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Botanist Job Description, Career as a Botanist, Salary, Employment - Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesEngineering, Science, Technology, and Social Sciences

Education and Training: Doctoral degree

Salary: Average—$62,207 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Botanists are biological scientists who study plants. Their field, botany, is very broad. It encompasses the study of more than three hundred thousand species of plants ranging from ground-hugging mosses to giant redwood trees. In addition, there are many different ways to approach the study of plant life. Botanists usually specialize in one type or group of plants, or one approach to the study of plants.

Botanists are often classified according to the types of plants that they study. For example, agronomists specialize in the study of agricultural crops and grasses. Marine botanists study plants that grow in the ocean.

Many botanists examine aspects shared by different plant species. Plant taxonomists, for example, identify and classify plants. Sometimes they explore unknown areas in order to find new types of plants. Plant physiologists are experts on the life processes of plants. They study how plants grow, reproduce, and manufacture food. Plant physiologists are concerned with the effects of temperature, humidity, light, and other environmental conditions on plant life processes. Economic botanists search for and develop plants that can be sold as food, drugs, fibers, or other useful goods. There are many other kinds of botanists. Some plant science workers in related areas specialize in the practical applications of the findings of research scientists. They work in fields such as agriculture, conservation, forestry, horticulture, and agronomy.

Many botanists work in colleges and universities where they teach and conduct research. Some are employed by government agencies. A small number of botanists work for private industry and in museums and botanical gardens.

Although their jobs may differ widely, most botanists are scientists who carry out research at least some of the time. Botanists use scientific equipment and methods in their work, including various types of microscopes and staining processes. They may work alone or as part of a research team. Sometimes biological technicians assist them.

The discoveries of botanists could lead to cures for diseases such as cancer, or to the development of new food sources. (©LWA-Stephen Welstead/Corbis.)

The work of botanists is vital to our lives because we depend heavily on plants for food, fiber, wood, energy, and oxygen. In addition, the discoveries of botanists provide treatments for diseases such as cancer and to the development of new food sources.

Education and Training Requirements

Botanists generally need a doctoral degree. If you want to be a botanist, you should major in botany or biology as an undergraduate. You can receive a master's or doctoral degree in botany or in a more specialized area, such as plant physiology. Although there are some jobs for those with a bachelor's degree, such as technical writer or biological technician, opportunities for advancement are limited. There are some teaching and applied research positions for those who have earned a master's degree in an area of botany. You need a doctoral degree for a teaching and research position at a university or a job as an administrator. It generally takes four years to earn a bachelor's degree and another one or two years for a master's degree. You need to study for an additional two or three years to obtain a doctoral degree. To keep up with new findings in plant science, botanists must continue to study throughout their careers.

Getting the Job

Your professors and college placement office may help you to find a job as a botanist. You can also apply directly to colleges and universities, private firms, museums, botanical gardens, and government agencies involved with plant science. Sometimes you must pass a civil service test to get a government job. There are job openings listed in newspaper classifieds, Internet job banks, and professional journals.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

There are many advancement possibilities for botanists, especially for those who have a doctoral degree. They can become directors of research at government agencies or in private companies. Those who teach and do research at universities and colleges can advance to the rank of full professor. Many botanists feel that the highest form of advancement is to be recognized as experts in their areas of specialization. Generally botanists get this recognition after publishing significant research findings in professional journals.

The employment outlook for botanists who have advanced degrees is good through 2014; their employment is projected to grow about as fast as average. However, botanists can expect to face considerable competition for research positions. The number of grants awarded by the government to researchers will be limited due to recent budget cuts. In addition, the number of newly trained botanists has continued to increase at a steady rate, creating further competition for grants. The market for teaching jobs in colleges and universities will remain competitive.

Working Conditions

Working conditions vary widely throughout the field. Some botanists work indoors in clean, well-lighted laboratories. Others spend much of their time outdoors or in greenhouses. Some botanists need to travel from time to time to sites where they can collect plant specimens. Botanists often spend part of their time in offices and classrooms. Their working hours are generally flexible but often total more than forty hours a week. Because some experiments need to be tended around the clock, botanists may sometimes have to work rotating shifts.

Botanists should be curious and patient. They should enjoy working with plants and have the manual dexterity needed to handle delicate specimens and equipment. They should be willing to spend long hours in the laboratory or greenhouse, planning and carrying out experiments. Although botanists often work independently, they must be able to work well with others as members of scientific research teams. They should also be skilled at communicating their ideas to others.

Where to Go for More Information

Society for Ecological Restoration International
285 W. 18th St., Ste. 1
Tucson, AZ 85701
(520) 622-5491

Botanical Society of America
P.O. Box 299
St. Louis, MO 63166-0299
(314) 577-9566

Earnings and Benefits

The earnings of botanists depend on their education and experience, the location, and the kind of job. In the federal government in 2005, botanists in nonsupervisory, supervisory, and managerial positions earned an average salary of $62,207. Botanists generally receive benefits that include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.

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