What you need to know
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.
Microbiologists typically work in laboratories, offices, and industrial settings where they conduct experiments and analyze the results. Microbiologists who work with dangerous organisms must follow strict safety procedures to avoid contamination. Some microbiologists may conduct onsite visits or collect samples from the environment or worksites, and, as a result, may travel occasionally and spend some time outside.
Some of the things a microbiologist might do:
- Plan and conduct complex research projects, such as improving sterilization procedures or developing new drugs to combat infectious diseases
- Perform laboratory experiments 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
- Review literature and the findings of other researchers and attend conferences
- Prepare technical reports, publish research papers, and make recommendations based on their research findings
- Present research findings to scientists, non-scientist executives, engineers, other colleagues, and the public
- 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.
The average pay for microbiologists in the United States ranges from $45,690 to $156,360 as of May 2020.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
Employment of microbiologists is projected to grow 3 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Microbiologists will be needed to research and develop new medicines and treatments, such as vaccines and antibiotics.
In addition, microbiologists will be needed to help pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies develop drugs that are produced with the aid of microorganisms.
Microbiologists need at least a bachelor’s degree in microbiology or a closely related program that offers substantial coursework in microbiology, such as biochemistry or cell biology. Many colleges and universities offer degree programs in biological sciences, including microbiology.
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.