A program that focuses on the scientific study of plant internal dynamics and systems, plant-environment interaction, and plant life cycles and processes. Includes instruction in cell and molecular biology; plant nutrition; plant respiration; plant growth, behavior, and reproduction; photosynthesis; plant systemics; and ecology.

Careers in plant physiology focus on understanding the internal activity of plant systems.

Plants have a lot of observable behaviors - they flower, they wilt, they move in search of light, and more. Plant physiologists are concerned with the internal mechanisms that make plants do these things; they may investigate plant activity on the molecular, cellular, or genetic level, work with full plants, or examine plant systems. Uncovering the internal processes that correspond to the external behaviors can be useful in a number of contexts. Plant physiologists have been behind discoveries that led to the understanding of crop cycles and the invention of hydroponics, and they're constantly figuring out new things about plants that can help us to utilize them better.

In many ways, plant physiology is a practical, hands on science, with a centuries long history of experiments attempting to make sense of the world of plants. There are a number of chemical compounds that do not appear outside of the plant kingdom, with their own unique causes and applications. Plant physiologists work to understand how and why plants produce these compounds, using techniques that range from dissection to ultraviolet light exposure to submersion in water. By observing shifts in the internal chemistry and molecular makeup of a plant in relation to its behavior, plant physiologists can determine their cause and effect.

Work in plant physiology may include...

  • Observing the internal activity of plant cells
  • Changing stimuli to trigger a certain effect
  • Designing experiments to produce certain effects
  • Using lab equipment and scientific techniques
  • Recording, analyzing, and presenting findings

The vast majority of working plant physiologists can be found in academic contexts, where they may conduct research or teach. They may work as consultants to industrial and agricultural clients or write educational material to help others understand plants. There are also a number of government positions that seek out candidates with experience in plant physiology; some of these are roles in federal research labs run by agencies like the FDA or USDA, while others may be state roles in crop development or forestry.

Becoming a plant physiologist requires a solid understanding of botanical principles and a background in biology and chemistry. It's helpful to have a good grasp of math, genetics, and ecology, and some aspiring plant physiologists delve deep into cell biology or soil science over the course of their undergraduate educations. Most positions for plant physiologists require that candidates have a minimum of a Bachelor's degree. For more advanced positions, a Master's degree or PhD is standard, and students seeking out those roles tend to pursue graduate programs accordingly. Plant physiologists with advanced degrees are more likely to teach or pursue independent research, using the knowledge they've obtained through years of hands-on plant study.

You can observe some of the principles of plant physiology in your own houseplants; if it makes you want to devote your life to discovering the mysteries of the plant kingdom, consider a career in plant physiology.

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