Field of Science

Who will identify plants?

Today's news included an article sent to TPP about the closing of the University of Missouri herbarium, a collection some 3 to 4 times larger than the collection here.  The specimens will end up at the Missouri Botanical Garden, but another university's students will now have no opportunity to learn about the practical benefits of learning taxonomy and plant identification. A graduate student in ecology met with us this morning to get feed back on her plan of study and research proposal for a master's degree in conservation biology.  Unfortunately she cannot fulfill the taxon requirement with the course work she needs (plant taxonomy and ID) because the faculty member with that expertise has retired. Oh, she will learn a lot via field work, but it just won't be as comprehensive and as useful in the long run. The numbers don't add up for botany; too few students want to study botany, so the powers that be, and colleagues eager to take advantage of the situation to add to their areas in a zero sum game, will all argue that a new botanical hire won't be a smart move. The lack of interest puzzles TPP because plants are endlessly fascinating, but the somewhat mistaken perception that jobs, careers, and money are all in other areas is a driving force for students these days. They want security; TPP pursued what interested him in spite of all the advice to the contrary that it wouldn't work out. But it did! And all those great jobs TPP was offered in industry, all that great pay, most of those jobs and careers did not last even one full career lifetime. Will the biological sciences in the USA wake up and figure out the need for having botany programs? Sigh. In two more weeks the Botany 2015 meetings take place in Canada this year, and this is sure to be a topic of conversation.  

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