How Do I Become a Phycologist?

A phycologist is a research scientist who specializes in algae and cyanobacteria (often known as blue-green algae). Read ahead to learn more about the career path, including job duties, degrees programs, the work environment and earnings in this field. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Phycologist Do?

Phycology is the study of algae, or microscopic photosynthetic organisms that play a major role in many aquatic ecosystems. Phycology might be grouped either under microbiology or botany, due to the uniqueness of these organisms. Phycologists handle complicated experiments to learn about the properties of algae, where it is found, and what benefit or harm it might cause in various environments.

As a working phycologist, you'll primarily be responsible for collecting samples of algae and studying them to determine how they affect the ecosystem. You'll spend much of your time working outdoors to collect samples of algae near rivers, oceans and lakes. You'll also take accurate reports of your findings, recording how different types of algae change in their environments over time.

Many phycologists also spend a great deal of time conducting experiments with algae in controlled laboratory settings. For example, you may devise experiments to determine how different types of algae react to different environmental conditions or to learn about the molecular structures of algae. The table below has information about becoming a phycologist.

Degree Required Master's degree at minimum; Ph.D. recommended
Education Field of Study Phycology
Key Duties Sampling, studying and testing algae
Job Growth (2018-2028) 5%* (all types of microbiologists)
Median Salary (2018) $79,590* (all types of microbiologists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Education Will I Need?

Phycology is a field related to advanced scientific research. If you're interested in pursuing a long-term career in the subject, you should strongly consider earning a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or at least a master's degree in phycology. Most such programs have the broad aim of providing students with the means to accumulate and analyze knowledge in a scientific field. As a graduate student, you'll study principles of ecology and phycology, but also learn how to interpret your studies to advance the collective knowledge of the subject.

Where Will I Work?

Once you become a specialist in the field of algae, you might obtain a research position at a college or university. In such a scenario, you'll be responsible for conducting research into the properties and genetic makeup of different types of algae. You might also have some teaching responsibilities. As a phycologist, you could pursue a position working directly within the private industry. Some agribusiness companies or water treatment facilities hire phycologists to try to create renewable sources of energy from algae. Some phycologists also work to develop new food products for private businesses.

What Kind of Salary Can I Expect?

Phycology is a field comprised of biological scientists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, biological scientists, such as botanists and microbiologists (both groups are denoted by the BLS as studying algae), held about 21,700 jobs in the country in 2018 ( While many of these professionals worked for government agencies, others worked for universities and scientific research services. As of 2018, the median annual salary for microbiologists was $79,590.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Within the field of microbiology alone, there are a wide range of interesting careers. Like phycologists, many study a specialized type of organism: bacteria for bacteriologists, fungi for mycologists, parasites for parasitologists, and viruses for virologists. Scientists in each of these specialties study the development, structure, and properties of their respective organisms, and how these organisms affect other, larger living things.

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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