How To Become A Microbiologist
Career Video: Microbiologist
Are you interested in science, especially microorganisms and their impact on our world? Do you enjoy studying organism systems to understand how each influences the other? Are you meticulous, technical, and concerned with quality control? Do you have a desire to use your talents and interests to improve environments, the health of living organisms, and the products humans need to thrive? If you would love to work in a laboratory setting, with various microorganisms, to solve many complex scientific problems, then a career as a microbiologist might be perfect for you.
Why Become A Microbiologist
Microbiologists are concerned with microorganisms and how they interact with various environments, including animals, plants, and humans. They study viruses, bacteria, fungi, algae, and parasites, learning more about their emergence, growth, death, and how they live. Their main objective is to conduct research that informs the public and scientific community about microorganisms. Microbiologists conduct research to answer scientific inquiries, and they also conduct applied research to create solutions to known problems. Their research can address a number of issues, such as testing disinfectants and medications used to prevent and treat diseases; creating alternative fuels that are more environmentally safe; delineating the behavior of particular strains of viruses and bacteria; and much more.
Besides planning and conducting research, microbiologists also perform various laboratory services, organize information and create technical reports regarding their findings, and present their findings to colleagues, students, other types of scientists, non-scientific professionals, and the public. It is not uncommon for microbiologists to work with other types of scientists and other professionals, such as biochemists, biophysicists, medical scientists, and healthcare workers.
Microbiologists must be able to utilize and maintain various types of equipment, like specific computer software and advanced laboratory tools. They should also encompass numerous skills and qualities to ensure safety and scientific validity throughout their work:
- Aptitude for science and mathematics
- Excellent communication skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking)
- Critical thinking skills
- Evaluative judgment
- Active learner
- Understanding of systems operations
- Quality control analysis
- Time management
Microbiologist Work Environment
Most of the work of microbiologists occurs in sterile laboratory settings that rely upon strict safety standards and scientifically maintained environments. Microbiologists also work in offices, at institutions of higher education, and for various companies who create and produce goods for the public. Beyond laboratory research (applied or basic), they can work as professors or in the field, collecting samples from various water sources. About a quarter of all microbiologists work in research and development, while nearly 20 percent work in the pharmaceutical industry. Small percentages of microbiologists work for federal and state governments, as well as colleges, universities, and professional schools.
Regardless of their industry or position, most microbiologists work fulltime, during normal business hours. Researchers who rely upon grants for their research funding typically adhere to strict deadlines.
In 2014, the median annual salary for a microbiologist was $67,790. Microbiologists who work for the federal government usually make quite a bit more than this, with an average salary of $98,300, per year. Those working in the research and development industry, as well as the pharmaceutical industry, will see salaries comparable to the median annual salary for all microbiologists.
Microbiologists who work for universities, colleges, and other professional schools will typically earn less than the national average, at about $49,590, per year. The salary range for microbiologists, which is contingent upon experience, education, and industry, is from $38,830 to $125,000.
Average Microbiologist Salary
- Executive microbiologists (Top 10%) earn $128,190 ($61.63 an hour)
- Senior microbiologists (Top 25%) earn $97,050 ($46.66 an hour)
- Mid Level microbiologists (Median) pay is $66,850 ($32.14 an hour)
- Junior of microbiologists (Bottom 25%) earn $48,920 ($23.52 an hour)
- Entry Level of microbiologists (Bottom 10%) earn $39,480 ($18.98 an hour)
Microbiologist Salary By State
|Rank||State||Hourly Rate||Annual Salary|
|#1||District of Columbia||$54.62||$113,600|
Microbiologist Career Outlook
Due to budgetary constraints in the federal government, the job growth for this occupation is slower than most, at 4 percent. Although the work of microbiologists is needed more than ever to solve complex issues, funding for projects and hiring within the government is limited.
Regardless of this outlook, microbiologists are necessary to meet a wide range of goals. From medicines and vaccines, to bio-fuels and food production, the work of a microbiologist is not only necessary for efficiency but important to the survival of many species. Advances in medical research, agriculture, and green technologies should make this an advantageous field to enter, albeit competitive.
Microbiologists need at least a bachelor’s degree to work in the field, which includes most entry-level positions. Employers desire advanced research experience, which may require additional training or education. Individuals who wish to work in a collegiate position or in independent research will need a Ph.D.
Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree. Although a bachelor’s degree in microbiology is the most common and helpful to procure, programs in biochemistry, cell biology, and other biological sciences will provide the adequate training needed to become a microbiologist. Typical courses should include general classes in biochemistry, physics, chemistry, statistics, mathematics, and computer science. Microbiologists must also have more field-specific training in microbial physics, microbial genetics, environmental microbiology, and virology. English courses, especially technical writing, are essential to communicate and understand research findings.
Laboratory experience is fundamental to the aspiring microbiologist, which is a part of most undergraduate coursework. However, most experience comes from post-graduate internships and studies. Many prospective employers will provide internship opportunities.
Step 2: Obtain a doctorate degree. Only microbiologists who wish to work as an independent researcher or professor must have a Ph.D. However, many microbiologists may seek an advanced degree, even a master’s degree, to help them become more competitive and attain better benefits. Most often, people enter microbiology-related doctorate programs directly from undergraduate programs.
Most Ph.D. candidates will conduct university research under supervision and will specialize in a subfield, like immunology. Postdoctoral microbiologists must publish several research findings in order to acquire a full-time university position.