Microbiologist: Career Profile, Job Outlook, and Education Requirements

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in microbiology. Read on to learn more about career options along with job duties, employment outlook and education information. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Microbiologist?

Microbiologists study tiny organisms such as bacteria, algae and viruses, most often working in a laboratory setting using biotechnology instruments. They conduct detailed research projects and laboratory services to help diagnosis and fight human diseases. This process may involve using cultures of bacteria, identifying various microorganisms in an environment and monitoring the effects of these microorganisms on their surroundings. Electron microscopes and advanced computer software are typically used during this process.

Microbiologists must stay up-to-date on the knowledge and research in the field, as well as be prepared to report and present their findings to the public and scientific community. They may also oversee the work of other technicians and scientists in the lab. The following chart gives you an overview of the education and job outlook for this field.

Degree Required Varies by position and level; bachelor's degree preferred for entry-level positions; master's degree for community college teaching; PhD for independent research and university teaching
Education Field of Study Bachelor's degree: microbiology, chemistry, biology; PhD: microbiology
Key Responsibilities Observing microorganisms; developing antibiotics and/or vaccines; developing data on epidemiology patterns; teaching
Job Growth (2018-2028) 5%*
Average Salary (2018) $71,650*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Can I Expect from a Career as a Microbiologist?

As a microbiologist, you could study the structure and development of viruses or microscopic organisms, such as bacteria, fungi and algae. You may choose a microbiology specialization, such as medical, environmental, agricultural, food or pharmaceutical microbiology. Depending on your specialty, you may study the role that microorganisms play in disease, or how microorganisms affect humans, animals, plants, the environment or the food supply.

You may develop vaccines or antibiotics, identify and classify microorganism specimens, observe how microorganisms affect living and dead tissues, search for ways to control disease epidemics or teach microbiology courses. Some places where you may find employment include colleges and universities, research laboratories and hospitals.

What Kind of Employment Outlook is Predicted?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of microbiologists is expected to increase about as fast as the average between 2018 and 2028, at a rate of 5% (www.bls.gov). This expected increase was due to the growth of the biotechnology industry and growing environmental concerns. If you are interested in basic research, you may face more competition when seeking employment than those who are interested in applied research. You are likely to enjoy job stability, even in economic turndowns, since microbiologists are often involved in long-term research projects.

What Type of Training is Required?

The level of education required of microbiologists can vary greatly. For some positions, you may only need an associate's degree in chemistry or biology, while other openings will require you to earn a PhD in microbiology. However, most positions require that you have at least a bachelor's degree in microbiology, chemistry, biology or a related field (www.aboutbioscience.org). You would typically need a PhD to conduct independent research or teach at the university level, while a master's degree might allow you to teach at the community college level. A bachelor's degree may be the minimum degree needed to work in applied research.

If you choose to earn a graduate degree, you will most likely need to conduct research and prepare a thesis or dissertation. You may also be required to gain teaching experience. You can expect a master's degree program to last two years and a PhD program to last 4-6 years. Advanced degree programs in microbiology usually allow you to choose an area of specialization, such as virology, environmental microbiology, immunology, molecular genetics or microbial ecology.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A similar career that requires a bachelor's degree is a biological technician. Biological technicians help scientists conduct lab experiments and tests. One could also pursue a master's degree to become an epidemiologist. These professionals work in public health to study the cause of disease and try to help reduce the risk of that disease reaching the public. A medical scientist is another alternative career, and they perform research in order to prevent and treat diseases in hopes to improve human health. Medical scientists need a doctoral or professional degree.

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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