Botanists, or plant scientists, are highly educated and skilled scientists who study plant life and organisms and their impact on global social, economic and ecological issues. Botanists are increasingly employed within industry and research in areas such as plant cell technology and genetic engineering.
Botanists study all kinds of plant biology. Their work is very varied and could involve managing rare plant collections, environmental conservation, horticulture, agriculture and biotechnology. Much of their work is research-based and involves working in a laboratory.
Job responsibilities include:
- Collecting and identifying samples of plants
- searching for new plant species
- monitoring the evolution of plant species
- studying plant characteristics and genetics in a laboratory using specialist tools such as electron microscopes
- breeding plant tissue culture in glasshouses and outdoors
- identifying and isolating chemical substances from plants, which can be used in drugs, food, industrial materials and biofuels etc.
- developing plant crops which are less susceptible to diseases, pests and drought
- planning and carrying out environmental surveys to study the effects of human activity on plant life
- producing reports on findings and advising farmers, landowners and government agencies
- designing projects and supervising staff
- giving presentations at conferences
- publishing articles in scientific journals
- teaching and giving lectures
Botanists work in a variety of settings including laboratories, classrooms, lecture theatres and offices, as well as carrying out field work outdoors. Hours will vary but if you are working in research in a laboratory or teaching at a university you will work about 37 hours per week.
Field work can take place in all weathers and can involve substantial travel so you must be physically fit and be prepared to work in tough conditions.
Future career progression will depend on the setting in which you are working. There may be opportunities to advance to senior positions which usually involve managerial and administrative duties, for example overseeing field projects and supervising staff.
Some botanists work as freelance consultants and are self-employed.
Personal Qualities and Skills
Key skills for botanists
- A genuine interest in plants, science and the natural world
- Strong observational skills
- Research and analytical skills
- Methodical and systematic approach to work
- Problem solving skills
- High standards of accuracy and attention to detail
- Logical thinking
- Excellent communication skills
- Ability to undertake practical and outdoor work in all weathers
- Project management and supervisory skills
Pay And Opportunities
Typical employers of Botanists
Examples of major public sector employers of botanists include:
- the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI)
- the Food and Environmental Research Agency (FERA)
- the Forestry Commission
- Natural England
- the Royal Horticultural Society
- the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
- the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Qualifications and training required
To become a botanist or plant scientist you will require a degree in a subject such as botany, plant biology, plant sciences, environmental science or ecology. Entry into a degree course typically requires a minimum of five GCSEs at grades 9–4 (A*- C) and two A levels, usually in biology and chemistry.
It is sensible to gain some voluntary or paid experience with a relevant organisation before applying for a degree course.
You can enhance your undergraduate qualification through specialised training programmes. Organisations offering these programmes include the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) and the Field Studies Council.
If you plan to work in academic research or as a university lecturer, you will need to gain a postgraduate qualification (at least an MSc, but preferably a PhD) in a specialist field.