Microbiologist Job Description

Salary: $47,900 – $90,600 Number of Jobs: 16,850
Hourly Rate: $23.04 – $43.55 Employment Outlook: Normal
Green Job: No Education: Doctoral degree

What do Microbiologists do?

Microbiologists study microscopic organisms such as algae, bacteria, yeasts, viruses, and fungi. Some microbiologists are interested only in learning more about how these organisms behave (for science!), while others try to develop new products or solve specific problems.

Microbiologists normally work with very advanced laboratory equipment (like electron microscopes) to study organisms. In the office, they use sophisticated software to analyze the results of their experiments.

There are many different problems that microbiologists try to solve, and many of them have a huge impact on society as a whole. For example, some work on ways that they can help the environment by developing biofuels or improved methods of growing crops. Others develop new medicines and vaccines that can help treat or prevent diseases.

In many cases, microbiologists need to work on a team with experts from other disciplines. While working on a new medicine, for example, they may need to work with biochemists or medical scientists to develop a solution that best solves a particular problem.

Because microbiology is such a massive field, most microbiologists choose to specialize in studying a particular type of organism. As an example, some choose to focus their careers on studying viruses. These specialists are called virologists.

Many microbiologists work for the federal government, normally focusing on public health. They try to prevent serious health risks like food poisoning, pollution, and epidemics. They spend much of their time testing samples to identify problems that can put the public at a health risk.

If you have a passion for science and want to have a career where you can make a positive impact on society or the environment, then microbiology might the right occupation for you.

Work Environment and Schedule

Most microbiologists work for research and development firms, pharmaceutical manufacturers, colleges and universities, and the federal government.

Microbiologists normally split their time between a laboratory and an office. In the laboratory, they conduct experiments, and in the office they analyze the results. To aid in their analysis, microbiologists often use advanced statistical and modeling software.

Some microbiologists work with dangerous organisms, and have to take many safety precautions to keep themselves healthy and safe. This not generally a dangerous occupation, though, as the risks can all be minimized by using safe procedures.

This can be a stressful occupation at times, particularly when deadlines approach. Basic researchers sometimes work under great pressure to deliver results on a tight schedule, and often need to get grants that will fund their research.

Most microbiologists work full time, and are able to work pretty regular hours. However, working overtime as a deadline approaches is very common.

How to Become a Microbiologist

To get an entry level position as a microbiologist, you will need to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in microbiology or a very closely related field (such as biochemistry).

Microbiology programs normally start off by teaching students the basics of microbial genetics and physiology, before moving on to more advanced subjects like virology or environmental microbiology. Most microbiology majors also take courses in other sciences like physics and chemistry. A strong mathematical background (particularly in statistics) and computer science is very beneficial as well.

Extensive experience working in a laboratory setting is desired by most employers. Microbiologists spend a lot of time in the lab during their coursework, but you should still try to get an internship if possible. If you’re interested in pursuing an internship, you should stop by your university’s career center.

If you want to work in a research position, you will need to get a Ph.D. in microbiology or a subfield (like virology). Ph.D. programs normally take 4-6 years to complete, and include extensive classwork, independent research, and the completion of a dissertation or thesis.

After earning a Ph.D., many graduates choose to start off their career with a temporary postdoctoral research position. These positions normally last for about three years, and allow them the opportunity to work with advanced scientists as they continue to develop their area of specialty and publish their findings.

If you want to work as a professor at a university, published research is almost always a requirement.

Related Occupations

Employment Outlook

There are currently 16,850 microbiologists in the United States, with 750 new microbiologist job openings created each year.

Microbiologist jobs are not expected to see much growth beyond their current levels in the next decade.

Microbiologist Salaries

Overall Salaries

Microbiologist salaries can vary depending on your experience, the location, company, industry, and benefits provided. Nationwide, most microbiologists make between $47,900 – $90,600 per year, or $23.04 – $43.55 per hour.

Updated: 09/02/2017