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Become a Plant Scientist: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how you can become a plant scientist. Explore the step-by-step process that can help you start a career in the plant sciences, including education and licensing requirements. View article »

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  • 0:04 Plant Scientists
  • 0:33 Career Information
  • 1:15 Step 1: Bachelor's Degree
  • 1:49 Step 2: Internships
  • 2:36 Step 3: Licensing
  • 2:54 Step 4: Certification

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Video Transcript

Plant Scientists

Plant scientists perform fieldwork and research to discover ways to improve crop quality and increase crop quantity. They might conduct experiments in fields or laboratories and write up reports in offices. They typically work for research institutions, private industry, pharmaceutical companies or the federal government. Travel is sometimes required, and fieldwork might require working in cold or noisy conditions.

Career Information

Degree Level A bachelor's degree is the most common level of education
Degree Field Agricultural science or a related area, such as biology, chemistry or physics
Licensure Plant scientists performing work involving soil science must be licensed in some states
Certification Optional certification is available from the Soil Science Society of America
Key Skills Plant scientists should have strong research, observational, critical-thinking, and communication skills; they should also know how to analyze data and use geographic information systems (GIS), modeling, and spreadsheet software; in the lab, plant scientists should be comfortable working with flasks, pH meters, photometers, and fluorimeters
Salary (2015) $65,980 (average yearly salary for all plant and soil scientists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Soil Science Society of America, O Net OnLine.

Let's take a look at some of the educational and licensing requirements for plant scientists.

Step 1: Bachelor's Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), plant scientists usually need a bachelor's degree in agricultural science or a related major, such as biology, chemistry, or physics. In addition to plant science, students enrolled in these programs may take courses in agricultural safety and statistics, chemistry, horticulture, molecular biology, and pesticides. Some programs may require business courses in accounting, economics, and marketing. Graduates may be qualified for entry-level research jobs in private industry or with the federal government.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Horticultural Science
  • Plant Breeding
  • Plant Pest Management
  • Range Science

Step 2: Internships

While enrolled in a degree program, students may participate in on-campus or off-campus internships, which can help them gain research and work experience in botany and plant science. Interns may spend several weeks or more studying plant yield and procreation, monitoring crop growth, or containing pests to produce a more effective and better crop supply.

Success Tip:

  • Develop communication skills. Strong speaking and writing skills are important for plant scientists who have to relay the outcomes of experiments and research findings to peers and others in the industry. Students in bachelor's degree programs may take courses in the humanities to develop and sharpen these essential communication skills.

Step 3: Licensing

Plant scientists involved in soil science may need to be licensed in some states. Eligibility requirements vary, but often include a bachelor's degree, coursework in soil science, and relevant work experience. Once eligible, candidates may need to pass a state licensing exam.

Step 4: Certification

Plants scientists doing soil science work may become certified by the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA), which may increase their employment and advancement opportunities. Requirements for the SSSA's Certified Professional Soil Scientist (CPSS) credential are similar to those for a state license and include a college degree, work experience, and passing scores on soil science exams. CPSS professionals must earn 40 continuing education units (CEUs) every two years and pay an annual renewal fee.

Let's review. You'll need a bachelor's degree in agricultural or a related science and good research skills to become a plant scientist. As of May 2015, plant and soil scientists in general earned a median annual salary of $65,980.

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