Approximately 15,010 plant and soil scientists work in the United States. Botanists find employment in the government, in research and teaching institutions, and in private industry. Local, state, and federal agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, Public Health Service, Biological Resources Discipline, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, employ botanists. Countless colleges and universities have botany departments and conduct botanical research. In private industry, botanists work for agribusiness, biotechnology, biological supply, chemical, environmental, food, lumber and paper, pharmaceutical, and petrochemical companies. Botanists also work for greenhouses, arboretums, herbariums, seed and nursery companies, and fruit growers.
With a bachelor's degree, a botanist's first job may be as a technical assistant or technician for a lab. Those with a master's degree might get work on a university research project. Someone with a doctorate might get into research and development with a drug, pharmaceutical, or other manufacturer.
For some positions, contract work might be necessary before the botanist gains a full-time position. Contract work is work done on a per-project, or freelance, basis: You sign on for that one project, and then you move on. Conservation groups like The Nature Conservancy (TNC) hire hundreds of contract workers, including ecologists and botanists, each year to do certain work. Contract workers are especially in demand in the summer when there's a lot of biology inventory work to be done.
Opportunities for internships are available with local chapters of TNC. It's also possible to volunteer. Contact the Student Conservation Association for volunteer opportunities. Land trusts are also good places to check for volunteer work.
The Internet is also a good place to seek out information on botany-related positions. Both the Botanical Society of America (https://cms.botany.org) and the American Society of Plant Biologists (https://www.aspb.org) provide job listings at their Web sites.
Federal employees generally move up the ranks after gaining a certain number of hours of experience and obtaining advanced degrees. The Botanical Society of America, whose membership primarily comes from universities, notes that key steps for advancing in university positions include producing quality research, publishing a lot, and obtaining advanced degrees. Advancing in the private sector depends on the individual employer. Whatever the botanist can do to contribute to the bottom line, such as making breakthroughs in new product development, improving growing methods, and creating better test and inspection methods, will probably help the botanist advance in the company.
Tips for Entry
You can learn more about jobs with the federal government at USAJOBS (https://www.usajobs.gov), the U.S. Office of Personnel Management's Web site.
Visit the following Web sites for job listings:
Read industry publications to learn more about the field. Some interesting publications include the American Journal of Botany, Applications in Plant Sciences, and Plant Science Bulletin (which are published by the Botanical Society of America, https://www.botany.org/publications).