How to Become a Microbiologist
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 for entry-level jobs. They typically need a Ph.D. to work in research or in colleges and universities.
Microbiologists typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in microbiology or a related field, such as biology or natural resources, that provides substantial coursework in microbiology.
Microbiology study usually includes courses in microbial genetics, microbial physiology, environmental microbiology, and virology. Students also may benefit from taking courses in other sciences, such as biochemistry, chemistry, and physics; in statistics and mathematics; and in computer science.
Prospective microbiologists also need to work in a laboratory, which is required in most undergraduate microbiology programs. Students may gain additional laboratory experience through internships with companies, such as drug manufacturers, in which microbiologists are employed.
Microbiologists typically need a Ph.D. to work on independent research or 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.
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.
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 math, 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.
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 not mandatory for the majority of work done by microbiologists. However, certifications are available for clinical microbiologists and for those who specialize in the fields of food safety and quality and pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Certification may help workers gain employment in the occupation or advance to new positions of responsibility.