The Plant Sciences Major 2013-14

Kennedia nigricans at the UCSC Arboretum. Photo by Daniel Mosquin.

The plant sciences major is designed for students with an interest in plant biology and its associated curricular fields such as plant ecology, plant physiology, plant pathology, plant molecular biology, and soil science. The plant sciences curriculum draws from faculty expertise in the departments of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Studies, and Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. The close integration of course work in Biology and Environmental Studies, combined with off-campus internships with diverse agencies, creates the opportunity for outstanding training in applied plant science fields such as agroecology, restoration ecology, and natural resource management.

Study and Research Opportunities

  • Undergraduate degree available: Bachelor of Science (B.S.)
  • Faculty-directed and/or independent research opportunities
  • A suite of field courses providing unique opportunities to learn and conduct research in a host of ecological systems
  • Intensive Education Abroad programs including Costa Rica (tropical ecology) and Australia (marine biology)

High School Preparation

In addition to the courses required for UC admission, high school students who intend to major in plant sciences should take high school courses in biology, chemistry, advanced mathematics (precalculus and/or calculus), and physics.

Transfer Preparation

The faculty encourage applications from students who are prepared to transfer into the plant sciences major at the junior level. Students interested in transferring into a biological sciences major should consult the proscribed transfer preparation for their program. For the plant sciences major, visit Students completing their transfer course work at a California community college should visit to determine which course work to complete prior to transfer.

The Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC) will not provide transfer students with enough mathematics and science courses to allow them to complete the program at UC Santa Cruz in two years. Transfer students must complete science prerequisite courses prior to transferring in order to finish a Biological Sciences degree at UCSC, specifically calculus, general chemistry with labs, and an introductory biology sequence. Students are best served by also taking statistics and a complete introductory physics sequence, if possible. Prospective transfer students should visit the Physical and Biological Sciences Undergraduate Affairs web site at for further information (see the More Information section).

Introductory requirements for the plant sciences major are:

  • CHEM 1A, General Chemistry
  • CHEM 1B, General Chemistry
  • BIOE 20C, Ecology & Evolution
  • BIOL 20A, Cell & Molecular Biology

AND one of the following:

  • AMS 15A, Case-Study Calculus I
  • MATH 11A, Calculus with Applications
  • MATH 19A, Calculus for Science, Engineering, & Mathematics


Students with bachelor’s degrees in plant sciences find employment opportunities in a variety of fields. In conjunction with a graduate degree in teaching, students often use their biology background to teach science at the K–12 level, and there are increasing opportunities for a career in science writing.

Positions for both research biologists and technicians with local, state, and federal governmental agencies are also commonly pursued. Examples of employment opportunities for plant biologists with California’s state agencies include: the Environmental Protection Agency; Departments of Conservation, Fish and Game; and the California Coastal Commission (these and other applicable state agencies are listed at Examples of federal agencies include: U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; United States Geological Service’s Biological Resources Division; Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, Department of Defense (Environmental Division), and others. Museums, arboreta, botanic gardens, herbaria, and germ plasm centers are increasingly hiring biologists to study and conserve biodiversity. The number of local, regional, national, and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), especially those oriented toward restoration and conservation of biodiversity, continues to grow rapidly. These organizations (for example, California Native Plant Society and The Nature Conservancy) hire students as interns and permanent technical staff.

Elsewhere in the private sector, students find employment with native plant nurseries, landscape design, environmental consulting, soil testing, or phytopathology services, and biotechnology firms. Academic research institutions also hire students for technical research positions. All of the above provide students opportunities to explore career trajectories as they consider continuing their education in graduate programs. A degree in the plant sciences also serves as an excellent stepping-stone to further training in professional schools, including landscape architecture, public health, and environmental health. The strong reputation of the Biology and Environmental Studies programs at UC Santa Cruz underpins the strong record of successful placement of its graduates in employment and graduate programs.

Education Abroad Opportunities

The UC Education Abroad Program (EAP) offers qualified students unique opportunities to broaden their educational horizons. Biological Sciences encourages interested students to participate. Many programs are in English-speaking countries or use English for advanced courses. Many programs offer small classes, and extensive laboratory and/or field research experience.

There are excellent programs for biological science students in Costa Rica, Australia, and New Zealand, among others. The Costa Rica Tropical Biology Program is of note to students interested in tropical biology and ecology. Held spring and fall quarters at the Monteverde Research Station, this program gives students experience with hands-on field research, offers a homestay program, and carries credit for two upper-division biology courses. The University of Queensland (Australia) offers an intensive, full-semester Marine Science Program, which includes a stay at a research station on the Great Barrier Reef, near sheltered mangrove and seagrass habitats.

Students interested in study abroad need to get an early start on their basic science requirements, including general chemistry, math, and introductory biology. Visit the EAP office as soon as possible to begin planning, and seek advice about your academic plan from the biological sciences undergraduate adviser.

Instructional Greenhouses

A collection of over 1,000 species of plants is housed at the rooftop UCSC Instructional Greenhouses. The collection provides hands-on learning in many areas of plant sciences with particular emphasis on ethnobotany, systematic botany, plant evolution, and ecology. Five greenhouses, outdoor growing areas, laboratory space, and study areas with wi-fi are available for student use. For more information, please see

Academic Advising

Academic advising is available from Physical and Biological Sciences Undergraduate Affairs. The Undergraduate Affairs web site at contains detailed information about the degree programs, sample schedules, transferring credit, placement exams, faculty research, and opportunities in the Physical and Biological Sciences majors.

More Information

Physical and Biological Sciences Undergraduate Affairs
142 Jack Baskin Engineering Building
University of California, Santa Cruz
1156 High Street
Santa Cruz, California 95064
(831) 459-4143

See Also