Plant Sciences major concentration requirements

All students who major in Plant Sciences must declare a concentration. This will provide a more focused approach to coursework with the aim of honing marketable skills for immediate post-graduation employment or transition to graduate or professional study. You may not substitute a CALS minor or a second major for a concentration.

All Plant Sciences Majors who matriculate as freshmen or sophomores must declare a concentration by the beginning of their junior year. Students matriculating as junior transfer students must declare an intended concentration by the end of their first semester at Cornell. Plant Sciences Majors must satisfy all course requirements for at least one of the concentrations.

Although incoming freshmen have two years to settle on a concentration, it is prudent to begin to develop at least one back-up plan early on. Academic advisors will provide some guidance, but final decisions are at the discretion of each student. 

Learn more about requirements and career paths for each of the concentrations below.

Learn more about requirements and career paths for each of the concentrations below.

Requirements

Minimum of 13 credits

We focus on creating healthy urban landscapes that provide many valuable ecosystem services. Students will learn skills that will lead to careers in public garden management, municipal forestry, arboriculture, professional landscape management, landscape design and build, environmental landscape assessment and soils remediation, turfgrass management, and outreach education.

Required Courses:

  • PLHRT 4400: Restoration Ecology (3 credits) (inactive*)
  • PLHRT/LA 4910-4920: Creating the Urban Eden (4 + 4 credits)

Choose one additional course from the following list:

  • LA 1410-1420: Grounding in Landscape Architecture (4 + 4 credits)
  • PLHRT 2240: Urban Ecosystems: (3 credits)
  • PLHRT 3000: Annual and Perennial Plants in the Landscape (3 credits)
  • PLHRT 3050: Arboriculture (3 credits)
  • PLHRT 4850: Public Garden Management (3 credits)
  • PLHRT 4931: Grassing the Urban Eden (2 credits)
  • PLSCS 3150: Weed Biology and Management (4 credits)
  • PLSCS/ENTOM 4440: Integrated Pest Management (4 credits)

*If you did not complete PLHRT 4400 before it was inactivated, complete two additional courses from the above list.

To learn more about these courses,  visit the Courses of Study website.

Careers

Students in this concentration are passionate about creating healthy urban landscapes that provide valuable services to the ecosystem as well as the surrounding community. They love hands-on work and getting outside. By completing coursework in areas such as aboriculture, garden management, lawn and landscape cultivation, and urban ecosystems, the student can gain applicable skills leading to careers including: public garden management, urban forestry, professional landscape management and design, environmental landscape assessment and soils remediation, turfgrass management, and outreach education.

“This is not a lab rat field. This is for people who are really going to get out there everyday.” – Dr. Nina Bassuk 

Career Paths:

  • Academia: Professorship and accompanying research in the lab or field
  • Landscaping: Residential or commercial properties
  • Turfgrass management: Design and management of golf courses and sports fields
  • Urban forestry: Management or design of parks, street trees, and grasses
  • Botanical gardens: Management, cultivation and outreach education
  • State or National Parks: Management, cultivation of native plant populations, and surveying

Post-graduation Income Expectations:

Varies greatly on location and position, $40k-$90k. Some golf course turfgrass managers earn up to six figures!

Education Required Beyond Undergraduate:

Depends on what career path you choose. For example, academia often requires at the very least a master’s degree, but more often a PhD in a specific field. Landscape architects require a two to three year graduate program to earn a Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) degree in addition to passing the Landscape Architect Registration Examination (LARE). But other careers such as those in urban forestry or public garden management require a bachelor degree and at most a master’s degree. If you are looking to start your own business in any of the aforementioned careers, earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree could be beneficial.

Job Prospects:

Good. Everything is only becoming more urban! Those spaces still need to be livable, and populations need access to green spaces. Also, there is a global movement to "green" historically barren urban spaces. It is a really innovative field!

What is innovative today:

  • Water management in disturbed or urban areas: application of different types of trees, shrubs, or grasses for water run-off management; use of developed soils that can hold the weight of cars and cement, but also permit root growth; and integration of native plants for a mutually beneficial landscape.
  • Urban livability: Improvements to the aesthetic, air, and water quality of urban areas by design of plant/water run-off integrated systems and green roofs.
  • Food systems: Reducing food deserts in urban areas by way of rooftop or space-efficient gardens.
  • Chemical reduction in pest management: Working with new environmental regulations to determine greener ways of pest management.

What one can do as an undergraduate:

  • Research: labs that specialize in soil development, water management, or herbaceous or woody plants
  • Experiential internships: public gardens, state or national forests, or even the Cornell campus

Requirements

Minimum of 12 credits

Students in this concentration will learn about the philosophy and regulations involved with certified organic crop production and will learn practical ways of growing crops and managing pests using organic methods.

Required Courses: 

  • PLHRT 4730: Ecology of Agricultural Systems (3 credits)
  • PLSCS 3150: Weed Biology and Management (4 credits)
  • PLSCS 3800: Principles and Practices in Certified Organic Agriculture (3 credits)

Choose at least one production course with organic content:

  • PLHRT/VIEN 3440: Viticulture and Vineyard Management (2 credits) (inactive)
  • PLHRT 3500: Principles of Vegetable Production (3 credits)
  • PLHRT 4420: Berry Crops: Culture and Management (3 credits)
  • PLHRT 4450: Ecological Orchard Management (3 credits)
  • PLSCS 3210: Soil and Crop Mgmt. for Sustainability (4 credits)
  • PLSCS 4050: Field Crop Systems (4 credits)
  • PLSCS/IARD 4140: Tropical Cropping Systems (4 credits)

Additional course work in integrated pest management including insects and plant diseases is strongly recommended. Students may substitute PLPPM 3010 or PLSCS 4440 for PLSCS 3150 if they are not also concentrating in Sustainable Plant Production.

To learn more about these courses,  visit the Courses of Study website.

Careers

Students in this concentration will learn about the philosophy and regulations involved with certified organic crop production and will learn practical ways of growing crops and managing pests using organic methods, leading to career opportunities in farming, organic crop consulting, research and more.

Requirements

Minimum of 13 credits 

Students graduating with extra coursework in this concentration will be prepared to compete successfully for graduate study opportunities or to enter the job market directly.

Required Courses: 

  • PLBRG 4030: Genetic Improvement of Crop Plants (3 credits)
  • PLPPM 3010: Biology and Management of Plant Diseases (4 credits)

Choose at least three courses from the following:

  • BIOMG 3320: Principles of Biochemistry: Molecular Biology (2 credits)—NEW!
  • PLBIO 3430: Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering of Plants (2 credits)
  • PLBIO 4000: Concepts and Techniques in Computational Biology (4 credits)—NEW!
  • PLBIO 4440: Plant Cell Biology (4 credits)
  • PLBIO 4620: Plant Biochemistry (3 credits)
  • PLBRG 4060: Methods of Plant Breeding Laboratory (2 credits)
  • PLBRG 4070: Nutritional Quality Improvement of Food Crops (2 credits)

To learn more about these courses,  visit the Courses of Study website.

Careers

Plant Breeding and Genetics students are passionate about improving current/creating new plant varieties to address growing concerns of food security, climate change, biofuels, and sustainability. By doing applied course work in classes, greenhouses, the field, and in labs, students gain experience and research opportunities as they work towards their degree. This, along with making amazing connections with teachers and researchers who are the leaders in their field, gives students in the plant breeding and genetics concentration a solid foundation to pursue higher education and career opportunities. These career opportunities span not just the private industry or public government/university sectors, but the option to work on a local, federal, or international level. Plant breeders have the unique opportunity to work anywhere in the world to help change the world for the better, one plant at a time.

“Plant breeders have the altruistic and lofty goal of changing the world for the better…Thing is, they can--and do!” –Dr. Jeff Doyle

Career Paths:

  • Academia: Research in the lab or the field (mostly field-based) and professorship
  • Biofuels: Creating carbon neutral fuel sources
  • Nutrition: Improving the nutrition of crops for food security and sustainability
  • Medicine: Creating new and improved resources for pharmaceuticals and natural medicine
  • Textiles: Improving crops used in textiles to be more sustainable, higher yielding, and higher quality
  • Agriculture: Address food security and sustainability worldwide, especially in developing countries, in either public or private sectors
  • Horticulture: Improving urban environments, creating beautiful ornamentals, and working with botanical gardens and arboreta
  • Pest/Disease Management: Studying diseases and pests to address growing resistance worldwide and improve crops’ resistance to either

Post-graduate Income Expectations:

Varies greatly based on location and position, $50k-$90k. Some experienced breeders in the industry can make up to six figures!

Education Required Beyond Undergraduate:

If you want to be a plant breeder or geneticist, you need to get a Masters or PhD. However, a B.S. in Plant Breeding and Genetics is a fantastic foundation for many different science fields (including medicine!) since students will gain a broad training in genetics, improved critical thinking skills, field work, experience, and research opportunities by the time they graduate.

Job Prospects:

Job prospects are looking good, especially with growing concerns about food security, climate change, sustainability, and agriculture/horticulture improvement.

What is innovative today:

  • Biofuels: Breeding willows to be carbon neutral sources of energy/fuel
  • Enhanced Nutrition: Farmers are now being able to grow crops with higher protein and nutrients to help address malnutrition
  • Food Quality: Creating more stable/longer shelf life crops
  • Genetic Engineering: Improvements in plant engineering to reduce breeding time and create needed plants on a greatly reduced timeline

Requirements

Minimum of 10 credits

Plant computational biologists analyze large datasets and devise computer modeling simulations for practical and research applications in academia, in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, in health science-related fields, and in governmental research institutions.

Students in this concentration are encouraged to perform an Internship in a Bioinformatic Applications Workshop. The Cornell Core Laboratories Center runs a series of bioinformatics workshops to teach users how to do data analysis. The workshops cover a broad range of topics, from introduction to the Linux computing environment to next generation sequencing data analysis. Each workshop includes both lectures and hands-on sessions. More information on Bioinformatics workshops and training.

  • BIOMG 3320: Principles of Biochemistry: Molecular Biology (2 credits) or BIOMG 3350: Principles of Biochemistry: Proteins, Metabolism and Molecular Biology (4 credits)
  • CS 1110: Introduction to Computing Using Python (4 credits) 
  • PLBIO 4000: Concepts and Techniques in Computational Biology (4 credits)

To learn more about these courses,  visit the Courses of Study website.

Careers

Plant computational biologists analyze large datasets and devise computer modeling simulations for practical and research applications in academia, in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, in health science-related fields, and in governmental research institutions. Computational Biology, sometimes referred to as bioinformatics, is the science of using biological data to develop algorithms and relations among various biological systems. Prior to the advent of computational biology, biologists were unable to have access to large amounts of data. Researchers were able to develop analytical methods for interpreting biological information, but were unable to share them quickly among colleagues.

Subfields:

  • Computational biomodeling: Computational biomodeling aims to develop and use visual simulations in order to assess the complexity of biological systems. This is accomplished through the use of specialized algorithms, and visualization software. These models allow for prediction of how systems will react under different environments.
  • Computational genomics & genetics: Computational genomics is a field within genomics which studies the genomes of cells and organisms. It is often referred to as Computational and Statistical Genetics. The Human Genome Project is one example of computational genomics. This project looks to sequence the entire human genome into a set of data. Once fully implemented, this could allow for doctors to analyze the genome of an individual patient.
  • Computational neuroscience: This is the study of brain function in terms of the information processing properties of the structures that make up the nervous system. It is a subset of the field of neuroscience, and looks to analyze brain data to create practical applications. It looks to model the brain in order to examine specific types aspects of the neurological system.
  • Computational pharmacology: The study of the effects of genomic data to find links between specific genotypes and diseases and then screening drug data.
  • Computational evolutionary biology:
    • Using DNA data to reconstruct the phylogenetic tree of life
    • Fitting population genetics models (either forward time or backward time) to DNA data to make inferences about demographic or selective history
    • Building population genetics models of evolutionary systems from first principles in order to predict what is likely to evolve
  • Cancer computational biology: This field aims to determine future mutations in cancer through an algorithmic approach to analyzing data.

Career Options:

  • Academia (Universities)
  • Government
    • NIH (National Institutes of Health): As the field of biology has become more diverse and complex, so the field of computational biology has grown to support it. At the same time, as computational power and programming have become more sophisticated, computational biologists have stepped in as motivated and capable partners in the quest to understand disease. Today, computational biologists in the Intramural Research Program (IRP) take many different approaches to answer theoretical and experimental biological questions across a range of disciplines, including:
      • Image Analysis: High-resolution optical imaging is a key to much of our biomedical research. Computers supply the advanced imaging methods and algorithms that allow us to view the human body from macro to nano.
      • Biomodelling or Systems Biology: Computational biomodelling, or systems biology, is a computer-based simulation of a biological system used to understand and predict interactions within that system. Computers can model systems at any level, from populations to cellular networks and the sub-cellular worlds of signal transduction pathways and gene regulatory networks.
      • Neuroscience: Computers are often compared to the brain, in terms of their ability to process information. So it’s no surprise that scientists use computers to further understand how this processing occurs.
      • Bioinformatics: Biomedical science has experienced a recent increase in “-omics” research—genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, etc.—and as a result has embraced computational methods designed to simplify the analysis of the enormous amounts of data associated with this type of research.
    • USDA – ARS (Agricultural Research Service): There are a number of computational biology projects at USDA-ARS Plant Genetic Resources Unit (PGRU) and Grape Genetics Research Unit (GGRU) in Geneva, NY, working on problems of germplasm conservation, characterization, and improvement. Typical applications of bioinformatics include molecular marker discovery/prediction, sequence clustering and annotation, genetic data analyses, molecular evolution, data mining for genes of interest to our rootstock and scion breeders, virtual differential display analyses, population genetics, and trait mapping.
  • Private industry
    • Pharmaceutical companies very like NIH and USDA-ARS (See for example SimplyHired listings.)
    • Agribusiness corporation
  • Non-profit or non-government organizations

Education requirement (skills):

  • Undergraduate research
  • Programming language: Java Python C
  • Software: R SAS JAMP

Job prospects:

If you have a strong background in biology, statistics and programming, it’s very easy to find a job.

Internship or Research? Yes!

Students in this concentration are encouraged to perform an internship in a Bioinformatic Applications Workshop. The Cornell Core Laboratories Center runs a series of bioinformatics workshops to teach users how to do data analysis. The workshops cover a broad range of topics, from introduction to the Linux computing environment to next generation sequencing data analysis. Each workshop includes both lectures and hands-on sessions.

Supplementary Courses:

  • BTRY 4810, Population Genetics
  • BTRY 4840, Computational Genetics and Genomics
  • BTRY 4830, Quantitative Genomics and Genetics
  • BTRY 4381, Bioinformatics Programming

To learn more about these courses,  visit the Courses of Study website.

Requirements

Minimum of 8 credits

An important component of this concentration is learning methods for measuring and studying biodiversity across large scales, both in geologic time and globally. This concentration prepares students to enter graduate school and for careers in academia, governmental, private and international organizations focused on biodiversity and conservation issues, major natural history museums, and private and governmental research institutions.

Required Courses:

  • PLBIO 4400: Phylogenetic Systematics (3 credits)

Choose any two of the following courses:

  • PLBIO 2300: Global Plant Biodiversity and Vegetation (3 credits)
  • PLBIO 4220: Comparative Plant Development: Evo-Devo (2 credits)
  • PLBIO 4470: Molecular Systematics (3 credits)  
  • PLBIO 4480: Plant Evolution and the Fossil Record (3 credits)

To learn more about these courses,  visit the Courses of Study website.

Careers

Plant Evolution and Diversity involves learning and understanding methodologies for measuring and studying plant biodiversity on levels from the microbiological to the global. This concentration involves work and research associated with the understanding of plant ancestry through classification (systematics), accomplished with the use of modern-day models in the field of informatics. Coursework is focused around the evolutionary relationships between plants and the classification and cataloging of plant families based on these relationships. This knowledge and understanding of the plant world connects to international and current natural affairs, aiding in the understanding of both geological and current matters, across almost any field of science. To be active in the field of systematics, one must have an interest in understanding plants and their evolutionary background. Activities such as nature walks, starting your own personal garden, or a simple curiosity about the origin of plant species might be great indicators that Plant Evolution and Systematics is the concentration for you.

Careers:

If you are intellectually curious, thoughtful and open-minded, this concentration will allow you to explore countless career opportunities, including:

  • Botanist curator at a botanical garden: This position entails on-site research, preservation and plant maintenance, doing the "behind the scenes" work that occurs at botanical gardens.

  • Academic profession: At a university, this may include teaching as a professor or doing research in a lab. Research possibilities encompass a wide range of sub-fields, for example, in bioinformatics, conservation, and genetics. Taxonomists are often needed in the field of plant breeding (e.g., developing new pest- and disease-resistant apple varieties), as well as in the fields of forensics (forensic botanist), pharmacy, and archaeology. PhDs may be asked to go on expeditions, for example, to foreign countries to aid in the identification of geologically preserved plants.

  • Bioinformatics taxonomist: This profession applies informatics to plant systematics, using computers as a tool for modeling and understanding plant taxonomy. There is an increasing demand for experts in this area, especially for genome sequencing. As biotree systems become more accessible the need for people who can sequence and understand the genome increases.

  • Conservation taxonomist: There is an increasing need for people who can catalog and preserve biodiversity and set priorities for conservation. Taxonomists work to collect and preserve plants in this ever-changing world as they go extinct and new species evolve. Employment in this field includes park ranger and naturalist positions in both government and private sectors.

This knowledge is valuable to many fields of science, and taxonomists may often be called in for special tasks, such as aiding in the research or expeditions of larger projects. Many of the modern medicines we take for granted today were originally derivatives of plants, unlocked and made accessible to us by the understanding of taxonomists.

Requirements

Minimum of 13 credits

Coursework in Plant Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology focuses on the study of how plants function at the subcellular, cellular, and organismal levels. The concentration prepares students to enter graduate school and for careers in academia, in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, in health science-related fields, and in governmental research institutions.

Required Courses: 

  • PLBIO 3430: Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering of Plants (2 credits)
  • PLBIO 3431: Laboratory in Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering of Plants (2 credits)
  • PLBIO 4841: Plant Form and Function (3 credits)

Complete at least 6 additional credits from the list below:

  • PLBIO 4220: Comparative Plant Development: Evo-Devo (2 credits)
  • PLBIO 4440: Plant Cell Biology (4 credits)
  • PLBIO 4470: Molecular Systematics (3 credits)
  • PLBIO 4620: Plant Biochemistry (3 credits)
  • PLBIO 4831: Concepts and Techniques (3 credits)
  • PLBRG 4030: Genetic Improvement of Crop Plants (3 credits)
  • PLBRG 4070: Nutritional Quality Improvement of Food Crops (2 credits)
  • PLHRT 4250: Postharvest Biology of Horticultural Plants (2 credits)
  • PLSCS 4100: Plant Responses to Environmental Stress and Climate Change (3 credits)
  • PLSCS 4420: Mineral Nutrition: From Plants to Humans (3 credits)

To learn more about these courses,  visit the Courses of Study website.

Careers

Plant molecular, cellular, and developmental biology focuses on the microscopic aspects of plant function. Many of the careers stemming from this concentration are based in research into basic cellular functions and research techniques to effectively assess those functions. There is a high emphasis on chemistry, molecular biophysics , and plant physiology in this concentration. This concentration addresses the root of plant functions that underlie all other studies of plants. For example, this field deals with the inner workings of cellular function which is of great interest to plant breeders looking to increase crop yield by increasing the efficiency of cellular processes. Additional examples of topic in this field include, plant cell differentiation, the functioning of the xylem in trees, and the chemical composition of various proteins and membranes in the cell.

This field is very detail-oriented, with a lot of repetition. Patience is very important, as is the skill of working well with others. If you are dedicated to your work and willing to stay up-to-date on the latest research findings, this is the field for you. If you are aiming for a teaching oriented position, not only do you have to enjoy working with students, sometimes on a one-­to-­one level, but you must also be a team player willing to work with the ideas of others.

Representative positions include:

  • Lab technician at a research university:​ Be a member of a team working to broaden knowledge of plant functions. The freedom you would have to pursue researching your own ideas would vary based on your employer. You could be researching to simply increase the science community’s general knowledge base or to tackle solutions to specific problems in the field. This is a great starter job for many other positions listed that require more experience.
  • Lab technician at the USDA:​ More problem-driven research than that at research universities. You would be an employee of the government seeking solutions in any part of the country. Examples of the problems you may be tasked to find solutions for include testing soil samples, disease control, the effect of new chemical pesticides/fertilizers within plants.
  • Teaching:​ From high school to graduate level, opportunities to work directly with students in this field are many. At the high school level, research wouldn’t necessarily be a part of your career, while at the upper levels of teaching it would be a requirement. Depending on the type of institution, different distributions of teaching and research are available in a career.
  • Work in the biotechnology industry:​ Develop and expand upon plant-based technology for numerous purposes. There is a very broad range of job descriptions that apply to biotechnology but those careers geared more towards plants would involve the study of chemical compounds in plant cells and the application and use of those chemicals in modern society. This is a small but rapidly growing field with good prospects for future advancement as people continue to focus on plant-based solutions to modern problems. Example fields of study include: plant based biofuels, effect of climate change on plants, ways to combat climate change with plants, and synthetic biotechnology (mimicking plant structures/compounds).
  • Pharmaceutical industry: ​Develop plant-based drugs and related products in an effort to better human health. This could include holistic, indigenous, and conventional approaches to medicine. As humans become more conscious about the things they put in their bodies, plant based solutions to illness will continue to be at the forefront of medicine. This industry could also involve testing various plant species for new compounds with as yet unknown benefits to human health.

Graduate School:

For undergraduate Plant Sciences students in this concentration, pursuing a career of scientific research is also a common option. As an undergraduate student, you have to effectively demonstrate your ability to do research in plant physiology to be accepted by a graduate school as your first step to a research career. In order to be successfully qualified for the standard of graduate school, undergraduate students are strongly encouraged to participate in an undergraduate research program, especially those programs that allow students some space to demonstrate their own insights and participate in experiment design and discussion rather than simply executing the experiment. Cornell University provides undergraduate students with research opportunities in various fields including plant physiology, and relevant courses that allow students to become familiar with the skills and techniques needed for research.

For more information on graduate programs in the plant sciences, visit http://sips.cals.cornell.edu/graduate/fields-concentrations.

Requirements

Minimum of 13 credits

Students interested in plant diseases and their control, host-pathogen coevolution, microbial symbiosis, fungal biology and/or sustainable agriculture/biocontrol are good fits for this concentration. This concentration prepares students for careers related to disease and pest management, and for graduate study in plant pathology, mycology, and the biology of plant-microbe interactions.

Required Courses:

  • BIOMI 2900: General Microbiology Lectures (3 credits)
  • PLPPM 3010: Biology and Management of Plant Diseases (4 credits)
  • PLPPM 4490: Mycology (3 credits)

Complete at least 3 credits from the list below:

  • BIOMI 2911: General Microbiology Laboratory (2 credits)
  • BIOMI 2950: Biology of Infectious Disease: From Molecules to Ecosystems (formerly PLPPM 2950) (3 credits)
  • PLPPM 3200: Grape Pest Management (2 credits)
  • PLPPM 3190: Mushrooms of Field and Forest (2 credits)
  • PLPPM 4010: Molecular Biology of Plant-Microbe Interactions (3 credits)
  • PLPPM 4020: Systems Epidemiology for Plant Pathology (3 credits)
  • PLPPM 4380: Filamentous Fungal Genomics & Development (3 credits)
  • PLPPM 6810: Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Seminar (1 credit)

To learn more about these courses,  visit the Courses of Study website.

Careers:

Students interested in studying plant diseases, host-pathogen coevolution, the symbiotic relationships between microbes and plants, fungal biology and/or sustainable agriculture are good fits for this concentration.  This concentration allows you to unravel mysteries of how pathogens work, diagnose causes of disease, and develop disease-resistant plant varieties.  Work in this concentration will prepare students for careers related to disease and pest management, and for graduate study in plant pathology, mycology, and the biology of plant-microbe interactions. 

Studies in the concentration will allow for work in all types of environments and a broad range of crops. Students interested in this concentration could work in laboratories, agricultural fields, greenhouses, ornamental facilities and have opportunities for overseas research.

Career paths

  • Academic profession: Work in this field can involve positions at university research facilities as a plant pathology professor and/or researcher. This would involve teaching students in various plant pathology courses, as well as running a laboratory for independent research and opportunities to encourage student researchers. Full-time professors of plant pathology make anywhere between $60,000 and $100,000 per year depending on university and standing in the school’s system.
     
  • Agricultural advising: Plant pathologists apply their knowledge to solve a wide variety of pathology issues. Possible careers can include:
    • Consultant: These professions give you the ability to work alongside farmers, small scale businesses and even industrial businesses. Using the skills you learn throughout the program gives you the ability to assist in the success of others' businesses. Examples of jobs include extension agents, crop epidemic research and agrochemical consulting. Salaries are around $40,000 to $50,000 with a Bachelor’s degree. However, many consultants have a master’s degree, which can increase salary to around $60,000.

    • Health Manager: Working for government agencies such as the USDA, EPA, FDA and state and local agencies to find ways to increase crop health for greater food production. Graduates from this concentration could work to develop different IPM approaches and help to create safer foods for consumers. The salaries in this career range between $80,000 to $90,000.

  • Conservation: Plant pathology knowledge can be useful in many ways to a multitude of conservation fields.
    • Conservation Scientist: By understanding the affect of certain pathogens on ecosystems as a whole, conservationists with plant pathology backgrounds can better asses the best ways to remediate and preserve natural areas. This can provide crucial insight into the broader fields of ecology, hydrology, and environmental science. Work in this field would involve employment either in the public or private sector. Conservation scientists make an average of $60,000 per year.
       
    • Bioremediation: This career is focused on microbiology and the growth and development of microscopic organisms like bacteria, algae and fungi.  Using these microorganisms can help aid in restoring the health of contaminated ecosystems. Throughout that time monitoring the progress through sample collection and analyzing are done.  Salaries for a position like this are around $65,000 per year.
       
  • Diagnostics: An extremely important part of dealing with plant pathogens involves diagnostics, the identification of the pathogen in a way that is conducive to treating it. This knowledge can be inaccessible to the public, so many universities offer diagnostic labs to assist in identification. Anyone can send in samples to the lab, and for a small fee the lab scientists will analyze the samples and find the disease that is ailing the plant. As well as diagnosing the plant disease the lab also offers control recommendation to effectively eliminate or suppress pests. 
    • Technician: This career allows you to explore certain pathogens and crops you find interesting and have the ability to do research related field trials and laboratory work.  This work helps farmers and growers produce healthier crops.  Salaries for technicians range from $36,000 to $105,000 but the median annual salary is around $60,000.

    • International Agricultural Research Centers: Interested in travel and research?  This could be a great opportunity for you.  All over the world people are trying to grow healthy disease and pathogen free plants.  Salaries range from $62,000 to $77,000

    • Seed, Plant Production and Tissue Culture Companies: Help to grow and discover more resistant plants from the start.  Salaries can range from $40,000 to $50,000.

  • Law: Employment in this area varies, but includes developing policies for waste damage, environmental conservation, and regulation of crop importation and exportation. Careers in this field require strong writing and public speaking skills, but they offer the chance to work towards a greener world. Depending on the type of law one practices, salaries can range from $108,000 in agriculture to $113,000 for an environmental lawyer to $130,000 for a biotech patent attorney/agent.

  • Public Sector:

    • Turf Management: Working in the turf industry offers you the opportunity to work outdoors with plants, people and nature.  Possible careers include Golf Course Superintendent, Sports Turf Manager, Lawn Care Manager.  With this career choices salaries can range from $35,000 to $50,000 the first few years but after working in the industry for 5 to 10 years you have the opportunity to make between $50,000 to $250,000.
       
    • Nursery and Greenhouse:  If you like being hands on and insuring that plants are happy and health this career path could be a good fit.  This concentration will give you an eye for detecting when things may go wrong.  Pathogens can spread quickly in greenhouses and facilities like that so having knowledge on the subject is strongly sought after.  Salaries range from $25,000 to $60,000 per year.

Supplementary Courses:

  • ENTOM 2120, Insect Biology
  • PLSCS 3150, Weed Biology and Management

To learn more about these courses,  visit the Courses of Study website.

Discover more about Plant Pathology and microbe biology careers:

Requirements

Minimum 15 credits

This concentration addresses the growing interest in the role of plants in various health-related sub-disciplines that study disease prevention and therapy. Furthermore, it fulfills the academic responsibility to educate future professionals in the health-care field on the importance of this relationship. 

Required Courses:

  • PLBIO 2100: Medical Ethnobotany (3 credits)
  • PLBIO 3100: Medicinal Botany and Drug Discovery (2 credits)
  • PLBRG 4070: Nutritional Quality Improvement of Food Crops (2 credits)
  • PLSCS 4420: Mineral Nutrition: From Plants to Humans (3 credits)

Note: Junior transfers need to take only three of the above courses: PLBIO 2100, PLBIO 3100, and either PLBRG 4070 or PLSCS 4420. To make up the credits, junior transfers should select enough courses from the list below to have 15 credits total for the concentration. 

Complete at least 5 credits from the list below:

  • ANTHR/BSOC 2468: Medicine, Culture, and Society (3 credits)
  • ANTHR/BSOC 4682: Healing and Medicine in Africa (4 credits)
  • BIOMG 3310: Principles of Biochemistry: Proteins and Metabolism (3 credits)
  • BIONB 3920: Drugs and the Brain (4 credits)
  • PLBIO 2470: Plants and People (3 credits)
  • PLBIO 3430: Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering of Plants (2 credits)
  • PLBIO 4620: Plant Biochemistry (3 credits)
  • PLSCI 4190: Cannabis: Biology, Society and Industry (3 credits)

Students who declared the concentration in Spring 2017 or earlier and were able to take PLBIO 2210 and PLBIO 3800 (no longer offered) do not have to take PLBIO 2100 or PLBIO 3100.

To learn more about these courses,  visit the Courses of Study website.

Careers

This concentration is directed toward students who have an interest in pursuing careers that combine human health and the relevant biology/chemistry of plants. It addresses the growing interest in the role of plants in various health-related sub-disciplines including medicine, preventive medicine, therapy, health care delivery, healthcare policy, and drug discovery. In addition to being an excellent option for students interested in pursuing careers in academia or industry, this concentration provides an alternative pathway to medical or pharmacology careers. Furthermore, it fulfills a societal responsibility to educate future professionals in the health-care field on the importance of the plant-human health relationship. Accordingly, there are a number of career pathways at the interface between plants and human health and these are covered in the options listed below:

  • Health Careers, Pharmacology or Industry: students could pursue a career in health delivery (M.D. degree, P.A. [Physician’s Assistant] Degree) or biomedical research in academia or industry in pharmacology or toxicology (Ph.D. degree). Students with interests in such careers should keep in mind general requirements for medical school by choosing appropriate courses under the Plant Science Major requirements and by adding a year of physics to their science curricula.
  • Plants and Human Health Policy is directed toward preparing students for careers in healthcare policy. Possible careers include hospital administrator, public health administrator, legislative assistant, policy analyst, and environmental policy analyst.
  • Ethnobotany is designed for students who wish to pursue careers working at the interface of indigenous plant use, efficacy and related pharmacology, anthropology and/or sociology. There are a number of career pathways here but academic research seems to be the most likely trajectory.
  • Careers in Academia: rigorous class work design in combination with opportunities for the independent research study and participation in the Research Honors Program in Plant Sciences creates a clear path to graduate school.

 

 

Requirements:

Minimum 12 credits

A public garden is an institution that maintains collections of plants for the purposes of public education, research, conservation, and higher learning. Public gardens include botanic gardens, arboreta, conservatories, and historic estates.  Through this concentration, students will prepare for professional positions at public gardens, in programs as diverse as horticulture, education, natural areas management, conservation, and administration.

Required Courses:

  • PLHRT 4850: Public Garden Management (3 credits)
  • PLHRT 4910: Creating the Urban Eden (4 credits)
  • PLHRT 4920: Creating the Urban Eden (4 credits)

Choose one additional course from the following list:

  • NBA 6630: Managerial Decision Making (3 credits)
  • NCC 5540: Management and Leading in Organizations (3 credits)
  • PADM 5410: Non-Profit Management and Finance (4 credits)
  • PLSCI 4970: Individual Study (at Cornell Botanic Gardens) (1-3 credits)

To learn more about these courses,  visit the Courses of Study website.

Careers

A public garden is an institution that maintains collections of plants for the purposes of public education, research, conservation, and higher learning. Public gardens include botanic gardens, arboreta, conservatories, and historic estates.  Through this concentration, students will prepare for professional positions at public gardens, in programs as diverse as horticulture, education, natural areas management, conservation, and administration.

Requirements

Minimum 12 credits

This concentration prepares students for work on agricultural and natural ecosystems by learning to identify, understand, and manage soils in agriculture and forestry in an environmentally responsible way. Graduates with soils training can choose from a range of excellent professional opportunities and challenging careers, including those with government agencies.

Complete at least 9 credits from the list below: 

  • ANSC 4120: Whole-Farm Nutrient Management (4 credits) 
  • EAS 4830: Environmental Biophysics (3 credits) 
  • PLSCS 3210: Soil and Crop Management for Sustainability (3 credits)
  • PLSCS 3620: Soil Morphology (1 credit) 
  • PLSCS 3630: Soil Genesis, Classification, and Survey (4 credits)
  • PLSCS 3650: Environmental Chemistry: Soil, Air, and Water (3 credits)
  • PLSCS 4660: Soil Ecology (4 credits)
  • PLSCS 4720: Nutrient Management in Agro-Ecosystems (4 credits)

Complete at least 3 credits from the list below: 

  • BEE 3710: Physical Hydrology for Ecosystems (3 credits)
  • BEE 4730: Watershed Engineering (4 credits)
  • BEE 4740: Water and Landscape Engineering Applications (3 credits)
  • EAS/NTRES 3030: Introduction to Biogeochemistry (4 credits)
  • PLSCS/CEE 4110: Applied Remote Sensing and GIS for Resource Inventory and Analysis (3 credits)
  • PLSCS 4200: Geographic Information Systems (3 credits)

To learn more about these courses,  visit the Courses of Study website.

Careers

Soil science is the science that deals with soils as a natural resource on the surface of the Earth including soil formation, classification, and mapping; physical, chemical, biological, and fertility properties of soils; and these properties in relation to the use and management of the soils. Soil scientists work for the federal and state governments, universities, and the private sector. The job of a soil scientist includes collection of soil data, consultation, investigation, evaluation, interpretation, planning or inspection relating to soil science. A career path in soil includes many different assignments and involves making recommendations about many resource areas.

Why choose a career in Soil Sciences?

Soil is interesting and important! Learning the taxonomy of dirt looks similar is exciting, as well as discovering the competitive chemical and physical processes under their dormant appearance. Being an expertise in soil gives you the opportunity to support agricultural production, landscape management, or even help to address global warming issues, as soils play multiple roles in the quality of life throughout the world. Soils are not only a resource for food production, but they are the support for our structures, the medium for waste disposal, they maintain our playgrounds, distribute and store water and nutrients, and support our environment. They support more life beneath their surface than exists above.Choosing a career in soil means choosing work on something that influences the worldwide distribution of plants, animals, and people.

Examples of careers and jobs:

Fields:

  • Agriculture, horticulture and forestry
  • Environmental protection and management
  • Land use planning and site remediation
  • Education and research
  • National and international policy formulation

Employers:

  • Federal agencies
  • State conservation agencies
  • Universities    
  • Private industry
  • Regulatory bodies

Types of Work:

  • Site remediation
  • Soil surveying / soil classification
  • Land reclamation and waste disposal
  • Research    
  • Conduct environmental impact studies
  • Consulting

Job Titles:

  • Soil conservationist
  • Soil microbiologist
  • Soil ecologist
  • Soil chemist    
  • Soil scientist
  • Land-use specialist
  • Soil physicist
  • Natural resource manager

Salaries:

Intermediate (Bachelor’s or Master’s): $45,000 - $95,000
Advanced (Master’s or PhD): $70,000 - $150,000

Preparations for a career in soil:

Education: Education that provides specialized knowledge and skills in soil and water conservation is more valuable than an education that imparts broad but general knowledge and skills. Courses in soil fertility, soil chemistry, soil genesis, plant physiology, plant science, and field crops are examples of specialized courses. Courses in the physical sciences or engineering such as geology, civil engineering, and hydrology also meet the soils, crops, or plant science course requirements where such courses include a complete introduction to the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soils.

Experience: Experience that includes the application of techniques, principles, and methods from a variety of agricultural and natural resource fields is appropriate, given the interdisciplinary character of the soil conservation occupation. For example, experience gained in a specialized field such as soil science, forestry, or agronomy is as fully acceptable as experience directly obtained in soil conservation work.

Supplementary Courses:

PLSCS 2600 (Soil Science)
PLSCS 3210 (Soil & Crop Management for Sustainability)
PLSCS 3620 (Soil Morphology)

To learn more about these courses,  visit the Courses of Study website.

Requirements

Minimum 11 credits

Intended to provide intensive working knowledge and hands-on experience in the commercial production of plants, including field, fruit, vegetable, nursery and greenhouse crops. Students completing this concentration will be prepared for a career in regulatory or governmental agencies like the EPA and USDA, NYS Ag and Markets, or the DEC.

Required Courses: 

One course of at least 3 credits at the 3000 level or greater that has a major focus on pest management:

  • PLPPM 3010: Biology and Management of Plant Diseases (4 credits)
  • PLSCS 3150: Weed Biology and Management (4 credits)
  • PLSCS 4440: Integrated Pest Management (4 credits)
  • PLPPM/ENTOM/VIEN 3200: Grape Pest Management (3 credits)

One course of at least 3 credits at the 3000 level or greater that has a major focus on soil and/or nutrient management:

  • PLHRT 4551: Principles of Nutrient Mgmt. in Crops and Landscape Plants (3 credits)
  • PLSCS 3210: Soil and Crop Mgmt. for Sustainability (4 credits)
  • PLSCS 3630: Soil Genesis, Classification and Survey (4 credits)
  • PLSCS 4660: Soil Ecology (4 credits)
  • PLSCS 4720: Nutrient Management in Agroecosystems (4 credits)

Two courses that have a primary focus on plant production:

  • PLHRT 3025: Hydroponic Food Crop Production and Management (4 credits)
  • PLHRT 3100: Production and Marketing of Greenhouse Crops (4 credits)
  • PLHRT 3440: Viticulture and Vineyard Management (2 credits)
  • PLHRT 3500: Principles of Vegetable Production (3 credits)
  • PLHRT 4000: Principles of Plant Propagation (3 credits) 
  • PLHRT 4420: Berry Crops Culture and Management (3 credits)
  • PLHRT 4450: Ecological Orchard Management (3 credits)
  • PLSCS 4050: Field Crop Systems (4 credits)
  • PLSCS 4130: Physiology and Ecology of Yield (3 credits)
  • PLSCS/IARD 4140: Tropical Cropping Systems (3 credits) 

To learn more about these courses,  visit the Courses of Study website.

Careers

  • Intended to provide intensive working knowledge and hands-on experience in the commercial production of plants, including field, fruit, vegetable, nursery and greenhouse crops.
  • Gain the experience needed to produce crops in a sustainable matter on farm or greenhouses, start your own business, or join the workforce.
  • Coursework includes core Plant Science material as well as courses tailored to focus on the fundamentals like soils and pest management as well as electives in your crop production areas of interest to provide a solid education.

Importance of Sustainable Plant Production:

  • The need for sustainable agricultural production of field crops, greenhouse plants, and vegetables is as relevant today as it has ever been.
  • The changing climate poses daily changes and challenges that have to be addressed to continue to meet the world’s demand for food and plants in general.
  • “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it." -- Robert Swan

Why concentrate in Sustainable Plant Production?

Sarah Marino, one of our current Plant Sciences students, is pursuing her interests in plants through the sustainability concentration. She writes:

"I have a very broad interest in plant science, but recently I’ve focused more on hydroponics, aquaponics, and general greenhouse production. Here at Cornell, we have many resources for students wanting to explore these subjects: We have a hydroponics class, a greenhouse crop management class, professors working and doing research in these areas (e.g., Neil Mattson and William Miller), and even clubs for each specific interest (e.g., Hortus Forum and the Hydroponics Club).

"My interests stem from working in a greenhouse during my summers in high school at a farm with a focus on sustainable farm-to-table practices. My responsibilities included propagation, transplanting, plant-bed preparation and harvesting, plus communicating with chefs to find both flavorful and aesthetically pleasing greenhouse crops. I think it's vital to educate the public on where their food comes from and how it's being grown and processed.  There is such a disconnect these days between the consumer and the environmental impact of our food choices, and I think it's important to bridge that gap, especially with our rapidly changing climate.

"I feel that in terms of crop production, agriculture is moving towards greenhouses and hydroponics and aquaponics, at least in New England.  I think it's becoming more and more relevant to learn about these practices and find new ways to extend the growing season sustainably and adjust to the highly variable weather patterns. The world will be vastly different by the time I graduate, and even more so 5-10 years down the line.  With the sustainability concentration, I feel that I will learn current practices in my areas of interest as well as learn to grow and adapt with the changing climate."

Career options:

  • Academia (Universities)
    • Conduct research projects through grants
    • Teach others in the field, lab, or classroom
    • Extension education: Work with farmers to improve their crops
    • Engage and interact with students while doing research on the side
  • Conservatory work
    • Manage plants for private or public gardens and conservatories
    • Conservatories are popular in large cities (parks and indoor areas), universities, and private home collections
  • Entrepreneurship
    • Launch your own farm that incorporates field crops, greenhouses, and/or produce market into a business
    • Maximize profit by finding a balance between vegetable production, nursery/plant propagation, and/or field crops   
  • Government
    • Work for regulatory agencies such as the USDA, EPA, or state extension services
    • Research plants to improve farming practices
    • Advise farmers and greenhouse growers
  • Greenhouse (large scale), nursery, family farm/greenhouse complex
    • Job tasks: greenhouse operations, management, planting, upgrading equipment, fertilizing plants, watering
    • Work for commercial grower who supplies plants to major retailers or sells the plants themselves (large scale greenhouse operation or nursery, respectively)
    • Contribute to the family farm/greenhouse with more knowledge to increase crop yield and/or plant propagation
  • Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and non-profits
    • Support programs launched by organization
    • Travel to other countries to help others obtain better crop yields and teach sustainable agricultural practices

Salaries:

  • Cooperate Extension educator ($30-80K)
  • Bachelor’s Degree ($40-80K)
  • Master’s Degree ($65K and up)
  • Doctorate (>$70K)
  • Entrepreneurship (varies)

Suggested Courses

  • AEM 1200, Introduction to Business Management
  • AEM 3020, Farm Business Management
  • PLHRT 4730, Ecology of Agricultural Systems

To learn more about these courses,  visit the Courses of Study website.

 

If none of the above concentrations piques your interest for more in-depth study, you may petition the Plant Sciences Curriculum Committee to design your own concentration in Plant Sciences. The course and credit requirements for this concentration will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Pursue your passion in plants, your way:

To Design Your Own Concentration, you need to meet with your advisor by the end of your sophomore year (or the end of your first semester here, if you come in as a junior transfer student) and decide on the courses you’d like to take in an independent concentration. Then your advisor will submit a petition on your behalf to the Plant Sciences Curriculum Committee (PSCC) for feedback and approval. This process usually takes 1-3 weeks, depending on when your petition is submitted. Upon approval of your petition, the Undergraduate Program Coordinator will add the DYOC information to your DUST record.Successful DYOC programs can range from a combination of concentrations—with some tweaking and course substitution—to concentrations that are limited only by your imagination and interests.

An example of a DYOC set of courses:

Sam Wolfe, one of our recent Plant Sciences major graduates, is pursued his interests through the DYOC option. (View Sam's ePortfoliio profile.) 

I have a broad interest in biochemistry, physics, genetics, genomics, transcriptomics and proteomics, and how all of these fields relate to the physiology and immune responses of plants. I currently work in the Martin Lab at the Boyce Thompson Institute studying the molecular interactions between the gram-negative bacteria Pseudomonas syringae and various breeds of tomato plants. Over the past 15 years researchers (including those in the Martin Lab) have discovered that receptors on a plant cell surface can detect bacterial flagella and trigger an immune response, but that the response can be silenced via effector proteins the bacteria injects through the cell wall via a molecular syringe. The mechanics behind the interactions are as complex as they are fascinating, and many of my chosen classes are centered around understanding these and similar cellular events. I plan on attending graduate school and hope to one day work at a research university, national laboratory, or for the USDA.

PHYS 2207 and PHYS 2208: Fundamentals of Physics I & II (8 credits)
The course provides a rich exposure to the methods of physics and to the basic analytical and scientific communication skills required by all scientists. Lectures are illustrated with applications from the sciences, medicine, and everyday life. Labs highlight topics from the lectures and utilize computer-aided data acquisition and analysis. Recitation sections emphasize learning via cooperative problem-solving. The course covers mechanics, conservation laws, gravitation, fluids, oscillations and waves, acoustics and thermal physics.

BIOMG 3310: Principles of Biochemistry: Proteins and Metabolism (3 credits)
The chemical reactions important to biology, and the enzymes that catalyze these reactions, are discussed in an integrated format. Topics include protein folding, enzyme catalysis, bioenergetics, and key reactions of synthesis and catabolism.

BIOMG 3320: Principles of Biochemistry: Molecular Biology (2 credits)
Comprehensive course in molecular biology that covers the structure and properties of DNA, DNA replication and repair, synthesis and processing of RNA and proteins, the regulation of gene expression, and the principles and applications of recombinant DNA technologies, genomics, and proteomics.

PLPPM 4010: Microbial Pathogens vs. Plants: Molecular weapons, Defenses, and Rules of Engagement (3 credits)
This course explores the molecular pieces and collective behaviors of pathogen virulence and plant immune systems, similarities between interaction mechanisms in plant and animal pathosystems, and the application of this knowledge to sustainable agriculture. The course emphasizes the management of scientific literature, creative design and critical evaluation of research, communication of complex scientific concepts to diverse audiences, and discussion of environmental issues associated with transgene-based disease management strategies.

PLBIO 4220: Comparative Plant Development: Evo-Devo (2 credits)
A comparative analysis of the developmental-genetic mechanisms contributing to the evolution of plant morphological structure and diversity. Students will be able to explain, evaluate, and effectively interpret claims, hypotheses, and theories in the evolution of plant development and more broadly in the sciences.

PLBIO 4440: Plant Cell Biology (4 credits)
Uses evidence from microscopy, physiology, biochemistry, and molecular biology to try to unravel the mystery of the living cell. Studies the dynamics of protoplasm, membranes, and the various organelles. The mechanisms of cell growth and division, the relationship of the cytoskeleton to cell shape and motility, the interaction of the cell with its environment, and the processes that give rise to multicellular differentiated plants are investigated.

PLBIO 4620: Plant Biochemistry (3 credits)
Focuses on biochemistry of plant specific processes, with the aim to obtain an integrative overview of plant biochemistry. Examples include processes such as cell wall biochemistry, pigment biosynthesis and degradation, secondary metabolism, senescence, defense mechanisms, amino acid biosynthesis, and small molecule transport. Genomics-based experimental tools such as proteomics and metabolomics are discussed.

Enroll in the DYOC concentration as a Plant Sciences major. Design your education around your goals and dreams. Conduct research. Be a problem solver.

To learn more about these courses,  visit the Courses of Study website.

Questions? Contact us

Leah Cynara Cook
Plant Sciences Major Coordinator
Phone: (607) 255-1257
Email: lcc2 [at] cornell.edu

Marvin Pritts
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Phone: (607) 255-1778
Email: mpp3 [at] cornell.edu