January 10, 2012 Edit
Plant Pathologist – Do you want to be one?
Plant pathologists are medical doctors for plants. They study the diseases suffered by plants, primarily in agricultural crops. Plant pathologists do the same thing for plants that veterinarians do for animals, but they are far more important. After all, while the death of Fido is surely a tragedy, it has never resulted in a widespread famine. Plant pathologists work to find the best means of control and prevention of plant disease, protecting the environment and ensuring a nation's adequate supply of food. To be a good plant pathologist, one needs to learn, and be able to integrate, plant science, environmental science, microbiology and other various disciplines. Due to the complexity involved and the education required, a career in plant pathology offers great challenge and substantial reward.
How are plant diseases controlled?
According to a career overview from the American Phytopathological Society (APS), diseases in plants are caused by a variety of living organisms, which are called pathogens. These pathogens include parasitic plants, phytoplasmas and different types of fungi. Additionally, the APS states that diseases in plants are also brought on by "nonliving agents," specifically pointing out pollution, nutrient imbalances and environmental factors. Plant pathologists manage disease by altering the pathogen, the environment or the host plant. Developing a resistant strain through breeding, for example, would be one way of altering the host plant, while implementing pesticides controls the pathogen or its environment. The ultimate goal for a plant pathologist is finding a way to effectively control plant disease without financially crippling the growers or harming consumers or the environment. Due to the importance and difficulty of this goal, extensive research has to be conducted before any control method can be safely recommended for an entire crop. When in the field, plant pathology professionals work alongside insect, weed and crop management experts, as well as plant breeders, to develop economical and environmentally-friendly ways to conserve resources, protect the environment and keep food safe for human consumers. The responsibility is a large one.
What kinds of problems do plant pathologists face?
Plant pathologists are constantly met with new challenges and obstacles to overcome. Many people are unaware of how many problems crops can face, even those that are seemingly easy to grow. According to an online publication by North Carolina State University's Department of Plant Pathology, potatoes alone struggle with numerous problems in North Carolina, where 80 percent of the crop is used for potato chips. Season after season, North Carolina's potato crop continues to struggle with weeds, disease, insects, imbalanced soil fertility and poor stand establishment.
Job security and diversity for plant pathologists
For plant pathologists, there is no end of the line. New diseases continue to develop, and old diseases often decide to toughen up, gaining immunity to control methods that once worked like charms. So long as plants remain and people continue to eat, jobs for plant pathologists are here to stay. Without plant pathologists to diagnose and manage such problems, farmers would face huge losses and the food supply would be severely affected. Careers in plant pathology don't have to be pursued on the farm. In fact, there are many different types of work available for these professionals. According to the APS, plant pathologists can seek careers with universities, diagnostic laboratories, biological control companies or even government agencies like State departments of agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Job duties can also vary. Pathologists can find jobs researching, teaching, consulting and inspecting crops for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), further diversifying the position and offering pathologists a wide scope of career options.
What is required to be a plant pathologist?
Nearly every field of plant pathology will require a degree. Luckily, many universities offer a variety of different degrees in plant pathology. For example, according to North Carolina State University's list of degrees and requirements, there are several degrees available for those interested in plant pathology:
Plant Pathology Minor
To receive a Plant Pathology Minor degree, students have to complete at least nine course-credit hours. These hours must be completed in letter-grade graduate level courses in plant pathology.
Master of Plant Pathology
A Master of Plant Pathology (MPP) degree is harder to get, but it is a non-thesis degree, which takes off a bit of the pressure. Students have to complete 30 course credit-hours, which includes all core courses and the successful completion of between three and six hours of non-thesis research.
Master of Science
Getting a Master of Science degree is challenging. Like the requirements for the Master of Plant Pathology degree, students seeking a Master of Science degree must complete 30 course credit-hours, complete all core courses and have six credit hours in additional graduate plant pathology courses. Additionally, students are required to write a Master's Thesis on original research and obtain at least six course credits in Master's Thesis Research.
Doctor of Philosophy
The requirements for a doctorate in plant pathology are demanding. Students aiming for their doctorates must complete a minimum of 72 course credit-hours, only 18 of which can come from a master's degree, complete all core courses and have a minimum of 12 credit-hours in additional graduate plant pathology courses. In addition, students must craft a Doctoral Dissertation based on original research. It may seem like a lot of work, but the compensation is generous. Depending on the level of education and experience, the average pay for a plant pathologist is between $25.88 and $35.26 per hour. This is between $5,023 and $6,132 per month. Plant pathology is an essential part of maintaining the world's food supply. Pathologists often work with various agricultural specialists to find safe and economic ways to control disease. Pathogens and other environmental factors cause diseases in plants, and pathologists control them by changing the host plant, the pathogen or the environment. A career in plant pathology will require a degree, but many universities offer them.