What Is a Plant Biologist?

A plant biologist works in a lab researching organic plant materials for a wide range of applications.

What Does a Plant Biologist Do?

Plant biology is one of the most importance sciences today in many science and practical applications. Plants and our understanding of individual plants and their place in a species have a wide range of uses for ecology, climate sciences, soil science, agriculture, industry and commerce and even pharmaceuticals. Each plant has individual genetic attributes that might separate it from others in its species and from other species.

Plant biology is the lab science area of plant study although they may spend some time in the field collection samples and taking records of plants in their natural habitats. It requires not only an understanding of a plant's biology but also its chemistry. This will include its genetic coding. The aim of a plant biologist is to determine how a plant functions and how and why it evolved to be the way it is. They may need to understand soils and geology to a certain extent. They differ from botanists in that they work in labs conducting statistical and data research, looking at the genetics and evolution of plants. They are more concerned with quantitative data. Botanists tend more to work in the field examining the qualitative data of plants - comparing species and making observations of their habits and environments. They will often work with and alongside botanists, with soil and plant scientists and with biochemists.

Where Does a Plant Biologist Work?

This is a research role where the employee will spend most of their time working in a lab. According to 2020 data collected on behalf of the BLS, the major employer of this type of qualified professional was research and development in the physical sciences at 47%. This covers a broad spectrum which includes industrial applications, materials development for clothing, plastics, biofuels, construction, engineering and many others.

The second highest employer was post-secondary education which included colleges (public and private), universities, professional and specialist schools. They employed 16% of the total body in research and teaching positions, sometimes both, as research assistants and lab assistants.

The third highest employer was pharmaceuticals at 14%. The majority of drugs manufactured globally are the result of genetic and other research into plant attributes. As new diseases emerge, more drugs will be required and plants are expected to continue to fulfil a large element of this research.

The next biggest employer was chemical manufacturing at 2%. These will be for industrial, commercial and agricultural applications. Chemical manufacturing is always on the search for new materials that are less harmful to humans and better for the environment, especially and including for sustainability.

A further 2% worked for scientific and technical consulting services. They work on a contract basis providing a range of services to organizations that may not have the resources to hire in-house employees.

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What Is the Average Plant Biologist Salary?

Plant biologists, who fall under the broader BLS category of agricultural and food scientists, earned a median salary of $68,830 as of May 2020. The top paying industry for this profession was R&D, with a median salary of $83,780.*

Plant Biology Jobs & Job Description

An aspiring plant biologist must have a strong background in hard sciences, including biology and chemistry, with experience working in a laboratory running tests. A plant biologist at the beginning of his or her career may be tasked with the following job duties:

  • Conduct research or assist in research projects, including the collection of information and samples, such as soil or plant matter
  • Monitor and observe experiments, recording test data for evaluation by research personnel
  • Keep detailed logs of all work-related activities and input data into databases
  • Isolate, identify and prepare specimens for examination
  • Analyze experimental data and interpret results to write reports and summaries of findings

A plant biologist who has developed several years of work experience may take on a teaching role or a project management role. He or she may have the following additional job duties:

  • Plan, prepare and supervise the execution of plant research projects
  • Prepare technical and research reports and communicate the results to stakeholders such as supervisors, government bodies or the general public
  • Supervise the work of biological technicians and other scientists
  • Develop curriculum and teach courses, seminars or workshops on findings of research or other topics in plant biology

What Is the Job Demand for Plant Biologists?

Demand for plant biologists is expected to grow 9% in the period between 2020 and 2030.* Some areas may see more growth than others. Industry may make up the bulk of job openings and universities may see a slight decline as their budget is limited to Federal government funding. More life-saving drugs will be needed in future as the average age gets older; most new openings are likely to be in pharmaceuticals.

What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Plant Biologist?

As plant biology is a research science, the high school student who wishes to enter into this career should ensure they attain good grades in the hard sciences particularly in biology and chemistry. Marth will be essential to any science degree so the student should focus on this too. Don't undervalue the necessity for physics.

There are several degree courses for the prospective student plant biologist. Biology, chemistry and physics, are the most common; biochemistry is also another potentially useful degree choice as is biotechnology and anything related to agriculture. These hard sciences are core to plant biology no matter which field you end up working. A bachelor's degree is usually enough for most entry-level roles. Masters degrees are necessary for more advanced roles including project supervising. You will find there are more choices at master's level although you can stick with the standard core sciences. There should be advanced degrees in plant biology, botany, biological sciences and plant ecology - most of these will be relevant in some way.

Doctorates are suitable for those who wish to enter into a career in academia such as university research and teaching. They will also be required in industry for those who might desire to run and manage their own projects.

Plant Biology - Related Degrees

What Kind Of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Plant Biologists Have?

Plant biology is a large, strong global discipline with some important groups such as:

  • American Society of Plant Biologists: It is open to anyone who works professionally in the field. They publish two prestigious journals and allocate annual awards and funding for research excellence
  • The Global Plant Council: This is a coalition group for regional, national and international organizations that work in the research and study of plants
  • International Crop Science Society: Their mission is to bring together crop scientists no matter their specialty and no matter their global location for better practice in agricultural research

*2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for agricultural and food scientists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.

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