Botanist  What They Do

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dot Plants are all around us, in many different forms. We use plants as food, medicine, building materials, fiber for clothing and more. The Botanical Society of America's website says botany is the scientific study of plant life. A branch of biology, botany is a broad field. Botanists study things like the structure, growth, reproduction, metabolism, diseases and evolution of plants.

dotPlant genetics is a big area in botany right now. Botanists studying plant genetics use molecular data in plant research.

dotCynthia M. Ross is a botanist at a university. She explains how botany differs from horticulture. Horticulturists try to breed attractive plants that have economic value to people. Horticulture might appeal to persons with an artistic bent.

Botany is a science. It attracts people who are interested in "why" something happens. For example, a horticulturist might try to produce a dahlia with a bright red flower. A botanist would say, "Why is that dahlia so red?" and try to answer that question at the genetic level.

dotBotanical researchers conduct research outdoors in the field and analyze the results in a laboratory. "I can tailor the research to whatever mood I'm in," says Ross. "Last year, I felt in the mood for field work. This year, I'm in the mood to get in the lab and play around."

dotThe Botanical Society of America's website says that botanists work for educational institutions, federal and state agencies, and industries. Most botanists working for universities and colleges combine teaching with research.

Many botanists travel to exotic locations to conduct their research.

According to the Society, some botanists work in jobs that do not require research or teaching. They might do marketing or administration for a plant-related industry. Their employers could include pharmaceutical companies, seed companies and biotechnology firms. Some get additional training and work as scientific writers, computer programmers, botanical illustrators and more.

dotPeople with a physical disability could choose this career. Instead of doing field work, a botanist could work in the laboratory, doing computer modeling, for example.

"A person with a physical disability might have a smaller pool of jobs to choose from, but still there are some excellent jobs out there," says Lynn J. Gillespie. She's a botanist with the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Botanists must be interested in science and mathematics, and must be comfortable using computers. Depending on the job, they might be required to make presentations, supervise staff, do paperwork and reports, teach, publish in journals, attend conferences, etc. Botanists say communication skills are very important.

At a Glance

Learn about plant life

  • Study things like the structure, growth, reproduction, metabolism, diseases and evolution of plants
  • This is a broad field with many specialties within the career
  • You'll have more opportunities with a master's degree