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Qualifications

Since the field of botany is diverse both in practice and preaching, the educational tracks can differ a lot. Research botanists should have a love for science, and their undergraduate education should strongly reflect such a passion. Biology, chemistry, math, evolution, biophysics, and agriculture are some of the recommended courses for college-aged aspiring botanists.

Graduate work is usually required for research positions, unless cleaning glassware is your passion—we're not going to judge; we can appreciate the fine gleam of an immaculate flask. During a master's degree is the perfect time to become more specialized in a specific plant biology field—horticulture or population genetics, for example. Those folks who prefer to write 100-plus page dissertations will have the opportunity to focus on one particular plant species, evolutionary trait, or physiological process while they work toward a PhD.

Universities and pharmaceutical companies hire botanists at all stages of education, though—just know that the greater education you have under your belt means the greater independence and flexibility you'll have at work. Botanists with graduate degrees tend to fill the consulting positions at manufacturing companies and botanical gardens; they've got years of experience and know how to effectively research new topics.

If identifying the toxic chemicals that calla lilies produce doesn't sound like your idea of a fun afternoon, the policy side to botany may suit your personality better. To stand out as a conservation botanist, basic science courses, like environmental science and biology, will be important, but so will statistics, science policy, economics, and marketing. These positions require creativity to develop standout ways to combat reduced shrub biodiversity. Others may opt for a position at a museum or with a national park service, where educating the public is central to the job description. These people will need a good background in plant biology, but management and teaching skills will also be quite beneficial.

In addition to the strict educational requirements, botanists of all forms need to have good written and oral communication skills. Presentations—whether it be your own research, the newest conservation tactics, or teaching Boy Scouts how to identify poison ivy—are critical for promotions, signatures on a petition to save the American spruce, or additional funding for intriguing research. Expect to spend plenty of time chatting with people of all stripes in these jobs, and don't expect those conversational skills honed while chatting with rhododendrons to suffice.

The education for botanists doesn't end with that fancy sheepskin diploma, though. Botany is a field where continuing education is important to keeping up on the latest technologies, strategizing for combating pesticide-related problems, and doing basic research. This field is rapidly changing and evolving, and keeping on top of those changes is essential to a plant biologist's career. Like the mighty sequoia (there are all those vowels again), you will need to keep reaching and growing to new heights.

A good analytical mind will also take you far. There is copious amounts of data out there that need to be sifted through, analyzed, reformatted, and conveyed; the ability to keep it all organized will be extremely beneficial to a botanist in any specialization. For the research-oriented botanist, manual dexterity is important, too, since plant specimens and research equipment tend to be fragile and pretty small. We're talking tweezers more than chainsaws here, people.

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