How do I Become a Botanist?

Mary McMahon

A botanist is a scientific professional who specializes in the study of plants. There are a number of fields in which botanists can work, from ecology to pharmaceuticals. In order to become a botanist, it is necessary to obtain a degree in botany; for people who want to advance in this field, it is usually important to have an advanced degree such as a masters or PhD in botany.

A flower, like those studied by botanists.
A flower, like those studied by botanists.

Someone who thinks that she or he might like to become a botanist should make an early start, taking lots of science and math electives in high school. If opportunities such as botany workshops, botany classes at local junior colleges, or participation in botany research present themselves, they should be taken. Someone who wants to become a botanist might also want to consider interning at a botany research facility, botanical library, or office of a botanist to learn more about botany careers and what the job is like on the ground.

A plant growing.
A plant growing.

Numerous colleges offer degree programs in botany. People may want to seek out colleges which focus on their area of interest. For example, someone who is interested in anthropology and botany might want to consider ethnobotany, which examines the uses of plants by native populations around the world. Someone who wants to help develop new medications might want to attend a college which offers pharmaceutical training, while people interested in botany from an ecology perspective would want to attend a college or university with a focus on ecology and environmental science.

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For basic jobs in botany, all that's needed is a bachelor's degree. However, people who want to teach, engage in advanced research, or engage in more complex activities will need a higher degree. While studying in college to become a botanist, it is a good idea to get involved in research, if it is offered, and to take internships and jobs related to the field of botany during breaks, especially during the summer. Summer breaks offer an opportunity to do things like traveling to a field site to work with botanists and develop skills.

Botanists work in labs, in the field, and in classrooms. This field is very diverse, and includes things like: phytoanatomy, the study of plant anatomy; plant genetics; habitat restoration; paleobotany, looking at ancient plants; the study of climate change patterns; crop development; and many other things. Someone who wants to become a botanist should have an interest in plants and a passion for science and nature.

A plant.
A plant.

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Discussion Comments


@Emilski - It's great you have been able to find something you really like. That's the first step to being successful.

One of the interesting things about botany is that genetics have completely changed the role of botanists. Traditionally, they had to be able to classify various plant species. Now there is a "battle" between traditional botanists who think plants should be classified based on physical appearance and modern researchers who think molecular biology is the way to classify things.

If you really like botany, you'll have to choose one of the routes. For traditional botany, I would look into environmental science and ecology majors. Most colleges have plant physiology departments now for more modern botanists.

Good luck in your search!


I'm in high school now, and I really love botany. I just finished taking a botany class last year, and I think it is something I might want to study in college. I have been looking at a few of the main colleges in my state, but I'm not seeing botany majors at a lot of them.

I see the article mentions a couple of different areas of botany. Are these what I should be looking for? How do you judge the quality of a college's botany program?

I am going to take all of the science and math classes I can in high school, but is there anything else I can do that would help me later? I'd really like to try to volunteer or get an internship somewhere. Where should I turn to find opportunities?


@jmc88 - I actually know someone that has a botany degree. I'm not sure what the academic job market is like, but there is always a lot of stiff competition for normal botanist jobs.

My friend has a master's degree and works at a conservatory where he has to know about a huge range of tropical plants. I know that most state parks and recreational areas also hire botanists to manage the natural areas. A lot of them are also responsible for leading school groups or nature hikes.

From what I can tell, botany is one of the fields where you really have to love your job. Botanists are responsible for being able to identify and classify hundreds of plants as well as knowing how to grow or manage them. Even with all that, their salaries are usually average or below average. Most of the problem is that funding for natural areas is one of the first things cut in a budget crisis.


When I was in college, I took a class in dendrology, or tree ID, and realized I really loved botany. The dendrology class was mostly focused on learning leaves and tree characteristics, but later I took a class taught by the same professor that covered more of the reproduction and classification of plants.

Every now and then I wonder what would have happened if I changed my major and pursued something like botany.

Obviously, there are academic types of jobs that are available. Besides these and the pharmaceutical industry which the article mentioned, what types of jobs are there for botanists? Have botany jobs been impacted by the economy like a lot of other things?

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