Careers in Plant Biology: Job Options and Degree Requirements

Degrees in plant biology offer students the opportunity to work in the farming industry, laboratories, classrooms or medical facilities. Find out about the different specialties in this field, as well as career and salary information for some career options for graduates.

Those seeking to work in plant biology can choose from careers like a food science technician, plant biochemist, or agricultural manager. They can work in many fields including farming, industry, or teaching positions. Generally, all positions require a bachelor's degree or advanced degree.

Essential Information

Most careers in plant biology require candidates to have a minimum of a bachelor's degree, and many students pursue advanced degrees. For some careers in plant biology, work experience will be more useful for job advancement than higher level degrees.

Career Food Science Technician Plant Biochemist Agricultural Manager
Education Requirements Associate's degree Doctoral degree High school diploma or equivalent at minimum; bachelor's degree recommended
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 5%* 8% (for all biochemists and biophysicists)* -2% (decline)*
Mean Annual Salary (2015) $39,000* $93,390 (for all biochemists and biophysicists)* $69,880*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

From pharmaceutics to food sciences, the field of plant studies has wide-spanning applications in terms of career options. Though the choices extend beyond what can be included here, three considerations for a career in plant biology include food science technician, biochemist and agricultural manager.

Food Science Technician

Since plants are used as food, some graduates venture into the food industry as food scientists, also known as food technologists. They work to improve the way that food is developed. Their focus might often be in areas such as the processing, packaging and preserving of food. They may also work to create new food products.

According to the BLS, the employment of agricultural and food science technicians is estimated to increase by 5% between 2014 and 2024, which is average. The BLS also reports that the mean annual salary of agriculture and food scientist technicians was $39,000 per year in May 2015.

Plant Biochemist

By studying the chemical makeup of plants, biochemists focus on biotechnology work in labs. They analyze the way plants grow, reproduce and metabolize when faced with various combinations of chemicals and compositions. Biochemists and biophysicists are expected to see an 8% increase in employment between 2014 and 2024 and earn a mean annual salary of $93,390 according to data from May 2015 as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Agricultural Manager

Students interested in agricultural management typically work on a farm or ranch. A bachelor's degree is recommended to make a career in this field, though work experience and on-the-job training provide essential skills. Agricultural managers are concerned with the factors that affect crop growth and livestock management. The BLS reports that job growth for agricultural managers is expected to decline by 2% between 2014 and 2024. The mean annual wage in May 2015 was $69,880.

Degree Requirements for Plant Biology Careers

For entry-level plant biology careers, obtaining a bachelor's degree is likely sufficient for employment. For advanced-level careers (often related to research), a master's or doctoral degree may be required. Many schools that provide education in plant biology offer both undergraduate and graduate degree options within their plant biology departments.

Bachelor of Science in Plant Biology

These four-year degree programs include the study of a variety of sciences related to plants, humans and the environment. Basic prerequisites often include advanced mathematics and chemistry. Common courses in these degree programs include:

  • Botany
  • Plant physiology
  • Ecology
  • Plant biology

Master of Science in Plant Biology

Master's degree programs are typically two to three years in length and further a student's plant sciences studies. Participants are often targeting careers in teaching at the postsecondary level. Having a bachelor's degree in a related field of study is a common prerequisite for enrollment. The curriculum includes:

  • Laboratory work
  • Field research
  • Bioinformatics
  • Graduate seminars

Ph.D. in Plant Biology

Students interested in careers involving research and academia typically utilize these degree programs. They vary from two to four years in length, with coursework that is often research-related. Common courses discuss:

  • Dissertation
  • Advanced molecular biology
  • Plant cell biology

Careers in plant biology typically require a bachelor's degree. A master's degree may be required for some specialties as well as for careers teaching at a postsecondary school. A Ph.D. may be required for advanced work in the field including research and academia.

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