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Plant pathology is the study of diseases that affect plants. In order to become a plant pathologist, a student typically needs to have a bachelor's degree in an area such as biology, chemistry or math. A master's degree or a doctorate in plant pathology itself is then also necessary, if the student wishes to progress in the career.
Typically, someone who wishes to become a plant pathologist has a natural interest and aptitude for science. The job requires the plant pathologist to have knowledge of the various diseases that can afflict plants, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. He or she must learn the basic information about biology or chemistry in an undergraduate program, before specialization. People with a math degree can also become a plant pathologist, as tracking disease through computer modelling is one area of plant pathology. An undergraduate degree that focuses entirely on plant pathology is not generally necessary, as of 2011.
In the field of biology, microbiology, virology and mycology cover the basics of most of the microbial diseases. Parasites like worms fall under the area of nematology, or parasitology. Some plant pathologists look at the molecular biology of the diseases, or the plant's physiological reaction to them. Genetics and biotechnology are also relevant to plant pathology. Plant pathologists with an interest in epidemiology, which is the study of disease transmission, may have a math degree.
A few entry-level jobs in the field of plant pathology may be available to people with just a bachelor's degree. However, to become a plant pathologist in most industries or research institutions, a postgraduate degree is essential. A masters degree in plant pathology typically qualifies a person as a plant pathologist, and a doctorate in the field, or a related field, is generally necessary for people who want to do research work.
Even before college, and an undergraduate degree, a prospective plant pathologist should prepare himself or herself in high school. Science subjects like biology, chemistry and physics can provide a grounding. Computer expertise and a good command of English may also be helpful in the future career.
As many applications exist for plant pathology, the future pathologist should choose college courses carefully. A research degree, for example, can show potential employers what aspect of the field is most interesting to the student, and make these employers more interested in him or her. For example, a doctorate in genetic engineering may be suitable for agricultural biotechnology jobs, and a postgraduate degree in mechanisms of plant resistance to a pathogen may be useful for government advisory roles.