Plant Genetics

An understanding of plant genetics can be useful when conducting agricultural, biological or food science research. Continue reading to learn more about the educational requirements, areas of study and career opportunities for plant geneticists.

Is Plant Genetics Right for Me?

Career Overview

Plant genetics is a branch of the biological sciences that seeks to explore and understand the biological building blocks of plant life. As an aspiring plant geneticist, you'll study the evolution, structure and population of the world's plants, while pursuing interdisciplinary topics in ecology, botany and biochemistry. Opportunities for employment can be found in the agricultural sector, where you'll conduct research and perform tests that can help improve a crop's resistance to disease and pests, as well as increase production or yield.

Career and Salary Information

As a qualified specialist in plant genetics, you may be able to obtain a position as a biological scientist, a food scientist or an agricultural scientist. Strong problem-solving, analytical and communication skills are key to working in the field, especially when evaluating complex data and making recommendations for improvement.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that job prospects for soil and plant scientists were expected to increase by 8% nationwide between 2012 and 2022. As of May 2012, the average annual salary for a soil and plant scientist was $63,290, while biological scientists earned $76,220 a year (www.bls.gov).

How Can I Work in Plant Genetics?

Education

According to the BLS, biological and agricultural food scientists need a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in a related field to work as an independent researcher. However, completion of a bachelor's degree program in agronomy, agricultural science or forestry can prepare you for an entry-level position. Agronomy programs offer coursework in plant breeding and genetics, soil science, plant pathology and crop production.

Master's degree programs provide opportunities for more in-depth studies in the field and typically culminate in a written thesis. A Ph.D. in biology or plant genetics is usually required to teach the subjects at a college or university. As a doctoral candidate, you'll conduct independent research in preparation for writing and defending your dissertation. Sample dissertation topics might include topics in bacterial or viral pathogenesis, chromatin modifications and plant growth mechanisms. At some schools, advanced-level studies in plant genetics may be offered as a Ph.D. minor.

Professional Certifications

Although not required, a certification in agronomy can help to improve your prospects in the job market. To obtain the Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) or Certified Professional Agronomist (CPAg) credential from the American Society of Agronomy, you'll have to meet the organization's minimum educational and experience requirements and receive a passing score on an exam. To maintain your certification, you'll also have to complete a designated number of continuing education hours.

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