A scientist cuts a green bud from a branch

A plant scientist could...

Increase fruit crop yields by researching plant diseases. A child on a ladder picks an apple from a tree branch Help feed the world by genetically engineering drought-tolerant crops. A scientist holds a translucent square plate
Develop new agricultural techniques to grow food on board the space station. A woman looks at a plant in a box on a space station Genetically engineer a new exotic rose variety. Close-up image of the center of a rose bud with sections of petals colored red and yellow
Find out more...

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
Median Salary
Plant Scientist
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%)
  • Read this interview with Dr. Ted Tibbitts, emeritus professor of horticulture at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
  • Check out this interview with Dr. Patricia Cox, senior botanist at the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

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.

Other Qualifications

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

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.

Work 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.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Plant Scientists

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