Careers for growth and greener futures
Source: University of California, Riverside

Climate change stats are alarming. Around 3.6 billion people live in areas highly susceptible to extreme weather events. Approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year will come from undernutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress alone, according to the World Health Organisation. In an era of environmental challenges and the pressing need for sustainable solutions, the landscape of higher education is undergoing a transformative shift. 

Today, universities around the globe are spearheading innovative programmes for a new generation of professionals committed to fostering both personal growth and a greener future for our planet. The traditional notion of careers is evolving, with a heightened focus on sustainability, environmental stewardship, and eco-friendly practices. The most progressive universities are taking proactive measures to equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary to drive climate action and renewable energy, both of which are “good for our planet, our health, and our economies,” as described by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. 

From biology to ecology, there are specialised programmes that can empower you to build a more sustainable and resilient world. If you are looking to make a difference, check out the programmes from these four universities:

University of California, Riverside

Source: University of California, Riverside

University of California, Riverside’s Department of Botany & Plant Sciences works hard to meet the ever-changing needs of California’s US$27 billion agricultural industry. “Our mission is to conduct cutting-edge research in plant biology to advance fundamental scientific knowledge and solve critical issues for the state of California, and to educate and train graduate and undergraduate students to become science professionals and informed global citizens,” says Patricia Springer, chair of the department.

Students who embark on a Bachelor of Science (or Arts) degree in Plant Biology build a strong foundation in the modern principles and research practices of basic plant biology, in addition to any area of specialisation. You will receive training in general life sciences with a specialisation in plant biology. The Plant Biology major includes options to specialise in Plant Cellular, Molecular, and Developmental Biology; Plant Genetics, Breeding, and Biotechnology; Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics; Plant Pathology, Nematology and Pest Management; or an Individualised Specialisation.

The Plant Biology major is personalised with a small class size, ensuring that you have many opportunities for interaction with faculty, who are involved in cutting-edge research. All students have the chance to join the faculty in their pursuit of creating new knowledge; in fact, it is required for the major. This gives you the hands-on knowledge necessary — and with sustainability in mind — under the guiding hand of experienced educators. The Center for Plant Cell Biology (CEPCEB) provides research experience for students in two and four-year colleges, providing insight into future career options in the field. All of this will ensure you have the required training and skills for employment for a career in science. Some job outcomes for graduates include medical school or other health professions.

The master’s and PhD options available feature interdisciplinary opportunities, tackling tackle both applied and basic research approaches to contemporary and urgent regional, national and international problems in the plant sciences. The department is currently developing a new major in Genetics and Biotechnology.

Arizona State University

Source: Arizona State University

Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences is solving real-world problems with innovative solutions. Quickly becoming a global leader in life science education and discovery, this school trains you to shape the future for life on Earth, spearheading sustainability. We only have one planet after all. As such, the institution has conducted world-class research on bees and other insects and is also a leader in immersive online biology education. 

The School of Life Sciences features nine undergraduate degrees, four minors and certificates, and 19 graduate programmes to choose from. If you are concerned about environmental challenges such as climate change and habitat destruction, check out the Biological Sciences (Conservation Biology and Ecology), BS. This programme combines a biological approach to ecology with a human perspective rooted in the social sciences. 

This helps you develop a comprehensive understanding of what threatens our planet. Those with this degree earn titles such as Climate Change Policy Analysts, Conservation Scientists, Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Zoologists, Wildlife Biologists and more. 

If you’re looking for a more advanced qualification, there is the Environmental Life Sciences, PhD. This collaborative and transdisciplinary degree is suited to critical thinkers. Using new and integrative approaches, you will be prepared to address global change and its consequences, from urban to remote ecosystems.

University of Connecticut

Source: University of Connecticut

The University of Connecticut’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences aims to make meaningful change. With US$57 million in annual research expenditures, it’s been trusted by governments, corporations and organisations to do just that. Researchers leading these important programmes are also the ones heading its Biology Advising Centre, which features five majors, six minors, three biology departments and more than 100 faculty labs. Dedicated to supporting undergraduates who major and minor in the college’s biology programmes, this centre has an academic advising process that supports the development of students into lifelong learners and proactive, critical thinkers.

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) is a standout major in this centre. Choose this major if you have interests in the fields of biodiversity, biological systematics, evolution, ecology, and organismal biology, including the fields of botany, zoology, environmental biology, and conservation biology. To qualify for a BS or BA in EEB, you need a full sequence of introductory biology and general chemistry, but only the BS degree requires calculus and physics.

Some of the courses you can look forward to include Evolutionary Biology, Ornithology, Systematic Botany, Plant Structural Diversity, Writing in Ecology, Developmental Plant Morphology and more. 

More advanced students may opt for the MS in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. This research-based master’s degree was designedin association with a faculty sponsor from the EEB department. There is also a PhD option in this subject, which is completed in association with a faculty sponsor from the EEB department. 

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Source: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

The Department of Plant Biology is one of the oldest academic units at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Under the School of Integrative Biology, this department was established in 1901, with its first PhD degree conferred in 1909. Its mission is to conduct basic and translational research and training in plant biology that integrates across temporal scales and levels of biological organisation. This is the only department on campus that explores the biology of plants from the biochemical and molecular to the ecosystem scale.

The Plant Biology faculty conducts research in one or more of four main categories: ecology and climate change, physiology and development, biochemistry and genetics, systematics and evolution. Made up of a highly inclusive network of collaborations, the department successfully performs integrative research and cooperates to address questions across multiple scales of organisation.

You can choose from the Master of Science and the Doctor of Philosophy. The former has two pathways: a traditional thesis and a non-thesis option. There is also an interdepartmental graduate programme in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology. Studying in this department will allow you to be part of foundational research in plant biology with an integrative focus. You will examine multiple levels of organisation through molecular, biochemical, physiological, morphological, and ecological approaches. 

*Some of the institutions featured in this article are commercial partners of Study International