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Plant Pathology Career Options and Education Requirements

A degree program in plant pathology typically covers diseases and treatment of plants as well as how to improve the health of plants. Find out about the various degree programs, and learn about the areas of study, many career options and salary info for plant pathology graduates.

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Soil and plant scientists, postsecondary biology teachers, health managers and consultants all work in the field of plant pathology. It is possible to begin a career in plant pathology with a bachelor's degree, although postsecondary biology teachers need a doctorate.

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Essential Information

Plant pathologists have a variety of career possibilities in a range of industries and capacities. Entry-level careers can involve basic research and lab work, while advanced careers leverage more applied research and might involve teaching. Education in plant pathology is available at bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels.

Careers Soil and Plant Scientists Postsecondary Biology Teachers Health Manager Consultant
Required Education Bachelor's Degree Doctorate Bachelor's Degree Bachelor's Degree
Average Salary (2015)* $65,980 $86,830 $72,030 for food scientists and technologists $64,560 for plant and soil scientists in scientific consulting

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Plant pathologists largely focus on disease treatment in plants and how to improve overall botanical health. However, these plant scientists can work in a variety of industries and situations. The following career options include some common opportunities for plant pathologists.

Researcher

Obtaining an education in plant pathology can lead to a number of research opportunities. Entry-level careers typically involve basic experimentation and assisting more experienced scientists with developing ways to keep plants healthy and disease-free. Advanced-level research opportunities allow pathologists to apply their research in order to enact change in the field. Accomplished researchers could potentially publish their work or lecture about their discoveries.

Plant Specialist

Plant pathologists can become plant specialists working for food production companies and farms. Their knowledge of seeds, agriculture and ecology can aid them in working with other scientists and professionals to develop new processes for fighting plant pathogens. For instance, in the farming industry, they might assist crop managers with ways to keep their crops free of pests and diseases, increasing productivity and yield of the plants and crops they oversee.

Health Manager

Government agencies, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and many state and local agencies, also employ plant pathology graduates. These specialists can work as health managers, focusing on ways to increase the health of the foods that consumers eat. This can be done through the application of processes that assist in biological control over a plant's health. They might also apply their chemical knowledge to plants to create a safer consumable.

Consultant

Consulting and biotechnology firms look for people who are educated in plant pathology to aid them in creating a safer environment. With the world's growing interest in environmentally friendly or green technologies and applications, knowledge of plant pathology has become an increasingly sought-after trait. Plant pathologists can work as consultants for many industries, leveraging their knowledge across a spectrum of areas.

Teacher

Obtaining an advanced education in plant pathology can provide the necessary qualifications for those who wish to become educators. These scientists work as teachers in colleges, universities and high schools and could offer regular or guest-lecture courses through extension or outreach departments. Teachers offer research opportunities to students and fulfill a need to develop or expand interest in the field.

Plant Pathology Education Requirements

There are three general educational levels possible that are applicable for most plant pathology-related careers. For entry-level careers, a bachelor's degree in plant pathology or related studies is often sufficient. For advanced career options in such areas as research and academia, graduate education is usually necessary.

Bachelor of Science in Plant Pathology

These 4-year degree programs prepare graduates to enter entry-level plant pathology careers in research assistance, health studies and high school academia. Optionally, obtaining a degree in plant sciences might also be acceptable for similar occupations in plant pathology and related fields. Common courses include:

  • Botanical diseases
  • Plant biology
  • Plant ecology
  • Plant genetics

Master of Science in Plant Pathology

These 2-year degree programs are often very research-oriented. Many programs require completion of a master's thesis in order to graduate. Graduates can often qualify for high school and community college-level teaching, consulting and social work. Common courses include:

  • Plant nematology
  • Pollutant effects
  • Plant pathogens

Doctor of Philosophy in Plant Pathology

Doctoral degree programs can include up to three years of additional study after obtaining a master's degree. Doctoral degrees are largely for those who wish to enter research-related career opportunities or teach at the university level. Common courses include:

  • Fungal classifications
  • Environmental stressors
  • Disease control methods

Salary Information

The salaries earned by plant pathologists depend on their career field. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that soil and plant scientists earned an average salary of $65,980 as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). Those soil and plant scientists who worked in the scientific consulting industry earned a similar salary of $64,560, on average, in 2015. In that same year, postsecondary biology teachers - such as plant science and pathology teachers - earned an average salary of $86,830.

Food scientists and technologists, who might find work as health managers, earned an average salary of $72,030 in 2015 and the job outlook from 2014 to 2024 is projected to grow 3%. Entry-level positions require a bachelor's degree, but most earn a doctoral degree.

With a bachelor's degree in a relevant field it is possible to enter a career as a soil and plant scientist, a scientific consultant or a health manager. These professionals may work in food production and conduct research about how to treat diseases in plants and increase crop production. Advancement requires a graduate degree, and a doctoral degree is required for those who wish to teach biology at a college or university.

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