Promoting interest in studying plants and pursuing careers in botany has always been part of my job. The Phactor's basic premise is that everyone wants to be a botanist, but some people just take longer to figure that out than others. At any rate any help is much appreciated, so this assistance is appreciated, even if they say that a botanist's job is to identify a&nd name plants and fungi, a view of botany over a century old. They also say, "it’s fun to discover the active, useful, beautiful, eco-friendly, and even bizarre things plants can do." Now what do they mean, bizarre? Plants do all the same things as other living organisms, so why when plants do them are they bizarre? Well, only because people never thought plants did anything! For the Phactor identification and taxonomy is part of the job, but at the same time we're plant biologists, ecologists, conservationist, and so on. Why just today a colleague left a specimen in my mailbox, flattened into a folded sheet of paper, and asking, "Can you identify this?" Without any delay it was answered, "Yes", and put back in his mailbox. Once he thought of the correct question he came by and asked, "What is it's name?". You can also read about botanical careers here.
This is good news if you want a career in botany and plant science. The world is going to need lots of people who understand plants, who understand ecology, who understand conservation, who understand people, and who can put it all together. Because who else is going to feed a hungry planet? Pay attention people, this is the future calling.
For the eleventy-seventh time the Phytophactor has no plans to retire yet! Let me explain. 1. Age is not the issue. Although it seems to some that the Phactor has been around for long time, when you start college at a young age (17), complete 3 degrees in 9 years, it becomes possible to have had a long career and still be of a relatively young(ish) age. In particular although the body keeps reminding us of the mileage, the mind still feels quite energetic, if not downright juvenile at times, or is that creeping dementia? Oh, no. But at least if it gets bad you won’t really know. 2. Money is not the issue. It matters not if my retirement benefits equal a substantial percent of my working salary for three reasons: (1) unfortunately my salary is not all that impressive, (2) my career was not chosen for its financial rewards, and (3) more time allows me to stash more into my personal retirement accounts as a hedge on when (not if) the unfunded retirement fund administered ineptly, illegally, and unethically by our great and corrupt state goes belly up. 3. The job is not the issue. One definition of retirement is “removal or withdrawal from service”, to which the Phactor says, “What the .….?” Botany is more than a career or job, more an avocation than a vocation, such an inextricable component of my life that no line can be drawn between my work and play, between my professional and private life, and the day this botanist is “removed or withdrawn” from service will be his last day, period. One wonderful colleague so enjoyed attending fall meetings at the Missouri Botanical Garden (he’d never missed one) that he had his son arrange for an ambulance to deliver him and a private nurse to accompany him to one more meeting while nearly on his death bed. The Phactor is happy for all you people who did a job and earned your retirement. So please understand that some of us do not view what we do as a “job”. In spite of his occasional forays into despair about students who waste their opportunities to learn, he likes what he does. Besides it would be unseemly if the Phactor were to retire before his undergraduate mentor retires. 4. When you retire good old Cheap-skate U., a perennially underfunded, undersized institution has a tendency to want to use your office and research space to house some new, naïve, barely competent assistant professor, thus shoving decades of knowledge and knowhow out the door, along with my library. One legendary botanist acquired a library of such a volume and of so many volumes during his career that he actually bought the house next door and moved so he had room for all his books, an admirable course of action. The Phactor’s library doesn’t take up much more than 130 linear feet of shelf space, but he was educated while it was still the mark of a serious academic to have an impressive collection of books and journals, and now it’s just how many gigs of pdfs you have. Sigh. And my office is where I work; too many distractions around the house and estate. Never have understood these faculty who minimize their time on campus; fire ‘em and use THEIR space for new faculty. 6. The Phactor tends to get in trouble when he’s not busy and occupied. So as a matter of public service and safety, continuing to function as a botanist is a good thing. There should be a fund established for this purpose. 7. My current chair has begged me not to retire just yet. Now the Phactor has seen an impressive number of chairs come and go, on average about one every 4 years, and finally one actually thinks a botany is indispensible to biology, and who can argue with that. This does recognize that without the Phactor there would still be some botanists and some botany courses, but not enough to amount to a sequence, so until the employment picture improves somewhat yours truly may have some leverage! 8. A colleague in another discipline complained that he retired because he had been left behind. Well, whose fault is that? Sorry but one of the responsibilities of our profession is that you remain current, although it is true that young colleagues specializing in the topic du jour tend to consign more traditional areas to the garbage bin of academia and you can find yourself disciplinarily isolated. However, as a purveyor of what one might think of as more traditional botany, the Phactor makes it his responsibility to demonstrate the relevance and usefulness of knowing how to identify plants and name them correctly. This would be easier if they’d only leave families alone; now where did they put those maples?
You don't have to try to convince me that botanists and botany are an endangered species here in the USA where the human-biomedical tail wags the biological dog. Here's a brief report on botany in the USA that doesn't exactly offer much optimistic news, but it's no surprise to the Phactor. More on this later; the energy for a full-fledged rant just isn't forthcoming today. A bit of vacation and the annual botanical meetings are upcoming these next two weeks, and this report is sure to be topic of conversation among my colleagues.