What is it that makes a plant science degree more attractive to students? Naomi Broad finds out with help from Stephen Rutherford, Andrew Shore and Hilary Rogers.
Have any of you wondered where all the Botany degree schemes have gone? This is something I noticed when researching which degree I was going to study at University. I have always had an interest in plant biology ever since the first topic of naming parts of a cell during GCSE years. Starting a Biology degree in Cardiff University with only three plant-specific modules ahead of me was disappointing, but was a common theme among most UK higher institutes.
There was a shift in module choices whilst studying my degree. The only two plant-specific modules that are offered in second year changed from being mandatory to optional. The number of students enrolled onto these modules dropped by 70-72%, suggesting that when – given the choice – students would rather study other modules such as those that are animal or ecology-based.
When it came to choosing a final year project, I took the opportunity to explore why there was a clear disinterest in plant-based modules among my peers. In order to do this I sent out a survey to 1409 undergraduate students (receiving a response from 266) taking into account many factors that may have influenced their opinion of plants, such as their degree scheme, gender, upbringing and outdoor interests.
Although my final year project covered a large variety of factors, the most interesting correlations found were that plant interest fluctuated depending on whether students had a rural or urban upbringing and whether they were more likely to spend time doing outdoor hobbies. Students from a rural upbringing stated that they were able to name more plant species and those students were less disinterested in plants than students with an urban upbringing. Students that said they would participate in outdoor activities (such as hiking, berry picking and gardening) were less disinterested in plants and were also able to name more plant species.
My final year project is just scratching the surface of research that needs to be done in this area. It is important to work out why students are not as interested in plant biology as other aspects of biology so that we can continue to have students entering the plant research industry.