in genetic engineering and developing fertilisers, working across disciplines with biologists, chemists, bio-engineers and agricultural engineers.
Required studies or experience
You need a university pass with science subjects in order to study a BSc with chemistry, maths, biological sciences, and an emphasis on botany and genetics. At the universities of Natal and Stellenbosch, one can do a BSc in Agriculture. After graduating, company-specific training is offered, especially in factories where specialised research and processes are part of one’s job description.
“Botanists tend to be meticulous. We spend hours making detailed investigations. You need lots of patience for microscope work when studying plant systematics. You must like being outdoors to do field work. Botanists are usually mildly eccentric, and have been known to talk to their plants. We get very involved in our subject and, like the birds that populate the wetlands or grasslands, we tend to be a bit territorial!”
An average day
“I live two lives, really. One is in the office, at the computer and the microscope, reading literature surveys, and writing up my research. I also lecture two undergraduate and one post-graduate course at Wits University.”
Marion’s other life is in the field, collecting fossils and excavating. “In order to interpret fossils you must first understand modern plant systems, and how different soils, climate and altitude interact. That means camping, walking through mud and rain, and enduring hot temperatures and mosquitoes. I work in the fossil sites of the Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli, in Tanzania; also at Koobi Fora in Kenya. In this field there’s lots of international collaboration. I recently went to Brazil.”
The best and worst things about this job
“There are so many different interweaving aspects of botany: geology, zoology, ecology and ornithology. I see different places and ecosystems, meet different people on different projects. I’m lucky. There aren’t many palaeobotanists. I get to travel widely.”
The down-side of her job is never having enough time. “My projects never finish. There are always more questions wanting answers, more discoveries awaiting me. Actually, that’s no disadvantage. I see that as a plus.”
Published By: Marli Merz & Matters