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Working As A Research Microbiologist

  • Documenting/Recording Information
  • Updating and Using Relevant Knowledge
  • Analyzing Data or Information
  • Getting Information
  • Making Decisions and Solving Problems
  • $67,000

    Average Salary

What Does A Research Microbiologist Do

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:

  • Plan and conduct complex research projects, such as improving sterilization procedures or developing new drugs to combat infectious diseases
  • Perform laboratory services that are used in the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses
  • Supervise the work of biological technicians and other workers and evaluate the accuracy of their results
  • Isolate and maintain cultures of bacteria or other microorganisms for study
  • Identify and classify microorganisms found in specimens collected from humans, plants, animals, or the environment
  • Monitor the effect of microorganisms on plants, animals, other microorganisms, or the environment
  • Keep up with current knowledge by reviewing the findings of other researchers and by attending conferences
  • Prepare technical reports, publish research papers, and make recommendations based on their research findings
  • Present research findings to scientists, nonscientist executives, engineers, other colleagues, and the public

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.

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How To Become A Research Microbiologist

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.

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Average Length of Employment
Research Biologist 4.1 years
Research Scientist 3.8 years
Microbiologist 3.0 years
Research Associate 2.6 years
Research Fellow 2.4 years
Top Careers Before Research Microbiologist
Researcher 3.3%
Internship 2.5%
Chemist 2.0%
Top Careers After Research Microbiologist
Scientist 10.1%
Supervisor 3.4%
Consultant 3.4%
Director 3.4%

Do you work as a Research Microbiologist?

Average Yearly Salary
$67,000
Show Salaries
$41,000
Min 10%
$67,000
Median 50%
$67,000
Median 50%
$67,000
Median 50%
$67,000
Median 50%
$67,000
Median 50%
$67,000
Median 50%
$67,000
Median 50%
$110,000
Max 90%
Best Paying Company
USDA
Highest Paying City
Los Angeles, CA
Highest Paying State
California
Avg Experience Level
4.2 years
How much does a Research Microbiologist make at top companies?
The national average salary for a Research Microbiologist in the United States is $67,750 per year or $33 per hour. Those in the bottom 10 percent make under $41,000 a year, and the top 10 percent make over $110,000.

The largest raises come from changing jobs.

See what's out there.

Real Research Microbiologist Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Senior Research Microbiologist U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Jan 21, 2013 $190,365
Senior Research Microbiologist U. S. Environmental Protection Agency Jan 21, 2011 $190,365
Research Microbiologist Jeffrey Steinberg M.D. Sep 01, 2014 $105,000
Research Microbiologist Indigo AG, Inc. Sep 15, 2016 $80,000
Research Microbiologist Indigo AG, Inc. Sep 25, 2016 $80,000
Research Microbiologist USDA, ARS, NADC May 10, 2011 $71,102
Research Microbiologist USDA, Agricultural Research Service Dec 01, 2010 $64,729
Research Microbiologist Dept. Agriculture, ARS Jul 01, 2010 $62,467
Research Microbiologist USDA, ARS, NADC Oct 01, 2010 $59,631
Research Microbiologist USDA/Agricultural Research Service Feb 09, 2016 $59,246
Research Microbiologist Brentwood Biomedical Research Institute, Inc. Apr 25, 2014 $59,085
Research Microbiologist USDA, Agricultural Research Service Nov 08, 2009 $59,083
Research Microbiologist USDA/ARS Jan 15, 2012 $57,408
Research Microbiologist USDA, ARS, Ncaur Mar 27, 2011 $57,408
Research Microbiologist U.S. Department of Agriculture, ARS Dec 20, 2009 $56,411
Research Microbiologist U.S. Department of Agriculture, ARS Oct 12, 2009 $56,411
Research Microbiologist Brentwood Biomedical Research Institute, Inc. Apr 25, 2011 $54,500

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Top Skills for A Research Microbiologist

  1. Lab Equipment
  2. Microbiology
  3. Cell Culture
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Interacted with superiors daily to manage individual projects, communicate results, and oversee general maintenance of lab equipment and conditions
  • Formulated and qualified media required for the production and testing of biological indicators in microbiology lab.
  • Spiral plating of cell cultures for colony count.
  • Arranged and ran molecular testing, including: DNA extraction, ELISA, PCR, electrophoresis, and SDS-PAGE.
  • Provided guidance on microbiological requirement including preservative recommendations, necessary microbiological testing and stability requirements.

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Average Salary:

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Top 10 Best States for Research Microbiologists

  1. California
  2. Oregon
  3. Maryland
  4. West Virginia
  5. Georgia
  6. Louisiana
  7. Rhode Island
  8. Massachusetts
  9. Oklahoma
  10. Alaska
  • (1,392 jobs)
  • (80 jobs)
  • (211 jobs)
  • (37 jobs)
  • (145 jobs)
  • (40 jobs)
  • (25 jobs)
  • (820 jobs)
  • (22 jobs)
  • (18 jobs)

Research Microbiologist Demographics

Gender

Female

48.1%

Male

43.8%

Unknown

8.1%
Ethnicity

White

56.0%

Asian

15.7%

Hispanic or Latino

12.3%

Black or African American

11.3%

Unknown

4.7%
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Foreign Languages Spoken

German

33.3%

Spanish

20.0%

French

13.3%

Turkish

6.7%

Bosnian

6.7%

Serbian

6.7%

Italian

6.7%

Croatian

6.7%
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Research Microbiologist Education

Schools

University of Georgia

10.3%

Iowa State University

7.7%

Illinois Institute of Technology

7.7%

North Carolina State University

5.1%

University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

5.1%

University of South Carolina - Columbia

5.1%

California State University - Fullerton

5.1%

Ohio State University

5.1%

Christian Brothers University

5.1%

Johns Hopkins University

5.1%

Brenau University

5.1%

Bridgewater State University

5.1%

University of Maryland - Baltimore

5.1%

Northeastern University

5.1%

University of Maryland - College Park

5.1%

Brown University

2.6%

University of Connecticut

2.6%

University of Florida

2.6%

University of Baltimore

2.6%

University of the Pacific

2.6%
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Majors

Microbiology

25.2%

Biology

20.0%

Biochemistry, Biophysics, Molecular Biology

8.7%

Business

5.2%

Chemistry

4.3%

Genetics

3.5%

Biotechnology

3.5%

Food Science

3.5%

Medicine

2.6%

Elementary Education

2.6%

Medical Technician

2.6%

Ecology, Population Biology, And Epidemiology

2.6%

Clinical/Medical Laboratory Science

2.6%

Nursing

2.6%

Psychology

1.7%

Pharmacy

1.7%

Biomedical Sciences

1.7%

Environmental Science

1.7%

Project Management

1.7%

Botany

1.7%
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Degrees

Bachelors

37.4%

Masters

30.9%

Doctorate

28.5%

Certificate

2.4%

Associate

0.8%
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Updated May 18, 2020