Microbiology

Microbiology explores the composition, behavior and structure of microscopic organisms. Learn about occupations for this field, salary information, educational requirements and areas of study.

Is Microbiology for Me?

Career Summary

Microbiology is a biological science involving the study of organisms that are too small to be seen without a microscope. These organisms include bacteria, viruses and yeast, as well as algae and fungi. The microbiologist studies these organisms in an effort to make scientific advancements that are beneficial to society.

Specializations

Most microbiologists work in basic or applied research in the lab setting. Basic research in microbiology has no exact aim other than to increase the existing knowledge about microorganisms. Applied research is conducted with a specific goal in mind, such as discovering a cure for AIDS or learning how to counter threats, such as food-borne illnesses. Microbiologists generally specialize in one of several categories, a few of which are virology, immunology and industrial microbiology.

Employment Options

Some examples of job titles in microbiology include biological technician, genetic engineer, sales representative for a pharmaceutical or agricultural company, environmental consultant, ecologist, food inspector or professor. You may also work in applied research, product development or inspection. There are some positions available if you have a microbiology bachelor's degree, but according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most employers will require a master's degree or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), especially for research and faculty positions in the university setting (www.bls.gov).

Job Outlook and Salary Statistics

According to the BLS, the median annual wage for microbiologists, as of May 2012, was $66,260. It was also reported that employment of microbiologists was predicted to grow slower than the average for all occupations at 7% for the 2012-2022 decade. This is due, in part, to the decrease of government research funding. In the same reporting period, biological technicians earned a median annual wage of $39,750, with employment expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations, at 10%.

How Can I Work in Microbiology?

Undergraduate Education

If you're interested in being a microbiology technician, a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology degree will generally be sufficient. You may expect to take classes in physics, genetics, math, chemistry and biochemistry as you learn to describe the structure of organisms and their processes of reproduction, growth and death at the cellular and molecular levels. A bachelor's degree is good preparation for a graduate school education in bioengineering, microbiology or biochemistry.

Graduate Studies

If you're interested in conducting basic or applied research in the laboratory setting or teaching at the university level, a Ph.D. in Microbiology will usually be necessary. You will take core courses in areas such as genetics and genomics, as well as required courses such as biochemistry, biostatistics, microbial physiology and ecology, bioterrorism and microbial risk assessment. The Ph.D. program is rigorous and requires passing formal written and oral exams, as well as writing and defending a dissertation.

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