Botanists (sometimes referred to as plant biologists) study the biology, diversity and distribution of all kinds of plants, algae and fungi and the way in which they interact with each other and their surroundings. Their research is applied in areas such as conservation and management of natural resources, agriculture, forestry, horticulture, medicine, biotechnology and food science, so that they have many different job roles.
There are a number of specialisms in botany, including the study of specific groups of plants, plant anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics, ecology, marine botany and taxonomy (the identification and classification of plants).
In order to conduct laboratory experiments and carry out field studies, a wide range of techniques and equipment are used, such as electron microscopes, radioisotopes, digital imaging analysis, polymerase chain reaction, cell and tissue culture, telemetry and satellite imaging. Once the data has been collated and analysed, botanists present their findings in scientific reports, at academic conferences, or in books and journals.
Botanists may supervise and coordinate the work of technical support staff, and work alongside other scientists in the development of medicines and other plant products, as well as in public health and environmental protection. In addition to research, many are involved in teaching roles in universities.
The working week tends to be around 35 hours, although this varies according to the project – some processes may require continuous monitoring which will mean working unsocial hours.
Be prepared to spend time away from home as field work may involve extensive travel, often overseas.
To be a botanist you should:
You'll typically need a degree in a related subject. This could be botany, ecology or environmental science. A postgraduate will be required if you wish to teach or for research posts.
Volunteering at relevant organisations before applying for your first job is advised as you'll have secured practical experience.
Botanists are employed by government research institutes, universities, conservation organisations, private businesses involved in biotechnology and medicine production, in agriculture and horticulture, in botanical gardens and collections, and in the food and leisure industries.
Experienced botanists may gain promotion to more senior positions. In field research and conservation, progression usually involves taking on more organisational, planning, management or advisory responsibilities. Self-employment as a freelance consultant may be possible.
Some botanists move into scientific journalism and illustration or into teaching.
There are opportunities for botanists to work overseas in conservation, fieldwork, or for multi-national companies.
If you would like to know more about becoming a botanist, further information can be found below.
Institute of Biology
9 Red Lion Court
Tel: 020 7936 5900
Botanical Society of the British Isles
Field Studies Council
Tel: 01743 852100