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Microbiologists study microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites. They try to understand how these organisms live, grow, and interact with their environments.Duties
Microbiologists typically do the following:
Many microbiologists work in research and development conducting basic research or applied research. The aim of basic research is to increase scientific knowledge. An example is growing strains of bacteria in various conditions to learn how they react to those conditions. Other microbiologists conduct applied research and develop new products to solve particular problems. For example, microbiologists may develop genetically engineered crops, better biofuels, or new vaccines.
Microbiologists use computers and a wide variety of sophisticated laboratory instruments to do their experiments. Electron microscopes are used to study bacteria, and advanced computer software is used to analyze the growth of microorganisms found in samples.
It is increasingly common for microbiologists to work on teams with technicians and scientists in other fields, because many scientific research projects involve multiple disciplines. Microbiologists may work with medical scientists or biochemists while researching new drugs, or they may work in medical diagnostic laboratories alongside physicians and nurses to help prevent, treat, and cure diseases. For more information, see the profiles on biochemists and biophysicists, physicians and surgeons, and registered nurses.
The following are examples of types of microbiologists:
Bacteriologists study the growth, development, and other properties of bacteria, including the positive and negative effects that bacteria have on plants, animals, and humans.
Clinical microbiologists perform a wide range of clinical laboratory tests on specimens collected from plants, humans, and animals to aid in detection of disease. Clinical and medical microbiologists whose work involves directly researching human health may be classified as medical scientists.
Environmental microbiologists study the ways in which microorganisms interact with the environment. They may study the use of microbes to clean up areas contaminated by heavy metals or study how microbes could aid crop growth.
Industrial microbiologists study and solve problems related to industrial production processes. They may examine microbial growth found in the pipes of a chemical factory, monitor the impact industrial waste has on the local ecosystem, or oversee the microbial activities used in cheese production to ensure quality.
Mycologists study the properties of fungi such as yeast and mold, as well as the ways fungi can be used (for example, in food or the environment) to benefit society.
Parasitologists study the life cycle of parasites, the parasite-host relationship, and how parasites adapt to different environments. They may investigate the outbreak and control of parasitic diseases such as malaria.
Public health microbiologists examine specimens in order to track, control, and prevent communicable diseases and other health hazards. They typically provide laboratory services for local health departments and community health programs.
Virologists study the structure, development, and other properties of viruses and any effects viruses have on infected organisms.
Many people with a microbiology background become high school teachers or postsecondary teachers.
A bachelor’s degree in microbiology or a closely related field is needed for entry-level microbiologist jobs. A Ph.D. is needed to carry out independent research and to work in universities.Education
Microbiologists need at least a bachelor’s degree in microbiology or a closely related field such as biochemistry or cell biology. Many colleges and universities offer degree programs in biological sciences, including microbiology.
Most microbiology majors take core courses in microbial genetics and microbial physiology and elective classes such as environmental microbiology and virology. Students also must take classes in other sciences, such as biochemistry, chemistry, and physics, because it is important for microbiologists to have a broad understanding of the sciences. Courses in statistics, mathematics, and computer science are important for microbiologists because they must be able to do complex data analysis.
It is important for prospective microbiologists to have laboratory experience before entering the workforce. Most undergraduate microbiology programs include a mandatory laboratory requirement, but additional laboratory coursework is recommended. Students also can gain valuable laboratory experience through internships with prospective employers such as drug manufacturers.
Microbiologists typically need a Ph.D. to carry out independent research and work in colleges and universities. Graduate students studying microbiology commonly specialize in a subfield such as bacteriology or immunology. Ph.D. programs usually include class work, laboratory research, and completing a thesis or dissertation.Training
Many microbiology Ph.D. holders begin their careers in temporary postdoctoral research positions. During their postdoctoral appointment, they work with experienced scientists as they continue to learn about their specialties and develop a broader understanding of related areas of research.
Postdoctoral positions typically offer the opportunity to publish research findings. A solid record of published research is essential to getting a permanent college or university faculty position.Important Qualities
Communication skills. Microbiologists should be able to effectively communicate their research processes and findings so that knowledge may be applied correctly.
Detail oriented. Microbiologists must be able to conduct scientific experiments and analyses with accuracy and precision.
Interpersonal skills. Microbiologists typically work on research teams and thus must work well with others toward a common goal. Many also lead research teams and must be able to motivate and direct other team members.
Logical-thinking skills. Microbiologists draw conclusions from experimental results through sound reasoning and judgment.
Math skills. Microbiologists regularly use complex mathematical equations and formulas in their work. Therefore, they need a broad understanding of mathematics, including calculus and statistics.
Observation skills. Microbiologists must constantly monitor their experiments. They need to keep a complete, accurate record of their work, noting conditions, procedures, and results.
Perseverance. Microbiological research involves substantial trial and error, and microbiologists must not become discouraged in their work.
Problem-solving skills. Microbiologists use scientific experiments and analysis to find solutions to complex scientific problems.
Time-management skills. Microbiologists usually need to meet deadlines when conducting research and laboratory tests. They must be able to manage time and prioritize tasks efficiently while maintaining their quality of work.Advancement
Microbiologists typically receive greater responsibility and independence in their work as they gain experience. They also gain greater responsibility through certification and higher education. Ph.D. microbiologists usually lead research teams and control the direction and content of projects.
Some microbiologists move into managerial positions, often as natural sciences managers. Those who pursue management careers spend much of their time on administrative tasks such as preparing budgets and schedules.Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Certifications are available for clinical microbiologists and for those who specialize in the fields of food safety and quality and pharmaceuticals and medical devices. They may help workers gain employment in the occupation or advance to new positions of responsibility. Certifications are not mandatory for the majority of work done by microbiologists.
Average Length of Employment
Top Careers Before Microbiologist
Top Careers After Microbiologist
Hispanic or Latino12.4%
Black or African American0.8%
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Michigan State University8.1%
Ohio State University7.1%
University of Florida6.1%
University of Puerto Rico - Humacao5.8%
University of Arizona5.8%
University of Puerto Rico - Mayaguez5.5%
University of South Florida5.2%
Kansas State University5.2%
University of Phoenix5.2%
University of Cincinnati4.9%
Weber State University4.9%
University of Texas at Arlington4.2%
Pennsylvania State University4.2%
University of Georgia4.2%
University of Texas at Austin3.9%
Johns Hopkins University3.9%
North Carolina State University3.6%
Washington State University3.6%
Colorado State University3.6%
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|Job Title||Company||Location||Start Date||Salary|
|Microbiologist||CP Bio, Inc.||Chino, CA||Sep 04, 2014||$120,000|
|Microbiologist||Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/DHHS||Atlanta, GA||Oct 23, 2016||$118,263|
|Microbiologists||Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/DHHS||Atlanta, GA||Oct 24, 2013||$111,138|
|Microbiologists||Azbil Biovigilant, Inc.||Tucson, AZ||Feb 13, 2013||$107,100|
|Microbiologists||Amgen Inc.||Thousand Oaks, CA||Jun 02, 2014||$100,000|
|Microbiologist||Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/DHHS||Atlanta, GA||Oct 05, 2014||$97,869|
|Microbiologist||CP Bio Inc.||Chino, CA||Sep 04, 2013||$96,000|
|Microbiologist||Uchicago Argonne, LLC||Lemont, IL||Jul 01, 2015||$93,072 -
|Microbiologists||Algenol Biofuels Inc.||Fort Myers, FL||Jun 05, 2014||$87,975 -
|Microbiologist||Humurine Technologies Inc.||Sacramento, CA||Feb 21, 2013||$85,000|
|Microbiologists||Humurine Technologies||Sacramento, CA||Jul 14, 2014||$85,000|
|Microbiologists||Kerry Inc.||Beloit, WI||Nov 07, 2013||$84,053|
|Applied Microbiologist||Applied Biotech Industries, Inc.||Belgium, WI||Oct 01, 2013||$84,000|
|Processing Microbiologist||Indigo AG, Inc.||Cambridge, MA||Sep 15, 2016||$82,800|
|Microbiologist||Kaztronix, LLC||Skillman, NJ||Nov 30, 2014||$64,480|
|Microbiologists||Pfizer Inc.||Kalamazoo, MI||Apr 08, 2013||$64,400|
|Microbiologist||Microbiology & Quality Assosciates, Inc.||Concord, CA||Sep 24, 2014||$64,100|
|Microbiologist||Microbiology & Quality Associates, Inc.||Concord, CA||Sep 19, 2014||$64,100|
|Microbiologist||Cobb-Vantress, Inc.||Siloam Springs, AR||Sep 08, 2014||$63,897|
|Microbiologist/Immunologist||Battelle Memorial Institute||Atlanta, GA||Feb 03, 2014||$63,000|
|Microbiologist/Immunologist||Battelle Memorial Institute||Atlanta, GA||Sep 23, 2013||$62,280|
|Microbiologists||Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc.||Ridgefield, CT||Sep 19, 2014||$61,152 -
|Microbiologist||University of Chicago Medical Center||Chicago, IL||Jun 15, 2016||$55,106|
|Microbiologist||New River Medical Group, LLC||Fort Lauderdale, FL||Apr 17, 2013||$55,000|
|Corporate Microbiologist||Sabra Dipping Company LLC||Colonial Heights, VA||Oct 09, 2016||$55,000 -
|Microbiologist||The Pathology Laboratory, APMC||Fort Lauderdale, FL||Oct 01, 2015||$55,000|
|Microbiologist||New River Medical Group, LLC||Fort Lauderdale, FL||Apr 04, 2013||$55,000|
|Microbiologists||International Stem Cell Corporation||Oceanside, CA||Sep 23, 2014||$55,000 -
|Microbiologist||Mycometrics LLC||Monmouth Junction, NJ||Aug 29, 2016||$55,000|
|Microbiologists||Mycometrics, LLC.||Monmouth Junction, NJ||May 26, 2016||$55,000|
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