The Disappearance of Botany Degrees

Only roughly 20% of the plants in the world have been identified. Many plants are used as a food source, some of them are used in medicine, but all of them contribute to a healthy ecosystem and the literal air we breathe. This isn’t just an American problem, but an international one4. Botany is an important part of our world, and without it, we might not survive. Botany is the study of plants, how they grow, plant diseases, and identifying new species. Think of the plants you see when hiking through beautiful forests when eating a green salad when sniffing a beautiful rose. All of that is available to you because of botanists. Throughout history, botanists have been the backbone of modern science. What started as a general study of plants, evolved to taxonomy, how the plants work, how to grow plants, uses of plants, microbiology, biotechnology, landscaping, forestation, ecology, and conservationism. Now that we know what botany is and the fields that it influences, we can move on to the problems at hand.

Botany is disappearing. Starting in the 1980’s, universities have focused on technology and medical degrees1. This meant that other programs had to be resized or absorbed by other departments. Botany is one of those departments that has been constantly resized and absorbed by others. According to a study done by the Plant Science Bulletin, the number of universities offering botany and plant science degrees has decreased by over fifty percent over the last 30 years. As of today, only 0.7% of accredited universities and colleges in the United States of America offer a botany or botany related degree. As before stated, this is to make room for technology and medical related programs. In a recent interview with Dr. Robert Robbins8, a professor at Utah Valley University, we explored whether this was occurring. He believes that moving botany to solely upper division classes has affected the degree overall. If botany courses were to be offered as both lower and upper division, the interest in the degree would increase dramatically. This was also outlined in a study conducted by Dr. Marshall D. Sundberg in 20049. The effects of this declination have been felt not only in conservation fields, but in other fields as well. In a 2011 study10, Dr. Marshall Sundberg found the following: STEM degrees have been decreasing just as the need for them has been increasing. After conducting several surveys of government agencies and science industries, they received an outstanding number of 91% of prospective employers have the need for botanically trained staff, but do not have a pool from where to higher them. Without these trained botanists, our future world might be just glass and steel.

Agriculture will especially be affected by this declination, and has been. “An average of nearly 60,000 high-skilled ag and related job openings are expected annually in the United States over the next five years, with only about 35,000 grads in food, ag, renewable resources or the environment graduating each year to fill them, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Purdue University.” (CNBC)2 Where will the extra twenty-five thousand job openings go? Will the thirty-five thousand graduates have to shoulder the extra responsibility much like botanists in national parks?  The population steadily increases as medicine and technology help us live longer lives, but what happens when our food sources can’t keep up? This is just one aspect of botany. To identify new plant species that can be used as fuel and food.

We cannot survive without nature. Harvard University7, one of the most respected universities in the world, released a research study in 2010 detailing the benefits of being in the outdoors. Here are just a few benefits listed: Concentration will improve, lowering the adverse effects of ADHD, your vitamin D levels will rise, your happiness will increase, you will exercise more, and you may heal faster from injuries.  Now, I firmly believe, given my own experience, that being in nature is good for us. Not only does it teach us to respect animals and ecosystems, but it betters our mental, emotional, and physical wellness. We cannot just dismiss these claims. Here is another obvious claim for conserving the outdoors: without plants, we do not have oxygen.

Conservation and preservation efforts are directly related to Botanists. Federal Government conservation agencies, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, are suffering from the lack of botanists. Every year since 2014, the National Park Service has set records for recreation and park visits with 2016 shattering every previous record by 23.7 million visits.6 Currently, between the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, there is one botanist per 20 million acres.  Government agencies and private companies both encourage visiting the outdoors, yet there are not enough botanists to take care of the land they want more people to visit. In a recent interview with Lori Makarick5, of the National Park service in the Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Department, Biological Resources Division, Branch Chief of Landscape Restoration & Adaptation, Lori stated the following, “they are having a hard time hiring plant scientists and botanists.” For this very reason, they created the Junior Ranger program. They also have an outreach to fourth graders, offering them a free annual park pass. This is all to encourage future careers with the National Park Service. Lori firmly believes that through these outreach programs, and the efforts of those already in botany and plant science careers, we might be able to introduce more conservation related degrees back into universities. Think of a national park you’ve been to recently. Now, imagine that same park, but with sparse vegetation, no campgrounds, and limited staff. Now, that park wouldn’t be there without botanists. A certain gentleman named E.P. Minecky, a plant pathologist/botanist created the layout of campgrounds and trails for the National Park Service. He created the layout to better protect the environment. To restate my opening sentence to this paragraph, Botany is directly related to conservation and preservation efforts.

When considering whether or not botany is relevant anymore, consider the research. We still need the outdoors. We still need Mother Nature. We still need food. We still need alternative fuels. Until there comes a time when we can adapt to not having oxygen, we still need plants. And to keep those plants around, we still need botany.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annotated Bibliography

  1. Bidwell, Allie. “The Academic Decline: How to Train the Next Generation of Botanists.” S. News & World Report. N.p., 12 Nov. 2013. Web. 14 Sept. 2018.

 

Ms. Allie Bidwell shows hard numbers that Botany degrees have decreased by 50 percent since the late 1980’s. She goes in depth to show the importance of Botanists, and the hard facts that we do not have new blood to replace the current, retiring, Botanists. This article also includes a survey from 2010 assessing the state of botanical education and employment prospects in the nation’s top 50 most funded universities. It found that more than half of those universities had eliminated their botany programs. This source includes a plethora of information on the problems facing government and private agencies due to the disappearance of botany programs.

After having vetted several of her sources, I can say that this article is mostly factual. I can use this to further research into the disappearance of botany. It helped me see more into the distinction between botanists and plant scientists currently in the field. This is a little newer than other articles that I have included in this bibliography.

 

  1. Daniels, Jeff. “A Field with 25K More Jobs than Grads Each Year.” CNBC, CNBC, 20 May 2015, http://www.cnbc.com/2015/05/20/agriculture-fertile-ground-for-job-seekers.html.

 

  1. Harris, Jim. “The need for taxonomy trained Botanists” Personal Interview 27 Sept. 2017

 

Dr. Jim Harris has been teaching for several years at Utah Valley University. He has a Ph.D. In Botany from the University of Alberta, and a B.S. in Botany from Brigham Young University (from when they offered that degree). He currently co-directs the UVU Herbarium. He has already mentioned that degrees have turned more towards microbiology, rather than the classification of plants. He pointed out that only 20% of the world’s plants have been classified and identified. According to Dr. Harris, taxonomist botanists are needed to further medical and technological studies.

 

  1. Nex, Sally. “Death knell sounds for botany degrees” The Garden. Jan. 2012. Royal Horticultural Society.

 

Though short, this published piece provides a look into how botany degrees have diminised in the UK. Ms. Sally Nex interviews several chief scientists with the Royal Horticultural Society, as well as the Royal Botanical Gardens. The article points out that the UK has had to hire several botanists from overseas due to the lack of botanists locally. It does point out that some professors in the United Kingdom believe it is a good thing that botany has merged with biology, stating that this could rekindle the interest in botany and possibly ignite the desire to study this dying degree again.

Even though this was written specifically about the United Kingdom, it helps me to gain an insight into my research by showing me that it isn’t just in the United States of America that botany degrees have disappeared, but rather, a worldwide event. This article gives me perspective into the study as a whole, rather than a small piece in our corner of the world.

 

  1. Makarick, Lori. “How Botany Affects the National Parks Service.” Telephone Interview. 20 Sept. 2017.

 

Lori Makarick works for the National Parks Service, specifically in the Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Department, Biological Resources Division, as the Branch Chief of Landscape Restoration & Adaptation. She has an interesting insight on how the disappearance of Botany degrees has affected the NPS, and how it will continue to affect it. This will help me answer my second research question, about how this disappearance affects our environment and government agencies.

 

  1. Service, National Parks. “Stats Report Viewer.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1 Jan. 2017, irma.nps.gov/Stats/SSRSReports/National%20Reports/Annual%20Visitation%20Summary%20Report%20(1979%20-%20Last%20Calendar%20Year).

 

 

  1. Publishing, Harvard Health. “Spending Time Outdoors Is Good for You, from the Harvard Health Letter.” Harvard Health, 1 July 2010, health.harvard.edu/press_releases/spending-time-outdoors-is-good-for-you.

 

 

  1. Robbins, Robert. “Declination of Botany Enrollment.” Personal Interview. 20 Sept. 2017

 

Dr. Robbins is a current professor at Utah Valley University. He has a PHD in Botany, and teaches the upper division courses at UVU. Dr. Robbins discusses the disappearance that he has seen over his years of teaching. He believes it stems from a lack of introductory classes, and with the world focusing on technology and medicine, many smaller, but important programs are continually closed.

 

  1. Sundberg, Marshall D. “Where is Botany Going?” Plant Science Bulletin, 50, no. 4

 

This article provides an in-depth analysis of the enrollment in Botany programs in the major universities from each state in 2004. Some key points this article makes is that if Botany is offered to entry level students, they enroll quickly. If, however, Botany is not offered at an entry level, but rather as an upper division class, they see a sharp drop of students interested in enrolling in a Botany major. Dr. Sundberg makes a great case that if universities would offer more botany programs, there would be a higher interest and enrollment in those programs.

Obviously, this does have a slight bias to it due to being published in the Plant Science Bulletin, by a respected Botanist, but the research conducted for the article is sound. They went to 50+ universities to gather data on enrollment. This is going to be a valuable source in my research about botany programs dying out.

 

  1. Sundberg, Marshall D, et al. “Perceptions of Strengths and Deficiencies: Disconnects between Graduate Students and Prospective Employers.” BioScience, vol. 61, no. 2, Feb. 2011.

 

Analytical in their approach, the authors give hard numbers about how STEM degrees have been decreasing just as the need for them has been increasing. The authors conduct several surveys of government agencies and science industries, and received an outstanding number of 91% of prospective employers have the need for botanically trained staff, but do not have a pool from where to higher them. There is no bias in this article, it is pure data and analytics.

Because of the approach to this article, I can use these studies and numbers to back my research. It is clear, concise, and supports my claim that Botany degrees are disappearing, right when they are needed the most. This gives me raw data to include in my paper, and that is something that I need more of, since I can’t visit all the government agencies or science related businesses that they did. This supports the other article by Dr. Sundberg, but it is more up to date.

 

  1. Tryon, Steven, and Christopher McAlear. “Does the Disappearance of Botanists Affect the Bureau of Land Management?” Telephone Interview. 20 Sept. 2017.

 

Steven and Christopher both work for the Bureau of Land Management Utah Office. They both work in the Natural Resources department, and have an interesting take on the disappearance of Botany and whether or not we need Botanists anymore. Now, this could either hurt my argument or make it stronger, but I am willing to face that. I pointed out to them that the number of botanists has been reduced to about one per 20 million acres, and they both agreed with that fact.  They also brought up that many of their botany positions are filled by forestry graduates, which are also declining.

Published by sjtillman

I have ADHD and Anxiety, the perfect match made in heaven. I am a proud father and husband. I work too much, travel too little, but try to backpack and hike as much as possible. I do a lot of research and have too many thoughts in my mind.

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