Similar Titles

Agronomist, Arboriculture Researcher, Crop Nutrition Scientist, Forage Physiologist, Horticulture Specialist, Plant Physiologist, Plant Research Geneticist, Research Scientist, Research Soil Scientist, Scientist

Job Description

“Plants are vital to all life on Earth,” says the Smithsonian Institute. They not only remove carbon dioxide from the air we breathe, they literally produce oxygen, too! If that weren’t enough, nutrient-rich plants are the primary food source for most living things—including humans, who cultivate crops and consume their edible parts (i.e., vegetables). We also rely on seed-bearing plants which produce tasty fruits! 

Plant Scientists and Botanists study our world’s treasure trove of plants and ensure they’re well taken care of. From critical farm crops like corn, wheat, barley, and potatoes to plants we use for medicines or ornamentation, all these plants have unique needs related to the amount of sun and water they get and the type of soil they grow in. Workers must also identify and control pests, diseases, fungi, and other hazards to each plant type. 

Botanists focus more on classification, genetics, and ecology, while Plant Scientists prioritize cultivation, breeding, and disease management. Other related job titles include agronomists, horticulturists, plant pathologists, plant geneticists, and arboriculture researchers. 

Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • Protecting plants and related ecosystems 
  • Ensuring human populations have enough crops to eat and plants for medicinal purposes
  • Impacting the physical health and well-being of communities 
  • Flexibility and variety of work that is available
2021 Employment
2031 Projected Employment
The Inside Scoop
Job Responsibilities

Working Schedule

  • Plant Scientists and Botanists work full-time jobs with nights, weekends, and holidays off. However, overtime may be needed to meet deadlines or during emergencies. Travel for fieldwork and site visits to farms or research stations may be needed, so there could be exposure to inclement weather or hazards such as pests or chemicals. 

Typical Duties

  • Research better ways for planting, spraying, cultivating, and harvesting plants
  • Assess the effects of climate and soil conditions on crops
  • Run tests and experiments to find safe methods of storing and moving plants
  • Develop ways to boost crop quality and yields 
  • Understand pests, pesticides, plant diseases, fungi, and their effects on ecosystems
  • Classify pests; assist with pest control methods and means
  • Determine which insects may be useful, such as pollinators like bees and butterflies, or pest-eating bugs such as ladybugs and tiger beetles
  • Find methods to enhance soil, improve disease resistance, and control weeds
  • Review findings with employers, stakeholders, governmental agencies, etc.
  • Make recommendations to farmers about land usage and problem avoidance, such as mitigating erosion
  • Investigate problems such as poor growth; try to determine root causes like lack of nutrients in the soil or tainted water supplies
  • Examine how soil changes under various natural or manmade circumstances. Look for ways to amend or alternate soils to boost productivity 
  • Develop and help implement sustainable farming methods 
  • Conduct fieldwork and site visits to take soil samples, monitor situations, and look for hazards 
  • Collect data from site sensors; compile data using software and analyze results
  • Look for signs of pollutants and environmental changes that impact plants
  • Collaborate with appropriate governmental agencies when reporting pollution activities
  • Survey lands for classification and planning purposes
  • Research requirements for urban green spaces
  • Supervise land conservation/reclamation projects
  • Research plants to use for green fuels 

Additional Responsibilities

  • Stay up-to-date on crop/plant-related regulations, standards, and challenges 
  • Write and publish papers for peer-reviewed journals
  • Offer advice regarding environmental management and conservation
  • Submit records and technical reports to local, state, or federal agencies 
  • Help with public education and awareness programs
  • Calibrate equipment, track samples, enter data, and coordinate with labs
Skills Needed on the Job

Soft Skills

  • Active learning
  • Activities coordination 
  • Analytical 
  • Attention to detail
  • Communication skills 
  • Critical thinking
  • Decisive
  • Detail-oriented
  • Independent
  • Investigative
  • Monitoring 
  • Objective
  • Organized
  • Perceptive 
  • Persistence 
  • Problem-solving
  • Reasoning
  • Safety-oriented

Technical Skills

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Botanical knowledge
  • Data visualization programs
  • Environmental monitoring tools
  • Familiarity with local, state, and federal water quality regulations
  • Fieldwork, sampling, and lab techniques
  • First aid
  • Genomics and bioinformatics
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing tools
  • ImageJ image analysis software
  • Microbiology and molecular biology
  • Personal protective equipment use
  • Plant breeding and genetics, physiology and biochemistry, propagation, cultivation, and pathology
  • Programming languages like R and Python
  • Safety protocols working around pests, pesticides, and chemicals 
  • Scientific writing 
  • Statistical analysis
Different Types of Organizations
  • Biotechnology companies
  • Botanical gardens
  • Educational institutions
  • Horticulture businesses
  • Laboratories
  • Nurseries
  • Local, state, and federal governmental agencies
  • Pest management companies
Expectations and Sacrifices

We rely on Plant Scientists and Botanists to conduct diligent research that enhances our understanding of plant biology, ecology, and agriculture. Through their tests, experiments, and findings, society can benefit from better agricultural practices, enhanced plant traits, and more sustainable solutions for food security and environmental challenges. Without their hard work, we could face crop shortages or ecological nightmares. 

The responsibilities are huge, but workers often serve as part of larger interdisciplinary teams! They must sometimes get out in the field to conduct assessments and gather samples, so expect regular travel and exposure to inclement weather or other environmental conditions. In addition, there may be potential for exposure to pests, pesticides, and chemicals, so it is important to wear appropriate protective gear like gloves, goggles, or face masks. 

Current Trends

There are several trends in the plant science industry right now, with three of the most important being precision agriculture, the demand for more plant-based foods, and the need for climate-resilient crops. 

Precision agriculture relies on high-tech, data-driven approaches to optimize agricultural practices. Sensors, drones, GPS technology, and data analytics all play a part in this new wave of smart farming, which lets farmers tailor irrigation, fertilization, and pest control to improve yields and reduce waste and environmental impacts!

The demand for plant-based foods has risen thanks to health and environmental concerns, not to mention many consumers just don’t want to eat meat anymore. Plant Scientists are hard at work developing ways to improve plant-based alternatives to meat-based products. They are also striving to enhance climate-resilient crop varieties, breeding plants that can tolerate extreme temperatures, drought, flooding, and other environmental stresses. 

What kinds of things did people in this career enjoy doing when they were younger…

Plant Scientists and Botanists are often very patient and probably always loved working in the garden, getting their hands in the soil. They care about plants and the important benefits they contribute to our fragile ecosystems. They’re also analytical and likely excelled in STEM subjects from an early age, and liked being able to apply science concepts in practical ways. 

Education and Training Needed
  • Plant Scientists and Botanists generally need a bachelor’s with a major in plant science, plant biology, botany, horticulture, agricultural science, viticulture and enology, or a related field
  1. A master’s in plant science may not be needed but can make you more competitive and may qualify you for a higher starting salary or position
  2. Per CareerOneStop, 60% of Plant Scientists have a bachelor’s, 27% have a master’s, and 13% have a doctorate 
  • Some students opt to pursue a dual bachelor’s/master’s which can save time and money
  • An internship can develop practical skills. Study abroad opportunities are another way to expand your learning outcomes!  
  • Common college courses topics include:
  1. Horticulture 
  2. Plant biology 
  3. Plant breeding and genetics 
  4. Plant pathology and plant-microbe biology 
  5. Soil and crop sciences
  • Students in some programs will need to select an area of concentration, such as:
  1. Ecology of Managed Landscapes 
  2. Organic Agriculture 
  3. Plant Breeding & Genetics 
  4. Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology 
  5. Soil Science
  • Optional certifications include:  
  1. American Society for Horticultural Science 

         - Associate Professional Horticulturist    

  1. American Society of Agronomy

         - Certified Crop Adviser - Resistance Management Specialty
         - Certified Crop Adviser - Sustainability Specialty    
         - Certified Professional Agronomist 

  1. American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers

         - Accredited Agricultural Consultant    

  1. Entomological Society of America

         - Associate Certified Entomologist

  1. International Code Council’s Soils Special Inspector    
  2. International Society of Arboriculture

         - Tree Risk Assessment Qualification

  1. Society of Wetland Scientists

         - Wetland Professional in Training

  1. Soil Science Society of America

         - Associate Professional Soil Scientist    

Things to look for in an University
  • Students should seek colleges offering majors in plant science, plant biology, botany, horticulture, agricultural science, or a related field
  • Seek programs with internships or opportunities to get practical experience 
  • Compare tuition and fees costs, noting in-state vs. out-of-state costs
  • Review scholarship and financial aid options
  • See if the program has any partnerships with companies that hire grads! 
  • Take note of graduation and job placement statistics for alumni 
Things to do in High School and College
  • Sign up for high school classes in biology, chemistry, math, environmental studies, Earth science, physics, geology, ecology, statistics, and writing. Consider doing advanced placement classes if possible 
  • You’ll need a strong math and science foundation, plus experience with computer programs and laboratory work! Get some scientific research and lab experience under your belt, any way you can
  • Start your own garden at home or at a community plot 
  • Look for internships, cooperative experiences, part-time jobs, or volunteer projects while in college. You could work at a plant nursery, on a farm, or for a local college.
  • Ask a teacher or counselor about school-related plant or agricultural programs you can participate in. Also, participate in extracurricular activities where you can manage projects and work with teams
  • Read books and articles and watch YouTube channels about plant science and botany. Get in the habit of reading technical materials such as scientific papers, and not just blogs
  • Take ad hoc courses via Coursera, Class Central, and other sites
  • Request an informational interview with a working Plant Scientist or Botanist in your community
  • Join professional organizations to learn, share, make friends, and grow your network (see our list of Resources > Websites)
  • Keep track of the names and contact info of people who can serve as job references later
Typical Roadmap
Plant Scientist
How to land your 1st job
  1. The states with the highest concentration of jobs are North Dakota, Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Montana
  2. The states that pay the most for these jobs are Washington D.C., Louisiana, Maryland, Alabama, and Mississippi
  • Ask your college professors, former supervisors, and/or coworkers if they’re willing to serve as personal references. Don’t give out their personal contact information without prior permission
  • Do mock interviews with your school’s career center or with your friends, so you’ll feel prepared and more relaxed during real interviews
  • Dress appropriately for interviews and show your enthusiasm for and knowledge of the field 
How to Climb the Ladder
  • Do your current job to the best of your ability, delivering high-quality work on time
  • Let your supervisor know you want to take on additional responsibilities and are willing to undergo additional training, as needed. Be sure you understand the promotion criteria
  • Keep up with environmental trends and challenges that impact soil and plants, especially vital crops
  • Learn about emerging technologies through continuing education courses, workshops, or conferences
  • Demonstrate independence, integrity, and leadership. Talk to colleagues to exchange information and tips. Teach and mentor others
  • Stay on top of the latest software developments, and master programs or languages like R, Python, MATLAB, ImageJ, plant genome databases, etc. 
  • Participate in professional organizations like the American Society of Agronomy. Go to conferences and workshops. Give lectures. Keep learning and expanding your knowledge base and skills
  • Collaborate effectively with team members and develop strong relationships with local environmental agencies
  • Knock out a specialty certification such as the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers’ Accredited Agricultural Consultant cert
  • Publish papers in high-impact journals to demonstrate your research skills and to get your work seen by a wider audience
  • Complete a graduate degree and consider specializing in a hard-to-fill niche. Currently, there’s a need for experts in plant breeding, plant pathology, soil science, environmental plant science, and molecular plant biology
  • Keep an eye out for internal job postings! Apply to jobs that match your career goals
Plan B

Most Plant Scientists and Botanists express satisfaction with their careers, but of course, not everyone wants to work in these fields. Some may want more money; others might want more job opportunities in the area where they live. Many towns and cities simply don’t have a lot of openings for Plant Scientists and Botanists. 

If you’re interested in related career options, consider the below similar occupations: 

  • Agricultural and Food Science Technician    
  • Agricultural Engineer
  • Biochemists and Biophysicist    
  • Biologist
  • Chemical Technician    
  • Conservation Scientist and Forester    
  • Environmental Scientist and Specialist    
  • Farmer, Rancher, and Agricultural Manager    
  • Industrial Ecologist
  • Microbiologist    
  • Precision Agriculture Technician
  • Veterinarian    
  • Zoologist and Wildlife Biologist


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