How Do I Become a Microbiologist?

Microbiologists may study diseases, environmental hazards and the human body. Read on to learn more about career opportunities, degree programs and potential wages in this field. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Microbiologist?

Microbiologists conduct intricate research to discover how microorganisms, such as viruses and parasites, function and grow. They may analyze specimens from plants, animals and humans. They use their findings to develop drug protocols and sterilization procedures. They use advanced technology, such as electron microscopes.

What Will I Do as a Microbiologist?

As a microbiologist, your work involves the study of microorganisms. These organisms are often too small to view without a microscope. You may be involved in basic or applied research; basic research is intended to strengthen human understanding of microorganisms, while applied research is focused on solving a particular problem, such as curing a disease. Your work will primarily take place in a laboratory, though you might spend time outside of the lab collecting samples or writing papers.

Get Your Degree

A bachelor's or master's degree in microbiology might qualify you for an entry-level position as a research assistant. In these programs, you'll study the general concepts of microbiology in the classroom as well as the laboratory. Courses may cover infectious diseases, microbial genetics and ecology. Bachelor's programs usually include courses in basic biology and chemistry. You'll usually need to write a research-based thesis paper in order to earn a master's degree.

Completion of a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program may qualify you for an independent research or college-level teaching job. Ph.D. programs typically include lecture-based courses and extensive laboratory work. Possible topics of study include bioinformatics, prokaryotic biology and environmental microbiology. You'll need to write a doctoral dissertation in order to earn your Ph.D.

Look for a Job

Most microbiologists specialize in a particular area of interest. For example, if you focus on the study of viruses, you'll be a virologist; you could work as an immunologist who analyzes disease-causing microorganisms and how they affect the human body. If you're interested in bacteria, you might work as a bacteriologist.

Regardless of your specialization, you may work for a college or university, a private business or a government agency. Possible employers in the private sector include pharmaceutical companies who hire microbiologists to develop medicines that combat diseases. Government jobs at the federal and state level may involve biotechnology research.

What Might I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), microbiologists earned a median annual wage of $67,550 in 2015 (www.bls.gov). The highest concentration of microbiologists were employed in the scientific research and development industry, where the annual mean wage was $84,730. Microbiologists employed in the Federal Executive Branch in 2015 earned an annual mean salary of $104,210, as reported by the BLS. Maryland and the District of Columbia were the highest-paying locations for microbiologists, followed by Georgia, California and Connecticut.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Similar to a microbiologist, careers as agricultural and food scientists, biological technicians, and natural sciences managers all deal with researching and analyzing certain biological aspects of specimens and require a bachelor's degree. Agricultural and food scientists develop ways to improve and maintain food supply. Biological technicians prepare documents, equipment and samples for medical and biological scientists. Natural sciences managers oversee the quality of research and development projects in the field.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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  • Vanderbilt University

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