What Can I Do With a Plant Sciences Degree?

California is what’s known as a biodiversity hotspot because of the large amount of endemic natural life found here, especially plants. Endemic means these plants can only be found here and nowhere else in the world! That’s why it is so important to study plants and the way they interact with these ecosystems. 

Enter plant sciences. Plant sciences is the study of all things plants, encompassing everything from microscopic processes to global food systems. 

Three students in Introduction to Biological Sciences do a lab class in the Botanical Conservatory greenhouse.
Students in Introduction to Biological Sciences do a lab class in the Botanical Conservatory greenhouse. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

The plant sciences major at UC Davis is designed for students who are interested in how plants grow in agricultural ecosystems and how plant products are used in our everyday lives. From food to environmental enhancement, students can expect to learn how advancements in technology have provided new information and options for using plants to address the environmental issues of a growing global population. 

As Peer Advisor Lula Langdon puts it, the plant sciences department is “community-focused and passionate about all things plants! The plant sciences major is relatively small, and a lot of the students have forged relationships with their professors.”

What do plant sciences majors study? 

The subject matter that students delve into ultimately depends on their specialization.

There are six tracks for plant sciences majors

  • Plant breeding, genetics and genomics
  • Crop production and agroecology
  • Plant informatics, sensing and data
  • Environmental horticulture and urban landscapes
  • Ecological management and restoration
  • Crop quality and safety 

Regardless of which specialization you pick, the program aims to teach students both biological and physical sciences. The main goal is for every student to leave with an understanding of how plants obtain and utilize resources from their environment to sustain their growth and development. 

Two students in Introduction to Biological Sciences do a lab class in the Botanical Conservatory greenhouse.
Students in Introduction to Biological Sciences do a lab class in the Botanical Conservatory greenhouse. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Most major classes talk about things like plant metabolic and hormone pathways, evolution, pest control, different aspects of agriculture and much more. However, students also have the opportunity to take classes such as PLS 007 — Just Coffee: The Biology, Ecology & Socioeconomic Impacts of the World’s Favorite Drink and PLS 013 — Chocolate, Covered: The Past, Present & Future of Cacao, showcasing a side of plants we do not normally consider. 

Before they can get into the major classes, though, students are required to take classes in physics, calculus, general chemistry, organic chemistry, statistics and sometimes more depending on their specialization. The list of coursework can be daunting, but learning those concepts is essential to understanding the concepts in upper-division plant sciences classes.

By learning more about the crucial and small interactions in nature and what role those interactions play in the ecosystem, plant sciences majors can develop more of an appreciation for the natural world. 

“Mother Nature is the best designer that we know,” said Indie Mejia, a fourth-year majoring in evolution, ecology and biodiversity. “Going into labs to describe the anatomy of a hibiscus flower or look at the astonishing variety of mollusks has deepened my love for ecology.” 

What can you do with a plant sciences degree? 

Graduates from the plant sciences program have gone on to pursue a wide range of careers, including various positions in agricultural enterprises, farming, teaching, agricultural and environmental journalism, and communication services. A few notable companies that hire plant sciences majors to do these jobs include the USDA, U.S. Park Services and the Center for Disease Control. 

Joseph Urias
Joseph Urias

While completing your undergraduate education, gaining experience that will prepare you for these careers is important. Recent graduate Joseph Urias joined Planting Justice in 2015. The group specializes in perennial food crops and serves as a food hub in an urban food desert, a nature center for local children, a job training site and a park for the largely Black and Latino neighborhood. With this experience, Urias was able to move up and, in spring 2023, he started working for the USDA-Agricultural Research Service’s National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Davis and Winters. “I still work for Planting Justice, and I’m excited about continuing to bridge all the resources at the repository and the university with the Planting Justice community,” he said.

Left to right: Julia Bell, a fourth year Viticulture and Enology major. Lisa Sophie Jerusalem, a first year exchange student from Germany and Adam Halsey from Halsey Bottling.
Left to right: Julia Bell, a fourth year viticulture and enology major; Lisa Sophie Jerusalem, a first year exchange student from Germany; and Adam Halsey from Halsey Bottling in VEN127, a wine course in post-fermentation processing. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Alumni have also gone into academia for careers in ecology, genetics, plant breeding, greenhouse management and ecological restoration. However, a bachelor’s degree is the minimum for many plant sciences careers, so it is recommended that students pursue a master’s or doctoral degree if they plan on doing advanced research. 

María José Godoy Harb
María José Godoy Harb

Master’s student María José Godoy Harb, for instance, is using her plant science knowledge in the agricultural world, researching how to improve public policy surrounding food systems post-COVID. “My research is about documenting things people learned about the food system during the COVID-19 pandemic on Rapa Nui Island, also known as Easter Island,” Godoy Harb wrote. “My goal is to inform public policy around efforts to transform the food system and to help make food systems more resilient.”

Why study plants?

Many students major in plant sciences because they are interested in studying plant-related things like the anatomy of a palm tree or the ways plants impact environmental health. The study of plants offers a rich and diverse range of opportunities for personal enrichment, scientific exploration and contributing to the greater good. 

However, Mejia’s desire to grow in the field of ecology stems from more than just a love of plants. As he puts it, “Many established ecologists that I’ve gotten the chance to meet in my academic career have been amazing people, but I have yet to meet anyone like me. As a first-generation, queer Latino from a small agricultural community, I believe that I have so much to offer to the field of ecology. My observations and questions come from my perspective of the world, one that I believe hasn’t been represented well in the field of ecology just yet.”

 Emma Desany, a plant science major, stands on an A-frame ladder to measure out the vine.
Emma Desany, a plant science major, stands on an A-frame ladder to measure out the vine. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

The plant sciences program at UC Davis provides students with a community-focused environment where they can explore their passion for all things plants. With a range of specializations, students can gain a deep understanding of how plants interact within their ecosystems and contribute to various aspects of human life. As we continue to navigate climate change and strive for a sustainable future, the importance of plant sciences will only grow, ensuring the health and vitality of ecosystems and human societies alike.

 Check out our plant sciences major

13 majors to help you combat climate change

Jaylynn Velhagen-Dizon (she/her) is a fourth year English major and Cinema and Digital Media major. She is from Southern California, and it is her first year as a Majors Blog intern for UC Davis' Office of Strategic Communications. Jaylynn's favorite part of campus is the Arboretum and Public Garden, where she enjoys bird watching and admiring the poppies every spring.

Primary Category