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Plant Pathology

Degree: BS

Campus: Columbus

College: Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Plant pathology, the study of plant disease, is at the forefront of global challenges in food security and food production, environmental quality and sustainability, and advanced bioenergy and bio-based products—the signature areas of the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Plant pathologists specialize in plant health, similar to the way a physician specializes in human health or a veterinarian in animal care. Plants are affected by a variety of disease-causing organisms (pathogens) such as bacteria, fungi, viruses and nematodes that can cause devastating crop losses and damage forests and ecosystems. Invasive diseases such as Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight and sudden oak death have devastated forests and landscapes. Even chocolate production is threatened by the spread of cacao disease in South America. 

Admitted students who indicate their major as plant pathology on their application directly enroll in the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Each plant pathology student is assigned a faculty advisor who helps the student develop a course plan tailored to the student’s interests and provides mentorship and guidance throughout the program. 

The plant pathology curriculum includes a solid background in the sciences augmented by in-depth courses in plant pathology, plant science, biology, microbiology and related areas. Plant pathology majors take a specified set of required courses in biology, chemistry and plant pathology, including courses in microbiology, genetics and soil science. Students can tailor their program to areas of interests. An approved list of electives for the major includes courses from plant pathology, biochemistry, chemistry, soil science, entomology, horticulture and crop science, microbiology, and plant biology. 

Students must also complete a minor (12–15 credit hours). Students may select from over 100 minors at Ohio State, although common minors declared by plant pathology majors include environmental science, sustainable agriculture, agribusiness, agronomy, landscape design and management, turfgrass management, and food safety. 

The College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences offers several opportunities for students to study abroad with an agricultural focus. Short- and long-term programs enable students to experience an array of cultures and learn about different agricultural systems firsthand. 

Students must complete an internship as part of the plant pathology degree, which can range from work experience in industry to research in a university laboratory. Faculty advisors and academic staff can help students find internships that complement their career goals and interests.

Many plant pathology students become engaged in undergraduate research with faculty on both the Columbus and Wooster campuses. A research thesis option is available to any student with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Students who complete a research thesis and fulfill specified requirements can graduate with research distinction. Students have opportunities to present their research at university or local symposia and even national meetings.

Students can join the Plant Health and Resource Management Club (PHARM) for opportunities to become involved in department activities and interact with others that share common interests. 

Professionals with expertise in plant pathology are needed to address challenges pertaining to food security, agricultural chemicals, food safety, genetically modified crops, organic agriculture, renewable resources, invasive species and bio-based technologies. 

The plant pathology major provides excellent course work and training for students interested in pursuing advanced studies in plant pathology, plant biology and related disciplines. A master’s degree provides additional training and skills students need in order to work as research technicians, educators or in industry. For those interested in becoming a research manager or university faculty, a PhD is usually required. Graduates with strong academic credentials may be eligible for graduate research or teaching assistantships that provide living and educational expenses while pursuing a graduate degree.

Many plant pathology graduates work in research or diagnostic laboratories in the academic or private sector. Graduates also work for government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state departments of agriculture or regulatory agencies, while others may teach or work in Extension outreach.

Salaries are variable depending on a graduate’s experience, background and area of specialization, with an average starting annual salary between $30,000 and $40,000. Students with graduate degrees can expect to earn more than graduates with bachelor’s degrees.

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The Department of Plant Pathology is among the best in the nation and one of only a few departments that offer an undergraduate degree in plant pathology. 

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