Plant science isn’t the most standard undergraduate degree in the world. You never hear 5 year olds saying “I really want to be a plant scientist when I grow up”. It’s the sort of thing that you learn you love. I am very passionate about plant science, and I think it’s a subject more people should study or at least be aware of. A few months ago, I saw that UCAS were running a competition called “Love Learning”. For the competition you write a short piece about why you love the course your studying, so of course, I jumped at the chance of entering. I really enjoyed writing this piece, unfortunately I didn’t win, but hopefully it is interesting.
Plants are everywhere and have so many purposes but often seem to go unnoticed. However, we benefit from the fibres and medicinal chemicals they provide us with, they are the source of our food and produce the oxygen that we breathe. Plants are often seen as static creatures, almost like inanimate objects, but really they are complex and interesting organisms. They are faced with many of the same problems as animals: they are constantly needing to develop, overcome competition, find food, undergo reproduction and avoid predators. They also do all of this without the capability to get up and move.
Now I’ve convinced you on the wonderfulness of plants, why should we study them? Plant science is more traditionally seen as a softer subject underpinned by the classification of plants and botanical drawings, this is no longer what plant science really is (no matter how nice the botanical drawings are). Plant science is essential to addressing problems of global food security; increasing the productivity of crops to feed our ever increasing population whilst maintaining the biodiversity that is important to sustain our ecosystem on which we depend. Plant science can also help to alleviate the energy crisis and climate change. Discovering more about the ways that plants grow and develop, as well as the molecular processes that occur in the cells of plants are so important in aiding these major world issues.
On a day to day basis, you may be learning about how cell walls expand, the breeding mechanisms of plants or how plants photosynthesise (as well as many other interesting concepts – the plant kingdom is your oyster!). Modules cover topics from genetics and cell biology to global food security, biochemistry and ecology – and that’s all in one year! I have the joys of molecular pharming, plant biotechnology, soil science and plant cell signalling ahead of me. All this being taught by world class researchers makes learning the subject exciting and real. Learning through practicals as well as lectures makes the subject more hands-on, by carrying out experiments involving field work, lab work and even computer modelling sessions.
It is exciting to be studying a subject that has the potential to have a large impact on the world. Despite the smaller number of participants (I am one of five students in my year studying plant science at the university), everyone I’ve met from students to lecturers, has a real love of the subject and there is a great and inspiring atmosphere that is achieved from being round so many “plant people”.
Although I love the biosciences in general, there is nothing better than being able to study a whole degree about something you love. Plants are often not covered enough at GCSE and A level biology, and when they are covered you may find that the teacher skips over the part about plants as they find it boring (I know, shocking). Studying plant science is a great way to use the knowledge learnt in A level biology to learn more specifically about plants, it also ties in several elements of chemistry too.
Before I came to university and I told people what course I was going to study, they often responded with something along the lines of: “Plant science? Is that a thing?” To those people I’d respond, yes plant science is a “thing”, and a very important and interesting thing indeed.
UCAS Love Learning competition – https://www.ucas.com/corporate/news-and-key-documents/love-learning-2015-competition-winners