How To Become a Microbiologist (With Steps and FAQs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 31 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Microbiology is a broad scientific field that focuses on the study of microorganisms and their effects and functions within the environment. Microbiologists can specialise in a variety of concentrations that provide career opportunities in research, health care and education. Learning more about this career path and how to become a microbiologist could help you decide if it's right for you. In this article, we explain what a microbiologist is, what they do and how you can become one, and we provide the answers to some frequently asked questions about this career.

Related: What Does a Biologist Do? (Including FAQs)

What is a microbiologist?

Microbiologists study characteristics, life cycles and other aspects of microscopic organisms, including bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. Many microbiologists work in scientific research areas. They may specialise in a discipline of microbiology where they work to understand the behaviour and effects of microorganisms on the environment and other organisms, including animals and people.

What does a microbiologist do?

A microbiologist may complete a range of job responsibilities, depending on their specific field of study within microbiology. Some of their common duties include the following:

  • Examining and classifying microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi

  • Collecting and testing biological samples to identify the organisms

  • Applying microbiology knowledge to create safer environments

  • Collaborating with other scientists to prevent the spread of microbes in food production and health care settings

  • Separating and storing organisms to prevent contamination

  • Planning experiments and conducting research using microorganisms

  • Writing research reports and scientific articles

  • Presenting findings at scientific conferences

How to become a microbiologist

If you would like to know how to become a microbiologist, consider following the steps:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

The first step in becoming a microbiologist is earning a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. Consider majoring in a relevant field, such as biology, biochemistry or microbiology, depending on what your university offers. Microbiologists often use a broad understanding of the scientific process, and they may use math and computer programs to record and monitor their data. Consider taking some of the following classes to help you develop your industry knowledge and technical skills:

  • Microbial genetics

  • Microbial physiology

  • Environmental microbiology

  • Biochemistry

  • Chemistry

  • Physics

  • Statistics

  • Math

  • Computer science

2. Complete a master's degree program

You may be able to begin your microbiology career with a bachelor's degree, but many positions require advanced education. Consider earning a master's program in a relevant field to help you qualify for advanced positions. You may apply for degree programs in microbiology or a specialisation, such as medical microbiology. These programs typically take two years to complete, although you may pursue part-time options which may take longer.

3. Consider earning a doctorate

If you're interested in a research or academic role, you may need a doctorate in microbiology. Consider continuing your education by applying for doctorate programs in your area. While earning a doctorate, you may research with other scientists. This can help you develop specialised skills in an area of microbiology, such as virology or environmental microbiology.

4. Gain professional experience

During your education or as a recent graduate, consider gaining professional experience. This can help you develop your skills further and qualify for advanced positions. Consider applying for one of the following positions:

  • Lab technician

  • Research assistant

  • Lab associate

  • Lab analyst

Related: How To Show Work Experience on Your Resume (With Example and Tips)

5. Consider joining a professional society

Once you've gained a few years of relevant experience in the field, consider joining a professional society. Microbiologists may join the Australian Society of Microbiologists (ASM). To join at the professional level, applicants can submit proof of relevant education and show evidence of at least two years of postgraduate work in microbiology.

A professional society is optional, but it can help you develop your network, build connections and advance your career. The ASM offers online and in-person conferences, an online community and other benefits for microbiologists. This can help you stay updated on the latest research and find other scientists to collaborate with when planning your next research project.

Related: Professional Development Opportunities: Definition and FAQs

Frequently asked questions about becoming a microbiologist

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about this career path:

How much does a microbiologist make?

The national average salary for microbiologists is $69,454 per year. Your salary can vary depending on your geographic location, education and experience. Your specialisation and work environment may also affect your income.

What skills does a microbiologist use?

Microbiologists use a variety of technical and soft skills to complete their daily tasks. Here are some important skills they may use:

  • Communication: Microbiologists can use verbal communication skills to share ideas with other scientists, ask questions and present their findings. They may also use written communication skills to create effective reports, journals and papers documenting their findings.

  • Organisational skills: A microbiologist may collect, store and maintain biological samples. They can use organisational skills to keep their samples and data neat and safely contained.

  • Analytical reasoning: Microbiologists analyse data to create scientific hypotheses and predictions. They can use analytical reasoning to apply their knowledge to create solutions and new production or storage methods.

  • Technical knowledge: Microbiologists use a variety of technical skills and scientific knowledge to perform their daily tasks, such as using computer software and operating a microscope. They also use specialise science knowledge to identify and classify microorganisms.

Read more: Definition and Examples of Analytical Skills

What specialisations can a microbiologist research?

Microbiologists may research a subsection of microbiology. Here are some of the common specialisations you may explore:

Virology

Microbiologists who work in virology dedicate their careers to the study of viruses and their effects on the environment. These professionals, called virologists, may complete a variety of job duties, including performing research, analysing experimental results and handling viral pathogens to test theories and hypotheses. They may also present their research findings to committees, public health officials and other agents involved with virological research and developments.

Bacteriology

Bacteriologists are microbiologists who specialise in studying bacteria. They study the growth, development and effects of different types of bacteria. Their duties may include collecting and analysing bacterial samples, conducting experiments on specimens and presenting their findings to professionals in the food or health industries.

Immunology

Microbiologists who become immunologists perform many duties that focus on the study and understanding of the human immune system and how it functions. Immunologists typically work in clinical settings to study, diagnose and treat immune system conditions and disorders. They may work to understand and treat conditions like autoimmune disorders, severe allergies and asthma.

Parasitology

Parasitology is the study of parasites. Microbiologists who specialise in parasitology study the life cycle, infestation and genetic aspects of microscopic parasites. Parasitologists can work in clinical settings to study, diagnose and treat parasitic infections in patients. They may also contribute to studies on these microorganisms to improve patient outcomes and public health.

What is the typical work environment for microbiologists?

Microbiologists can find work in a variety of different scientific and clinical environments, depending on their specialisation. Common settings microbiologists may work in can include:

Research laboratories

Many microbiologists work in research laboratories where they plan and conduct experiments. They may conduct studies in medicine, environmental developments or public health. Microbiologists who work in research facilities may work for the government, nonprofit or private agencies.

Clinical laboratories

Microbiologists who work in clinical settings, such as virologists, immunologists and epidemiologists, often perform research in clinical laboratories to test potential treatment options. They may also analyse disease prevention techniques. For instance, in a clinical setting, an epidemiologist may work with new vaccines to research the effects and outcomes of the medication on microorganisms that cause disease.

Environmental study organisations

Microbiologists who work in environmental studies perform research and observations about how organisms like bacteria and fungus interact within the environment. This concentration of microbiology focuses on both the interactions of microorganisms and how they interact with processes within the environment like pollution, climate changes and other environmental processes. Microbiologists who work in environmental research can work both in the lab and out in the environment to perform their jobs.

Food industry organisations

In the food industry, microbiologists may find work across different settings, such as government agencies, non-profits and private research organisations. These microbiologists work with the food supply that grocery stores, restaurants or other vendors and suppliers sell to the public to ensure these items are free of pathogenic and disease-causing microorganisms that could affect public health. Food industry microbiologists help ensure that the food that customers purchase is safe.

Universities

Microbiologists can work in the education industry. They may teach at the university level, working in academic research labs and documenting their findings. These positions typically require advanced education, such as a doctorate.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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