Plant physiologists study the physical, chemical and biological functions
of living plants, from the whole plant down to the cellular level. They're
interested in how the plant functions -- what processes take place inside
plants, how plants grow and produce fruit and oxygen, and what causes plants
Traditionally, most plant physiologists are found on college campuses,
but the number of plant physiologists working in private institutions is on
the rise. Oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, chemical companies, paper
companies and especially biotechnology companies need the expertise of plant
Professor Don Armstrong teaches plant physiology. "There are jobs like
mine in university situations. There are also jobs associated with governmental
agencies, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture [or] the Environmental Protection
According to Armstrong, these are the two government agencies that actively
hire plant physiologists in the U.S.
Obtaining a top research position may require graduate study, but a bachelor's
degree will open doors to entry-level laboratory positions both in universities
and private industry.
And as with other hard-science fields, botanists and plant physiologists
interested in working in marketing or sales will find plenty of opportunities
to use their knowledge in unique ways.
Plant physiologists are hard at work in several areas of study, called
- Researching how plants help clean the environment of pollutants -- this
research could lead to environmental clean-up plans that use plants to undo
- Researching ways to make plants disease-resistant -- one study produced
an American chestnut tree that is resistant to a disease that nearly wiped
it out in the eastern United States
- Figuring out ways to genetically engineer healthier plants -- for example,
in one recent study, participants ate potatoes that contained a vaccine
Alissa Devereaux did graduate work in plant agriculture. She studied antioxidant
levels in plants. Since antioxidants are believed to prevent heart disease,
cancer, Alzheimer's disease and diabetes, she worked to find out how to increase
As you can see, whatever subdiscipline they pursue, plant physiologists
are concerned mainly with the interaction between the natural world of plants
and human society.
Exactly what plant physiologists do during their workdays varies, depending
on their specialty. Some spend a considerable amount of time outdoors, collecting
samples in forests or crop fields and observing changes in plants under natural
conditions. That may mean being outside in nasty weather, walking long distances
and getting dirty.
Others work with plants on a molecular level. This means working in laboratories,
conducting and repeating experiments. Others still may spend time in the classroom,
teaching students about the field.
Almost all work standard workdays and weeks. However, there are times when
they feel a heavier load. When completing a research project or nearing the
end of term at university, things can be busier than usual.