Check out this our Plant Pathology Career Brochure, simply download or order copies. Excellent for students who want to know more about plant pathology, the brochure covers the study of the science, different activities plant pathologists do, and what it takes to become a plant pathologist.
Students are always welcome to contact Plant Pathology Departments in your area for a tour and one-on-one introduction to some of the top scientists in the field. You might also want to check out the variety of internship opportunities that are available for a first-hand experience. Additionally, graduate student assistantships are regularly posted in the APSnet Job Center.
A plant pathologist is a professional who specializes in plant health much as a physician specializes in human health or a veterinarian in animal health. Keeping plants healthy requires an understanding of the organisms and agents that cause disease as well as an understanding of how plants grow and are affected by disease. Through college courses in botany, microbiology, crop science, soil science, ecology, genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology, and physiology, students receive the necessary background for exciting careers in the interdisciplinary science of plant pathology. Most specialize by taking advanced college training for master's and doctoral degrees. Plant pathologists are employed by colleges and universities, state and federal government agencies, industrial firms, international institutes, and as private practitioners.
Plant diseases are caused by a variety of living organisms (called pathogens) such as fungi, bacteria, viruses, nematodes, phytoplasmas, protozoa, and parasitic plants, and by nonliving agents such as air pollutants, nutrient imbalances, and various environmental factors. New diseases and changes in existing pathogens remain a constant threat to our forests, food and fiber crops, and landscape plants. Development of new and innovative ways to control plant diseases is a constant challenge for plant pathologists.
Plant diseases may be managed by altering the host plant, the pathogen, and/or the environment. Examples include growing resistant plant varieties, planting pathogen-free seed or stock, applying a biological control agent, modifying environmental conditions to decrease disease, and using plant medicines that inhibit or kill the pathogen without harming the plant or the environment.
Considerable research is necessary before techniques can be recommended that will effectively manage plant diseases in ways that are economical for growers and safe for the environment and consumers. Effective disease management often varies from region to region due to differences in environment, soil type, cropping practices, and plant varieties.
In their work, plant pathologists cooperate with plant breeders and crop management, insect, and weed specialists in developing integrated, environmentally sound approaches to managing crops and their pests (including pathogens). Working together with other specialists, plant pathologists contribute to the production of a stronger economy, safer foodstuffs, a cleaner environment, conservation of soil and water resources, and the health of workers in farms, gardens, and landscapes. Plant pathologists and bioengineers also are cooperating closely in developing disease-resistant plant varieties, preserving food from spoilage, developing new strains of organisms for biological control, and even in developing composting processes for solid waste disposal. Plant pathologists utilize modern scientific equipment and techniques to unravel the mysteries of how pathogens attack plants and to understand the effects of environmental conditions on disease development. Interactions between plants and their pathogens are studied at all levels of biological organization, from molecules to organisms to ecosystems. Research laboratories are equipped with plant growth chambers where light and temperature can be controlled accurately, with scanning electron microscopes that provide three-dimensional images of pathogens on plant surfaces, with high-performance liquid chromatographs that provide rapid analysis of chemicals in diseased and healthy plants, and, of course, with computers for analyzing data. Techniques for nucleic acid hybridization and separation, plant tissue culture, serology, and other modern biotechnologies are utilized by many plant pathologists in their day-to-day activities. Research is also conducted in the field under natural conditions and utilizes technologies such as volumetric spore trapping instruments to quantify fungal spores in the air over a crop canopy or field-based microprocessors that sense environmental factors and are used to assess the health status of plants in a field or region.
Plant pathologists employed by the Cooperative Extension Service, by industry, or as private practitioners work directly with agricultural producers, food processors, landscape and forest managers, or other professionals involved in growing or managing plants. In this role, plant pathologists function much as physicians or veterinarians in advising clients on the diagnosis and management of plant diseases. Many professionals rely on plant pathologists to provide books and pamphlets on plant diseases useful for operating clinics using modern diagnostic technology and for direct consultation in field situations. Plant pathologists also teach in colleges and universities where they convey their knowledge of plant health to subsequent generations of plant pathologists and other professionals.
Training for a bachelor's degree in one of the biological, chemical, or mathematical sciences at an accredited college or university is the first step toward becoming a plant pathologist. Certain employment opportunities may be enhanced by undergraduate coursework or a major in plant pathology. For example, plant pathology expertise is useful for farm and greenhouse managers, park and golf course superintendents, agribusiness sales representatives, and other biological science positions requiring a bachelor's degree. Graduate work in plant pathology usually is essential to acquire sufficient knowledge of the science to obtain most professional positions. Most state universities with a college of agriculture offer advanced curricula leading to a master of science and/or a doctor of philosophy degree in plant pathology.
If you are interested in a challenging and exciting career in plant pathology, contact a plant pathology department in one of the state universities for information on curricula and career opportunities.
Employment opportunities include research, product development, sales, teaching, extension, administration, regulatory work, and private practice. Certain institutions also offer advanced degrees in crop protection or plant health that combine curricula in crop science, soil science, entomology, weed science, and plant pathology with practical experience to prepare graduates for careers as private or public practitioners of plant health management.
The expanding interest in the quality of our global environment and increasing global demand for high-quality food, fiber, tree and ornamental plants provides many opportunities for plant pathologists. These professionals often are sought by government and nonprofit organizations and corporations to participate in teams of specialists addressing international agricultural development. Such employment may be on a continuing or a consulting basis.
Plant pathologists are employed by:
Hear directly from plant pathologists and members of APS, as they share stories about their unique experiences as plant pathologists in these informative video segments.