While the scientific community closed off most other scientific disciplines to women in the 18th and 19th centuries, botany was acceptable for women to study and practice. Thanks to the work of early female botanists like Jane Colden and Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps, modern-day women in the field earn the same accolades and credit as their male counterparts for studying all types of plant life. The path to becoming a botanist includes a strong scientific background and rigorous training.
At the very least, a botanist should hold a bachelor's degree in botany or a similar degree field, such as zoology or ecology. Other degree fields that offer proper education for a botanist include life science majors such as agriculture, horticulture, agronomy, crop science and plant sciences. Many botany degree programs start with a solid foundation in biology, before moving onto specific botany courses. Along with earning a degree, botany students should also gain practical experience through research projects, internships and extracurricular activities related to botany.
Most employers require a botanist to have an advanced postgraduate degree, especially for research and teaching positions. While not all advanced programs require the student to have an undergraduate degree in botany, they do require a solid scientific foundation in related courses. Some master's and Ph.D. degree programs in botany allow the student to pursue one or more specializations, such as plant biology, applied plant sciences and organismal specialties like bryology and lichenology. Most botany graduate degree programs provide the student with classroom and hands-on experience and offer state-of-the-art laboratories, greenhouses, plant growth chambers and other equipment. As with other advanced degree programs, advanced botany degrees require the student to submit thesis and dissertation projects.
Along with formal training and education, some botanists opt for certification to give themselves additional legitimacy in the field. Not typically required for a career in botany, certification does provide the botanist with a professional designation proving she has completed additional training. Certification comes from professional associations such as the California Native Plant Society and can include several levels, from associate botanist to senior botanist. Earning certification requires the botanist to possess a botany-related degree along with a minimum number of years of professional experience.
Amateur and Hobbyist
For the botanist pursuing the study of plants as an amateur or hobbyist, several organizations offer workshops, seminars and training classes. The Institute of Botanical Training offers three- and four-day workshops in which both professional and amateur botanists can learn botany concepts such as advanced field botany, Midwestern flora, tree identification and wetland flora. These training classes typically consist of both classroom and hands-on training, and many include membership in the organization offering the courses.
- New England Wildflower Society: Women Botanists
- O*Net Online: Soil and Plant Scientists
- Institute of Botanical Training: Courses
- California Native Plant Society: Professional Botanist Certification Program
- Grand Canyon Trust: Plant Atlas of Arizona Project: Budding Botanist Program
- Botanical Society of America: Requirements for a Career in Botany
- University of Oklahoma: Botany Graduate Degree Programs
- Andy Sotiriou/Photodisc/Getty Images
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