How to Become a Microbiologist
The world is teeming with invisible life forms going about their merry business, largely unknown to everyone aside from a microbiologist. A microbiologist is a fun guy who studies fungi – and other tiny life forms. In other words, a microbiologist is a scientific professional who studies microscopic organisms. These microorganisms include happy little fellows such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, algae, and fungi of course.
Practical applications of microbiology research span from eco-friendly innovation such as research of microorganisms for the development of biofuels to control and prevention of specific diseases. This guide includes all the microbiologist career info you’ll need to get started on your microbiology career journey.
- Fast Facts
- What is a Microbiologist?
- Key Tasks & Duties
- Work Environments
- Job Outlook & Growth Rate
- Educational Requirements
- Related Degrees
- Related Careers
Microbiologist Fast Facts
|Education Requirements||4-Year Bachelor’s Degree|
|Recommended Degree Programs||B.S. in Marine Biology, B.S. in Conservation Biology|
|Median Salary (2018)||$71,650|
|Microbiologists Employed in U.S. (2018)||21,700|
|Projected Job Openings by 2028||1,100|
|Projected Growth Rate||5% (As fast as average)|
|Other Job Titles||Medical Technologist, Food Scientist, Biosafety Specialist|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018 Wage Data
What is Microbiology?
Microbiology is the branch of scientific study that is concerned with the study of microorganisms. There is a plethora of fields within the world of microbiology. The niche in which you land in this professional realm depends on what type of microorganism you wish to study.
What organisms are studied in this field? There are plenty to choose from. The options include bacteria, archaea, algae, fungi, protozoa, viruses, and parasites of various taxa.
What Does a Microbiologist Do?
Although the specifics of a microbiologist’s duties may vary slightly according to the organism of study, a microbiologist career description includes an overall framework of professional duties expected of a microbiologist. There are also basic personal attributes that will predispose you to such work and essential tools that you will require to excel in your position as a microbiologist. What microbiologists do generally follow these guidelines:
- Plan and execute research projects
- Perform laboratory experiments, the results of which can be applied to the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses
- Supervise the work of biological technicians and similar staff; evaluate the accuracy of the results
- Isolate and maintain cultures of microorganisms for assays
- Identify and classify microorganisms found in specimens collected from humans, plants, animals, and the environment
- Monitor the ecological and biological effects of microorganisms on humans, animals, plants, and the environment
- Review the literature and findings of other researchers and attend conferences
- Prepare technical reports, publish research papers, and make research-based recommendations
- Present research findings to scientists, colleagues, the public, and stakeholders
Equipment you can expect to use as a microbiologist includes computer software for statistical analysis and data visualization, microscopy equipment, as well as a wide range of lab equipment used to perform assays on microorganisms.
Where Do Microbiologists Work?
What can you do with a microbiology degree? Microbiologists can work in many disciples, hence this career can be found in all kinds of institutions. They can work in academic institutions, in either academic or professional research laboratories. Some lesser-known settings for a microbiologist are hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry, water management, and forensic science laboratories. These professionals can also work as teachers or professors in educational institutions of varying levels.
A bacteriologist is a type of micro biologist who studies the properties of bacteria, and their growth and development. The bacteriologist examines the positive and negative effects of bacteria on flora and fauna and develops a scientific perspective on all aspects of this research. This career is extremely important because bacteria are constantly evolving, largely due to human activity, namely, the excessive use of certain products in agriculture and medicine.
A parasitologist is a scientist that works and studies under the umbrella of microbiology, with a focus on parasites. A parasitologist’s research includes the life cycle of parasites, the parasite-host relationship, and the ecology of parasites – specifically, their adaptation to various environments and the evolution of host preference. Parasitologists also study the process of disease outbreaks and research the control of diseases such as malaria.
A microbiologist in virology studies the structure, development, and properties of viruses as well as their interaction with other organisms.
An environmental microbiologist studies how microorganisms interact with each other and with the environment. A practical example of an environmental microbiologist job description is conducting research into how microbes can be used to clean areas contaminated by heavy metals or aid in crop growth.
Microbiologist Job Description
What do microbiologists do? As a microbiologist, the specifics of your job description are in accordance with the niche you fill. Emphasis will be placed on fieldwork, lab work, public speaking, or protocol development based on the specific position you occupy. Let’s take a look at two different careers in microbiology to compare the differences in their scope and focus.
Microbiologist (Infection Preventionist) Job Description
As a microbiologist working in infection prevention, you will be working in the medical field. You will be performing duties such as surveillance, interpretation of data, design for interventions to prevent and control infection outbreaks, development of policies and procedures regarding infection prevention, and education of staff. As a microbiologist in infection prevention, your tasks would be similar to the following:
- Review all IP&C related policies and procedures on a continual basis in order to maintain compliance with all current standards and legislation
- Participate in relevant committees on the practice of infection control and disease prevention
- Conduct surveillance of HAIs on a routine basis and institute outbreak investigations as warranted, using knowledge of microbiology, epidemiology, and infection control
- Education on IP&C issues for members of clinical staff, administrative staff, and volunteers on a routine basis
- Prepare reports of activities related to IP&C (e.g., outbreak investigations, surveillance data) with recommended solutions; present to the involved services and committees
- Prepare healthcare system-wide memoranda on all aspects of IP&C, incorporating the latest guidance from VA, APIC, CDC, TJC, OSHA, and other relevant agencies and organizations
As an infection preventionist, one can expect to travel intermittently for tasks related to the education of healthcare workers and collaboration with organizations and colleagues.
Medical Technologist (Microbiology) Job Description
A medical technologist in microbiology is responsible for the execution, evaluation, interpretation, and validation of laboratory procedures and results. The testing procedures in laboratory experiments are performed on a variety of biological specimens and environmental samples, with the use of manual and automated techniques. This work can be done in a wide range of disciplines, including hematology, immunology, and urinalysis. The career of a medical technologist in microbiology is heavily lab-focused. An example of a medical technologist’s career description is as follows:
- Evaluate the clinical relevance of organisms isolated in the lab; identify those organisms that are clinically significant
- Examine culture media at appropriate intervals after inoculation to determine the presence and characteristics of growth; distinguish between clinically significant pathogens and flora
- Sub-culture organisms from primary culture media in order to appropriate selective media plates
- Perform antibiotic susceptibility testing (AST) on clinically significant pathogens
- Correlate susceptibility results with patterns of susceptibility and resistance to commonly encountered microorganisms; investigate deviations using appropriate methodology
- Process specimens for the determination and identification of mycobacteria
- Identify parasites from clinical specimens, including stool, urine, blood, and sputum
- Respond to telephone inquiries regarding patient specimens and culture results; suggest follow-up testing and/or procedures
What Is the Job Demand for Microbiologists?
The job growth rate for microbiologists is about 4% to 6%, with a current count of about 22,000 employees. By 2028, it is expected that approximately 2,100 jobs will become available. Due to the extensive amount of academic and professional experience needed and the unimpressive employment growth rate over the next decade, a position as a microbiologist is highly competitive.
How Much Does A Microbiologist Earn?
How much does a microbiologist make annually? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the range of microbiologists’ annual salaries is quite wide, with employees earning anywhere between $54,400 and $106,440 annually. Below are examples of employer-specific occupational categories and their corresponding annual salaries.
|Discipline||Average Annual Salary (USD)|
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||$91,180|
|Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing||$60,940|
|State government (to the exclusion of education and hospitals)||$56,130|
|Colleges, universities, vocational schools (state, local, and private)||$54,410|
The BLS concluded that in 2018, the median annual salary for microbiologists was $71,650, with the lowest 10% earning less than $41,820 and the top 10% earning over $133,550. As a microbiologist, regardless of what discipline you are in, you can expect to work regular hours on a full-time schedule.
Microbiologist (Infection Prevention)
Microbiologists in infection prevention can expect to earn an annual salary between $90,512 and $117,669. According to USA Jobs, this position is categorized as a GS12 pay grade and is classified as a full-time, permanent employment position.
Medical Technologist (Microbiology)
As a medical technologist specializing in microbiology, you can expect an annual salary between $53,187 and $69,140. USA Jobs considers this work to fall under a GS9 pay grade with permanent, full-time employment. Microbiologists’ salaries also vary based on the state of residency. Some states with the highest levels of employment of microbiologists are CA, MD, TX, IL, and GA.
|State||Average Annual Salary (USD)|
Microbiologist Education Requirements
At this point, you may be wondering: How do I become a microbiologist? What qualifications do you need to be a microbiologist? About 48% of microbiologists only have a microbiology bachelor’s degree. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t aim for a higher level of education, especially if you wish to earn a higher salary.
17% of microbiologists hold a doctoral degree while 13% have a master’s degree, suggesting that there is more value in hunkering down and pursuing further education when aiming for a career as a microbiologist.
Although many microbiologists only have a B.S., ONET still declares that most of the occupations in this field require graduate school (e.g. M.S., Ph.D.). This means that although you can secure a position related to microbiology with a bachelor’s degree, high-earning and/or permanent positions likely require graduate degrees.
The data suggests that a big proportion of those employed under the umbrella of microbiology may be technicians, which accounts for the large number of respondents with B.S. degrees.
Microbiologist School Requirements
If you are interested in becoming a microbiologist, it is wise to begin your academic preparation early; This work relies heavily on an in-depth understanding of a few different scientific disciplines. What does a microbiologist study? The subjects required for microbiology are:
- Mathematics (arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics)
Aside from taking the appropriate classes, working as a volunteer in a medical or research facility would strengthen your resume and provide you with valuable experience.
Microbiologist College Education Requirements
There is some wiggle room concerning the education needed to become a microbiologist. You can secure an entry-level career as a microbiologist with a B.S. degree; however, if you are seeking a more advanced position then graduate school is probably the way to go. Keep in mind that there will be dramatic differences in income based on your education level. Microbiologist salary with a master’s education vs. a microbiologist salary with a bachelor’s degree will potentially have a variance of thousands of dollars.
A microbiology degree will qualify you for careers that are more specific in scope than others; however, it is not required that you narrow your aim to a microbiology degree while in undergraduate or graduate school. This allows you the freedom to deliberate over your different options.
How Many Years Does it Take to Become a Microbiologist?
How many years does it take to study microbiology, and exactly what education is needed to become a microbiologist? Depending on the level of employment you are aiming for, it can take anywhere between 8 and 16 years to become a microbiologist. This estimate is based on an average of four-years in high school, four-years in an undergraduate college program, two-years in a master’s program, and an average of six-years in a doctoral program.
Graduate programs are optional. There is nothing written in stone regarding how many years it takes to study microbiology; your interest and your pace are determined by your individual preferences and propensities. It is best to obtain your professional experience alongside your academic experience.
Aside from saving time, this will enable you to increase your comprehension of microbiology and facilitate the application of your education in a real-world setting, while preparing you for a future career in microbiology. There are ample internship and volunteer opportunities for college students to begin building their professional backgrounds for future career options.
Microbiologist Undergraduate Degrees
For students who have an interest in microbiology, there are a few different degree options at Unity College that can help you kick start your career. A Bachelor’s in Marine Biology provides students with practical experience both in a modern lab and out in natural settings.
Other relevant degrees include a Bachelor’s in Conservation Biology, B.S. in Earth and Environmental Science, and a Bachelor’s in Marine Biology and Sustainable Aquaculture. Although it is not essential that you focus on a microbiology concentration while pursuing your undergraduate degree, these are great options if you already have a clear idea of your career trajectory.
- B.S in Marine Biology: A Bachelor’s in Marine Biology can make a wide range of career options available to graduates. This program includes an outdoor lab component hosted in various nearby natural settings additional experience in the lab using modern equipment and technology.
- B.S in Conservation Biology: Conservation Biology students are equipped to address critical issues such as biodiversity loss, habitat degradation, invasive species, and global change. This degree prepares students for careers in state, federal, and private environmental agencies, research, or education as well as for continued studies at the graduate level.
- B.S in Earth and Environmental Science: This program features a heavy emphasis on experiential and outdoor learning, rigorous studies in the laboratory, and field skills applied to real-world scenarios.
- B.S. in Marine Biology and Sustainable Aquaculture: Students of this program learn about the biological connections between the world’s oceans, the promise and future of the aquaculture industry, and how we can all contribute to a sustainable marine environment.
Diploma Courses After MSc Microbiology
Continuing your microbiologist education after earning your M.Sc. in microbiology will refine and refresh your knowledge, and strengthen your resume. Some of the courses offered by Unity College that can help reinforce your academic foundation and assist with the application of academics in business and management are:
Careers Related to Microbiology
Similar to the microbiologist, biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles and biological processes of organisms. A doctoral degree is required.
A zoologist or wildlife biologist studies flora and fauna species and their ecosystems. Most positions under this classification require a bachelor’s degree.
Agricultural and Food Scientist
Microbiologists who work in the agricultural industry research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural products. These careers require an academic background ranging from a bachelor’s to a doctoral degree.
Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians
This career is one of the more straightforward applications of a background in microbiology. It involves the collection of samples and the performance of laboratory testing to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other substances. This a position that generally only requires a bachelor’s degree.