Plant Physiology

The study of plant physiology is an interdisciplinary field that can include topics in botany, organic chemistry, agronomy and genetics. Read on to learn about educational options, career possibilities and potential salaries for plant physiologists.

Is Plant Physiology Right for Me?

Career Overview

Plant physiology is the study of plant processes, including chemical, physical and biological functions. As a plant physiologist, you study living plants, particularly at the molecular, cellular and genetic levels. Understanding gene function is a common objective in this field. You're likely to work with a team of plant scientists, such as geneticists and molecular and cell biologists.

Career Options and Salary Information

Some plant physiologists work for the government or as consultants for industrial organizations, but most split their time between research and teaching. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), biological scientists, including plant physiologists, earned a median annual salary of $75,160 as of May 2013 (www.bls.gov).

How Can I Work in Plant Physiology?

Educational Requirements

You're likely to need at least a master's degree to work as a plant physiologist, but if you plan to work as a researcher or teacher, a doctoral degree is often required or preferred. Some graduate programs in this area of study don't offer a master's degree option, instead proceeding directly to the doctorate.

Undergraduate Programs

You're unlikely to find a bachelor's degree program in plant physiology, but several undergraduate majors can prepare you for graduate study in plant physiology, including botany, biology and agronomy programs. These majors usually include plant physiology courses, and some programs may even allow you to specialize in this area. High school courses in biology, botany, chemistry and math can help prepare you for these majors.

Graduate Program Options

You can pursue graduate study in plant physiology by enrolling in one the few degree programs specific to the subject. Alternatively, you could apply to a plant sciences or plant biology program that incorporates plant physiology, which are more common. Graduate programs are often quite flexible in regard to curriculum, and you may be allowed to create the equivalent of your own plant physiology program, perhaps by pursuing a doctorate in botany with a specialization in plant physiology.

Graduate Coursework and Requirements

A master's degree usually takes two years to complete and typically includes a thesis requirement. A doctoral degree often takes an additional three years, but program length depends on the time needed to complete dissertation research requirements and whether your status is full- or part-time. A graduate-level plant physiology curriculum covers various plant processes, including respiration, photosynthesis and carbohydrate metabolism. You might also take courses in plant pathogenic agents, learn about their effects on plants and find out how to manage plant diseases.

Additional coursework may cover topics in crop science, molecular biology, genetics and pesticide usage. Training in biosafety and research techniques might also be part of a plant physiology program.

Required Skills

Because you're likely to work as part of a team of scientists, you need to work well with others and understand other scientific disciplines. Additionally, you should be naturally inquisitive and enjoy teaching or laboratory work. A zest for learning is helpful, as well, because continuing education is likely to be required for this field.

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