stressful, and 38% rated them as moderately stressful. Only 11% labeled them as highly stressful. (See Figure 3 for a full breakout.) There is a generally positive correlation between stress and salaries. Those who rated their jobs as stressful had a median salary of $100,000 versus a median of $63,000 for those who said their jobs were not stressful.

Figure 5. How many hours a week do you work? *Total does not equal 100% due to rounding.
Figure 5. How many hours a week do you work? *Total does not equal 100% due to rounding.

Participants in the survey ranked work-life balance as No. 1 on the list of job challenges; it was cited by 41% of respondents. Management support—or, probably more accurately, lack of support—came in second, noted by 17%. (Figure 4 provides more details on sources of stress.)

While it’s often said that Millennials demand more work-life balance than older employees, particularly work-obsessed Baby Boomers, 29-year-old Bridget McClatchey, a food scientist who works at the Kraft Heinz R&D center in Glenview, Ill., believes that Millennials face some different challenges. “I think the work-life balance for people of my generation and younger is even more difficult … because we have technology at our fingertips all the time,” says McClatchey. “If you have your email synced to your phone, if you’re always connected, then you feel like you can never disconnect or are never fully removed [from work].” To keep stress in check, she recommends finding a job at a company where the corporate culture matches up well with one’s personal priorities for work-life balance.

Table 4. Work Week and Salary
Table 4. Work Week and Salary

The median workweek for survey respondents is 45 hours; 17% of respondents said they worked more than 50 hours a week. (Figure 5 shows how the workweek breaks out for respondents, and Table 4 shows median salaries by hours worked.)

Almost three-quarters (73%) of respondents said that their jobs have demanded new competencies.

Asked about new skill requirements, survey respondents put those related to new technologies at the head of the list, followed by skills associated with continuous improvement methods, skills necessary because of new government policies (such as the Food Safety Modernization Act), and, finally, communication skills. (See Figure 6 for more details on how responses break out.) The new skills respondents specifically mentioned include everything from accounting, finance, and budget controls to culinary expertise. Leadership, management, and new product development knowledge were other competencies survey participants said they sought.

Figure 6. In what areas have you required new competencies/skills? *Respondents could select more than one answer.
Figure 6. In what areas have you required new competencies/skills? *Respondents could select more than one answer.