Botanists study plants, from trees and flowers to algae, fungi, lichen, ferns, grasses and mosses.
There are many different roles for botanists. They may work in:
Field research - conducting scientific surveys of natural habitats, identifying, recording and monitoring plant species, and searching for new species.
Conservation - protecting, managing and enhancing plant life.
Laboratory research - on a huge range of projects such as discovering how plants convert simple chemical compounds into more complex chemicals, or studying how genetic information (DNA) controls plant development.
Tasks vary enormously depending on the employer and particular projects, but may include:
Botanists may work with other scientists and technicians, employees and volunteers from conservation organisations, and representatives from local and national government and industry.
Hours vary depending on the exact nature of the job. Botanists working in research and higher education usually work about 37 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Additional hours may be required at busy times. Those working in conservation may be required to host open days for the public or work with volunteers at weekends and bank holidays. They may also have to go to evening meetings. Botanists doing field research work when conditions are appropriate, e.g. when plants are flowering or seeds are germinating.
Experimental botanists spend most of their time in laboratories conducting research, while environmental botanists often spend a lot of time in the field making observations. Those working in higher education divide their time between lecture theatres, classrooms, laboratories and offices. Conservation botanists work in offices and laboratories as well as outdoors in the field. Field researchers can spend most of their time outdoors, although this may vary depending on the time of year.
Botanists can work all over the world and may have to cope with difficult climates. Fieldwork can be physically demanding.
A driving licence is often required to travel between different places of work.
The starting salary for a botanist may be around £16,000 a year.
Botanists are employed across the UK, although there are generally more opportunities in England. There are around 5,000 botanists in the UK and competition for jobs, especially in conservation and fieldwork, can be intense. Many jobs are offered on short-term contracts. Employers include:
Vacancies are advertised in magazines such as New Scientist and Nature. Jobs are also found in The Guardian and other national newspapers. Academic research posts are advertised in the Times Higher Education Supplement and on websites such as www.jobs.ac.uk and www.environmentjob.co.uk.
It is possible to enter at trainee or technician level with GCSE's/S grades or A levels/H grades, or equivalent qualifications. Useful subjects include sciences (including biology), maths and English. Geography and geology can also be helpful.
However, most botanists have degrees. Relevant subjects include botany, biological sciences, plant biology and plant sciences. These are offered at universities throughout the UK.
To study for a first degree, candidates usually need at least two A levels/three H grades, and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3). Alternative qualifications in relevant subjects may be accepted.
Successful applicants have often spent time working as volunteers for relevant organisations, and learning skills such as plant identification and conservation techniques.
For some careers, a postgraduate qualification is required. The entry requirements for a postgraduate course are normally a first degree.
Some employers provide on-the-job training. It is also possible to study for postgraduate qualifications whilst at work.
The Field Studies Council, the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) and local Wildlife Trusts offer a wide range of training programme's in biological recording skills. Qualifications to accredit existing skills are offered by the Natural History Museum.
Employers in industry may offer their own in-house training courses.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
A botanist needs:
There is no established career structure for conservation and field research workers. Progression usually involves taking on more responsibility for projects and advising or managing others.
In universities, botanists may be promoted from researcher to lecturer, then to higher grades such as senior lecturer, principal lecturer, reader, professor or head of department.
There may be an established career structure in industries, with experienced botanists being promoted to more senior positions.
Some botanists become self-employed and work as freelance consultants.
Botanists working in conservation, fieldwork or for multinational companies may have the opportunity to work overseas.
Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI),
Botany Department, Natural History Museum,
Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD
British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV),
Sedum House, Mallard Way, Potteric Carr, Doncaster DN4 8DB
Tel: 01302 388888
Central Science Laboratory (CSL),
Sand Hutton, York YO41 1LZ
Tel: 01904 462000
Field Studies Council, Montford Bridge,
Preston Montford, Shrewsbury SY4 1HW
Tel: 0845 345 4071
1 East Parade, Sheffield S1 2ET
Tel: 0114 241 8920
Natural History Museum,
Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD
Tel: 020 7942 5000
Scottish Agricultural Science Agency (SASA),
1 Roddinglaw Road, Edinburgh EH12 9FJ
Tel: 0131 244 8890
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.