Why Choose a Career in Botany?

Plants have intrigued people for thousands of years. They provide aesthetic beauty as well as materials for our basic needs. Today our world presents new and complex problems that were never dreamed of a century ago. For instance, increasing human population is linked to environmental problems of gigantic proportion. Coupled to the need for more food is increasingly greater environmental impact.

Leaf of Western Skunk Cabbage, Lysichitum americanum grows up to four feet in length in marshy or swampy areas of the Pacific Northwest.
Photo courtesy of Marsh Sundberg.

Air and water pollution increase while biological diversity is reduced. Recent progress in technology and molecular biology provide powerful new tools that can help us solve these and other challenging problems. Some of the tools you might learn to use include: electron microscopes, radioisotopes, digital imaging analysis, polymerase chain reaction, cell and tissue culture, satellite imaging and telemetry.

One of the best things about plant science is the number of different specialties and career opportunities from which you can choose. This diversity allows people with different backgrounds, aptitudes, and interests to find satisfying careers in plant biology. More than many other scientific fields, botany continues to provide opportunities for women as well as men. There are few things more fulfilling than to work in a job that is both fun to do and a benefit to others.

Among the careers available to a person who enjoys the outdoors are positions as an ecologist, taxonomist, conservationist, forester, or plant explorer. Your work may take you to foreign and exotic lands. It may allow you to live and work in the great outdoors. A person with a mathematical background might find biophysics, developmental botany, genetics, modeling, or systems ecology to be exciting fields. Someone with an interest in chemistry might become a plant physiologist, plant biochemist, molecular biologist, or chemotaxonomist. Many people do not realize that most of the basic biological processes are the same in both plants and animals. Plants, however, are easier to grow and manipulate.

Plant structure may appeal to a person who enjoys microscopy and the beauty of intricate form and design. Persons fascinated with microscopic organisms often choose microbiology, phycology or mycology. On a larger scale, ornamental horticulture and landscape design requires artistic use of plant form and color. A person concerned about the world food supply might study plant pathology (diseases) or plant breeding. At larger universities there are frequently separate departments specializing in different applied subdisciplines of botany. Some examples are: Agronomy (field crops), Horticulture (ornamentals, fruits and vegetables), Microbiology (microbes such as bacteria and fungi) and Plant Pathology (diseases of plants). Plant biologists who enjoy working with people have a wide range of opportunities in teaching and public service.

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