A plant scientist could...
|Increase fruit crop yields by researching plant diseases.||Help feed the world by genetically engineering drought-tolerant crops.|
|Develop new agricultural techniques to grow food on board the space station.||Genetically engineer a new exotic rose variety.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||With a growing world population, making sure that there is enough food for everyone is critical. Plant scientists work to ensure that agricultural practices result in an abundance of nutritious food in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.|
|Key Requirements||Patience, attention to detail, and determination|
|Minimum Degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry, calculus; if available, statistics, computer science|
|Projected Job Growth (2010-2020)||Average (7% to 13%)|
Training, Other Qualifications
A bachelor’s degree in plant biology is sufficient for some jobs in product development or for assisting in applied research, but a master’s or doctoral degree (PhD) is generally required for basic research or for jobs directing applied research. A PhD in agricultural science or plant biology is usually needed for college teaching and for advancement to senior research positions as well. Degrees in related sciences, such as molecular biology, genetics, chemistry, or biochemistry may also qualify people for many plant science jobs.
The American Society of Agronomy certifies sub-specialists, such as crop advisers. These certifications require at least a bachelor's degree and several years of work experience. Applicants must also pass designated examinations and agree to adhere to a code of ethics. Each certification is maintained through continuing education.
Education and Training
A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for plant science jobs. Students preparing for careers as plant scientists should take college courses in plant pathology, entomology, plant physiology, and biochemistry, among others.
To conduct basic research or to advance to jobs directing applied research, a master's or doctoral degree is required. Advanced degree programs in plant science include classroom and fieldwork, laboratory research, and a thesis or dissertation based on independent research.
Plant scientists should be able to work independently or as part of a team and be able to communicate clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing. Most of these scientists also need an understanding of basic business principles, the ability to apply statistical techniques, and the ability to use computers to analyze data and to control biological and chemical processing.
Nature of the Work
Watch this Real Scientists video from DragonflyTV on PBS Kids Go! to see how plant scientist Liz Stryjewski researches how to grow plants in space in order to someday feed astronauts or pioneers on long space voyages.
Plant scientists plays an important role in maintaining the nation’s food supply by ensuring agricultural productivity and food safety. These scientists study farm crops and develop ways to improve their quantity and quality. They look for ways to improve crop yield with less labor, control pests and weeds more safely and effectively, and to conserve soil and water. Some plant scientists look for ways to use agricultural products for fuels.
Plant scientists study plants in order to help producers of food, animal feed, and fiber crops to feed a growing population and conserve natural resources. These scientists not only help increase productivity, but also study ways to improve the nutritional value of crops and the quality of seed, often through biotechnology. Some plant scientists study the breeding, physiology, and management of crops and use genetic engineering to develop crops that are resistant to pests and to drought. They also develop new technologies to control or eliminate pests and prevent their spread in ways appropriate to the specific environment.
Plant scientists work in a variety of environments. Those involved in basic research seek to understand the biological and chemical processes by which crops grow, such as determining the role of a particular gene in plant growth. Scientists involved in applied research use this knowledge to discover mechanisms to improve the quality, quantity, or safety of agricultural products. Other plant scientists manage or administer research and development programs, or manage marketing or production operations in companies that produce agricultural chemicals, seeds, and machinery. Some plant scientists are consultants to business firms, private clients, or government.
Plant scientists involved in management or basic research tend to work regular hours in offices and laboratories. The work environment for those engaged in applied research or product development varies, depending on specialty and on type of employer. Many plant scientists also spend time outdoors conducting research on farms and agricultural research stations.
On the Job
- Communicate research and project results to other professionals and the public, or teach related courses, seminars, or workshops.
- Provide information and recommendations to farmers and other landowners regarding ways in which they can best use land and promote plant growth.
- Conduct experiments to develop new or improved varieties of field crops, focusing on characteristics such as yield, quality, disease resistance, nutritional value, or adaptation to specific soils or climates.
- Develop new or improved methods and products for controlling and eliminating weeds, crop diseases, and insect pests.
- Conduct research to determine best methods of planting, spraying, cultivating, harvesting, storing, processing, or transporting horticultural products.
- Study insect distribution and habitat and recommend methods to prevent importation and spread of injurious species.
- Identify and classify species of insects and allied forms, such as mites and spiders.
- Conduct experiments regarding causes of bee diseases, and factors affecting yields of nectar pollen.
Companies That Hire Plant Scientists
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- A Sweet Sequence: The Cacao Genome
- A Toxic Test: Can Plants Be Genetically Resistant to Heavy Metals?
- Are Soil Microorganisms Important for Plant Health?
- Attack of the Killer Cabbage Clones
- Bacteria Can Fix It! A Comparison of Nitrogen-Fixing Bacteria and Nitrogen Fertilizers
- Biodiversity Survey
- Can Mulch Reduce Garden Water Requirements?
- Can Water Plants Be Used to Determine Water Quality?
- Chlorophyll Extraction
- Cryopreservation: Freezing Plant Tissues
- Do Different Tree Species Grow at the Same Rate?
- Do Plants Promote Pesticide Breakdown?
- Do Potatoes Regulate the Formation of New Sprouts?
- Earthworm Castings -- The Ideal Proportion in Soil for Young Garden Plants
- From Bitter to Sweet: How Sugar Content Changes in Ripening Fruit
- From Your John to the School Lawn: Is Recycled Water Really Safe?
- Fruit Ripening
- Genetically Modified Foods
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Plant Scientist that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- American Society of Agronomy: www.agronomy.org
- USDA: Living Science: www.agriculture.purdue.edu/USDA/careers
- BLS. (2009). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2008-09 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://www.bls.gov/oco/
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
- Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. (2009). Profiles of Biologists: Theodore (Ted) Tibbitts. Retrieved August 4, 2009, from http://www.careercornerstone.org/biology/profiles/tibbitts.htm
- TPT. (2006). Real Scientists. DragonflyTV, Twin Cities Public Television. Retrieved August 4, 2009, from http://pbskids.org/dragonflytv/scientists/scientist1.html
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org