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Summary

microbiologists image
Microbiologists use laboratory equipment such as microscopes to study microorganisms.
Quick Facts: Microbiologists
2023 Median Pay $85,470 per year
$41.09 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2022 20,900
Job Outlook, 2022-32 5% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2022-32 1,100

What Microbiologists Do

Microbiologists study microorganisms such as bacteria, algae, and fungi.

Work Environment

Microbiologists work in primarily in laboratories and offices. Most work full time.

How to Become a Microbiologist

Microbiologists typically need a bachelor’s degree in microbiology or a related field to enter the occupation. Some employers prefer to hire candidates who have a master's degree or Ph.D.

Pay

The median annual wage for microbiologists was $85,470 in May 2023.

Job Outlook

Employment of microbiologists is projected to grow 5 percent from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations.

About 1,700 openings for microbiologists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for microbiologists.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of microbiologists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about microbiologists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Microbiologists Do About this section

A microbiologist holding a test tube consults with a man wearing a lab coat.
Microbiologists may supervise biological technicians.

Microbiologists study microorganisms such as bacteria, algae, and fungi. They investigate the growth, structure, and other characteristics of these organisms.

Duties

Microbiologists typically do the following:

  • Plan and conduct research projects, such as improving sterilization procedures or developing drugs to combat infectious diseases
  • Perform laboratory experiments for a variety of purposes, such as to inform the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses
  • Isolate and maintain cultures of 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
  • Prepare technical reports and make recommendations based on research findings
  • Attend conferences and present research findings
  • Supervise biological technicians and evaluate the accuracy of their results

Microbiologists study microscopic organisms to understand how they live, grow, and interact with their environments. Microbiologists sometimes focus on particular topics and collaborate with specialists in that field. For example, a medical microbiologist may research viruses and coordinate with epidemiologists and medical scientists to control the spread of disease.

Microbiologists who work in research and development may collect samples, conduct experiments, and help create a variety of products. For example, microbiologists may aid in developing genetically engineered crops designed to prevent vitamin deficiency. Those who work in academia usually choose the focus of their research, which may include overseeing their own laboratories.

To fund their research, microbiologists may need to apply for grants. They also write reports and prepare presentations about their research.

Microbiologists use microscopes, Bunsen burners, incubators, and other types of laboratory equipment. In addition, they may use computers for tasks that involve analysis and writing.

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 test a wide range of specimens collected from plants, humans, and animals to aid in detecting and preventing disease.

Environmental microbiologists study how microorganisms interact with ecosystems and each other.

Industrial microbiologists study how microorganisms can be used in manufacturing production processes.

Medical microbiologists study diseases, specifically focusing on how they impact microorganisms and how to diagnose, treat, and control them.

Mycologists study the properties of fungi such as yeast and mold. They research beneficial uses for, and risks of, various species of fungi.

Parasitologists study organisms that live off another organism, causing harm to it. They research the life cycle of parasites, the parasite-host relationship, and how parasites adapt to different environments.

Public health microbiologists examine microorganisms 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 how they affect organisms.

Work Environment About this section

A woman in a laboratory wears safety equipment such as goggles and gloves.
Microbiologists who work with dangerous organisms follow safety procedures to avoid exposure.

Microbiologists held about 20,900 jobs in 2022. The largest employers of microbiologists were as follows:

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 28%
Government 20
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 15
Testing laboratories 8
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 6

Microbiologists typically work in laboratories, offices, and industrial or academic settings. Some microbiologists travel to collect samples from the field, which may require working outdoors in a variety of settings. Microbiologists who work with dangerous organisms follow safety procedures to avoid exposure.

In addition, the uncertainty of financial support for research may be stressful. Microbiologists often depend on funding from grants, which are awarded through a highly competitive selection process.

Work Schedules

Most microbiologists work full time.

How to Become a Microbiologist About this section

Microbiologists
Microbiologists study the growth and characteristics of microscopic organisms such as viruses.

Microbiologists typically need a bachelor’s degree in microbiology or a related field to enter the occupation. Some employers prefer to hire candidates who have a master’s degree or Ph.D.

Education

Microbiologists typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in microbiology or a related field, such as biology.

Microbiology study includes courses such as microbial genetics, environmental microbiology, and virology. Students also may be required to take courses in chemistry, physics, and mathematics.

Undergraduate microbiology programs typically include laboratory experience, which helps students learn how to work with the equipment they will encounter on the job. Students also may gain laboratory and other practical experience by participating in internships.

A master’s degree or Ph.D. may be helpful or required for some positions. Graduate programs allow students to learn more complex topics or focus on an area of specialization, such as bacteriology or immunology. Degree requirements vary, but Ph.D. programs usually include completing a thesis or dissertation.

Training

After completing their studies, Ph.D. holders often enter postdoctoral research positions. Postdoctoral work involves developing a broader understanding of a specialization, which typically culminates in publication of their research findings.

Advancement

Some microbiologists move into managerial positions, often as natural sciences managers. Others become postsecondary teachers, which typically requires a Ph.D. and postdoctoral research experience.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some employers prefer to hire microbiologists who have earned certification, which is typically not required otherwise. Microbiologist certifications are available for a variety of specialties. For example, the American Society for Clinical Pathology offers certification that may be helpful for clinical microbiologists.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Microbiologists must be able to effectively communicate the results of their research, both orally and in writing.

Detail oriented. Microbiologists must conduct scientific experiments and analyses with precision, including monitoring and recording the conditions, processes, and results of their work.

Interpersonal skills. Microbiologists often work on research teams and must collaborate with others. They also lead research projects, which may involve managing technicians.

Logical-thinking skills. Microbiologists draw conclusions from experiments by using reasoning and judgment to interpret the results.

Perseverance. Microbiologists must persist in the trial-and-error demands of research. They should be motivated to avoid becoming discouraged in their work.

Problem-solving skills. Microbiologists conduct experiments and analyze results to find solutions to scientific problems.

Pay About this section

Microbiologists

Median annual wages, May 2023

Life scientists

$88,620

Microbiologists

$85,470

Total, all occupations

$48,060

 

The median annual wage for microbiologists was $85,470 in May 2023. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $49,070, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $147,470.

In May 2023, the median annual wages for microbiologists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences $102,570
Government 99,740
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 79,190
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 63,180
Testing laboratories 54,700

Most microbiologists work full time.

Job Outlook About this section

Microbiologists

Percent change in employment, projected 2022-32

Life scientists

7%

Microbiologists

5%

Total, all occupations

3%

 

Employment of microbiologists is projected to grow 5 percent from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations.

About 1,700 openings for microbiologists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Microbiologists are expected to be needed to help pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies develop new drugs that are produced with the aid of microorganisms. In addition, demand for biofuels production is expected to increase the need for microbiologists to conduct advanced research and development in these areas. Efforts to discover new and improved ways to preserve the environment and safeguard public health also are expected to support demand for these workers.

Employment projections data for microbiologists, 2022-32
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2022 Projected Employment, 2032 Change, 2022-32 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Microbiologists

19-1022 20,900 22,000 5 1,100 Get data

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OEWS data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.org. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of microbiologists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help on Entry-Level Education 2023 MEDIAN PAY Help on Median Pay
Agricultural and food scientists Agricultural and Food Scientists

Agricultural and food scientists research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural establishments and products.

Bachelor's degree $76,400
Biochemists and biophysicists Biochemists and Biophysicists

Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes.

Doctoral or professional degree $107,460
Biological technicians Biological Technicians

Biological technicians help biological and medical scientists conduct laboratory tests and experiments.

Bachelor's degree $51,430
Conservation scientists and foresters Conservation Scientists and Foresters

Conservation scientists and foresters manage the land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources.

Bachelor's degree $68,300
Environmental scientists and specialists Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health.

Bachelor's degree $78,980
Geoscientists Geoscientists

Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth.

Bachelor's degree $92,580
Medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians

Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians perform medical laboratory tests for the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease.

Bachelor's degree $60,780
Medical scientists Medical Scientists

Medical scientists conduct research aimed at improving overall human health.

Doctoral or professional degree $100,890
Natural sciences managers Natural Sciences Managers

Natural sciences managers plan, supervise, or coordinate research and other activities in fields such as life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics, and statistics.

Bachelor's degree $157,740
Zoologists and wildlife biologists Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals, those both in captivity and in the wild, and how they interact with their ecosystems.

Bachelor's degree $70,600

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about microbiologists, visit

American Society for Microbiology

International Union of Microbiological Societies

Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology

To find job openings for microbiologists in the federal government, visit

USAJOBS

For general information about careers and specialties in biological sciences, visit

American Institute of Biological Sciences

The American Society for Cell Biology

American Society for Clinical Pathology

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

O*NET

Microbiologists

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Microbiologists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/microbiologists.htm (visited June 23, 2024).

Last Modified Date: Wednesday, April 17, 2024

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

How to Become One

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

Pay

The Pay tab describes typical earnings and how workers in the occupation are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. For most profiles, this tab has a table with wages in the major industries employing the occupation. It does not include pay for self-employed workers, agriculture workers, or workers in private households because these data are not collected by the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) survey, the source of BLS wage data in the OOH.

State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2023 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2023, the median annual wage for all workers was $48,060.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2022

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2022, which is the base year of the 2022-32 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2022-32

The projected percent change in employment from 2022 to 2032. The average growth rate for all occupations is 3 percent.

Employment Change, 2022-32

The projected numeric change in employment from 2022 to 2032.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2022-32

The projected numeric change in employment from 2022 to 2032.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2022 to 2032.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2022 to 2032.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2022 to 2032.

2023 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2023, the median annual wage for all workers was $48,060.