Microbiologist

The study of microorganisms and the non-living particles that interact with living things is known as microbiology; this science covers fungi, bacteria, algae, prions, viruses, and many other topics.

Microbiologists study microorganisms, observing how they grow, interact with other organisms, and survive within their environment. They also delve into the structure, growth, and development of these organisms.

Microorganisms affect many aspects of life, such as our health, climate, food, agriculture, and the environment. Hence, the work of microbiologists directly helps solve problems related to all these areas. They may be involved in the diagnosis and control of disease, food safety, studying how microbes affect climate change, and the development of green technology.

The majority of microbiologists work in development and applied or basic research. Basic research helps expand scientific knowledge, while applied research involves the development of new products to solve specific problems. Microbiologists may work with molecular biologists or medical scientists to research new drugs, as well as in medical diagnostic laboratories alongside nurses or physicians, helping to prevent, treat, and cure diseases.

In order to do their work, microbiologists use a variety of sophisticated laboratory instruments or even computers to conduct experiments. Instruments such as electron microscopes are used to study and observe bacteria, while computer software helps monitor the growth of microorganisms.

Specializations & Degree Types for Microbiologists

The field of microbiology often overlaps with other life sciences such as immunology, molecular biology, and biochemistry.

Further, microbiologists can be categorized into the following types:

  • Bacteriologists study the pattern of development, growth, and other characteristics of bacteria, including the positive and negative effects bacteria can have on animals, humans, and plants.
  • Clinical microbiologists carry out a number of medical laboratory tests on specimens collected from animals, humans, and plants to detect diseases.
  • Environmental microbiologists study how microscopic organisms interact with each other and also with the environment. They also study how microbes can be used to clean up areas contaminated by heavy metals.
  • Industrial microbiologists are concerned with studying and solving problems related to industrial processes. Their work involves studying microbes in chemical factory pipes, examining the impact of industrial waste on the ecosystem, and improving the quality of foods, such as cheese, by studying microbial activity.
  • Mycologists specialize in studying the properties of fungi such as mold and yeast. They also observe the different ways fungi can be beneficial as well as the risks associated.
  • Parasitologists focus on the life of parasites, how they adapt to various environments, as well as the relationship between parasites and hosts. They also study about how parasitic diseases such as malaria spread and how they can be controlled.
  • Public health microbiologists examine microbial specimens for tracking, controlling, and preventing communicable diseases and other health hazards. They provide laboratory services for community health programs and local health departments.
  • Virologists study the development, structure, and other properties of viruses and their effects on infected organisms.
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Admission Requirements for Microbiology Programs

Entry-level jobs in microbiology require a bachelor’s degree in microbiology or a related discipline that offers considerable coursework in microbiology such as biochemistry or cell biology. These programs generally include courses in physics, chemistry, statistics, genetics, and biochemistry.

Independent and advanced jobs usually require a PhD as well as many years of experience as a professional microbiologist. This usually means spending substantial time working as a postdoctoral researcher, leading research projects.

Admission requirements for a bachelor’s degree in the field include a high school diploma with specific foundational courses, a minimum grade point average of 3.0, official high school transcripts, ACT or SAT scores (for some universities), and demonstration of English language proficiency (required for international applicants).

For acceptance into master’s programs in microbiology, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, biological sciences, biochemistry, or a closely related field from a regionally accredited institution; a minimum grade point average of 3.0; a graduate admission application; official transcripts; a personal statement; a curriculum vitae or resume; GRE scores; three letters of recommendation; and proof of English language proficiency for international students.

Major admissions requirements for PhD programs include a bachelor’s or master’s degree in the biological sciences, biochemistry, or a closely related field from a regionally accredited institution; a minimum 3.00 cumulative GPA; official transcripts; an academic record form; a personal statement; curriculum vitae; GRE scores; three letters of recommendation; and proof of English language proficiency.

Program Accreditation in Microbiology

While there is no specific programmatic accreditation for microbiology, all aspiring microbiologists should ensure that their institution of choice is regionally accredited. For example, a number of programs below have been accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, a regional body that accredits postsecondary institutions in 19 U.S. states. Its goal is to ensure that students get an education of the highest quality.

Overall, any reputable accreditation entity should have recognition from the U.S. Department of Education’s Commission on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

On-Campus Degree Programs in Microbiology

The University of Iowa

The University of Iowa offers a bachelor of science (BS) in microbiology. This hands-on program helps students gain experience in conducting laboratory research and working on dynamic projects. The faculty for the program includes renowned professionals actively engaged in research in bacteriology, virology, parasitology, and immunology. ​The program is also ideal for students who wish to take up advanced degrees in dentistry, medicine, or another health profession.

Admission requirements for the program include an RAI (Regent Admission Index) score of 245 or higher for Iowa students and 255 or higher for residents of other states; a high school diploma; GPA, ACT or SAT scores; and proof of English language proficiency for international applicants.

The 120-credit-hour program includes courses such as general microbiology, immunology and human disease, bacteria and human disease, molecular microbiology, microbial genetics, virology laboratory, viruses and human disease, and eukaryotic pathogens and human disease.

The program provides students with a strong foundation in microbiology and the development of practical skills. They learn how to identify organisms, develop crops resistant to disease and vaccines for the protection of livestock, and study disease-causing microbes. Graduates of the program are prepared to work in hospitals, public health laboratories, governmental organizations, industrial laboratories, and research laboratories.

  • Location: Iowa City, Iowa
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $31,793 for the program

Medical College of Wisconsin

The Medical College of Wisconsin offers a doctor of philosophy (PhD) program in microbiology and immunology. The program prepares scientists for research in molecular biology.

The program’s admissions requirements include a bachelor or master’s degree, a minimum grade point average of 3.0, GRE scores at or above the 50th percentile, personal statements, and letters of recommendation. Prior research experience is also considered.

Students who wish to pursue the program full-time must register themselves for a minimum of nine credits in the fall and spring semesters and six credits in summer. The curriculum covers courses such as current topics in microbiology and immunology, cellular and molecular immunology, cellular microbiology, advanced molecular genetics, mucosal pathogenesis, and tumor immunology.

The program offers students the opportunity to develop technical skills, conduct independent research, and communicate their achievements in both oral and written forms. The training provided in the program ensures that the students are proficient in core competencies such as communication, management, teamwork, and leadership. Upon successful completion, students can work in industry, government, and academia, as well as in other health-related career settings.

  • Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,250 per credit

Georgetown University Medical Center

The master’s of science in microbiology and immunology at Georgetown University Medical Center is a flexible two- to three-semester program that students can tailor to their interests. This program is in close proximity to the National Institute of Health as well as other organizations affording students unique and converted internship and research opportunities.

Of the 30 credits required to graduate, only 18 are in core courses, and the rest in electives such as bioinformatics, the molecular basis of carcinogenesis, regulatory science and public health, and introduction to tumor biology. To be eligible for admission candidates must already hold a bachelor’s degree with a 3.0 GPA or higher, provide GRE or MCAT test scores, submit three letters of recommendation, have a current resume or CV, write an academic statement of purpose, and pay an application fee.

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two to three semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: $2,117 per credit

University of Arizona College of Medicine

Students who need additional education in biological and medical sciences should consider the microbiology and immunity graduate certificate program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. The focus of this program is on basic and clinical research in immunology and microbiology. To complete this program students must complete a total of 15 credits. Eight credits are required courses in two classes. They are medical immunology and infectious disease and medical microbiology and immunology. The remaining credits are elective courses.

This program is open to all students who have already completed a bachelor’s degree and can be a stepping stone to a career in research or continued education at the graduate level. There are no standardized admission tests required, except for international applicants who must provide EILTS or TOEFL scores demonstrating competency in English.

  • Location: Tucson, Arizona
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,900.06 per credit

University of Michigan Medical School

The master’s of science in microbiology and immunology at the University of Michigan Medical School is designed for students who aren’t yet ready for PhD level research or who have career aspirations in microbiology or immunology training. This program is highly customizable, allowing students to pursue their interests both in lecture courses and lab work. All students work closely with a program advisor to chart their curriculum path.

With research, non-research, and thesis options, this program can fit the needs of all types of students. The non-research option is ideal for students who do not wish to pursue additional education or a career in research. The research option provides unparalleled experience working directly in research labs, while the thesis option allows students who have performed research to synthesize and defend the research they have conducted.

  • Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years
  • Estimated Tuition: $24,772 per year

Arizona State University School of Live Sciences

Arizona State University School of Live Sciences offers a traditional bachelor’s of science in microbiology for students who want to pursue a career in medicine, health care, or biomedical research.

For students who know they want to pursue a master’s degree, there is an accelerated program where students can earn both their bachelor’s and master’s in just five years. In the accelerated program, students begin taking master’s courses in their fourth year. To complete the program, students must complete a thesis project.

To enter either program, students must meet the general admission requirements for ASU. For incoming freshmen, these include required high school coursework and meeting the aptitude requirement by either being in the top 25 percent of a graduating class, having a 3.0 GPA, having a 22 on the ACT, or scoring 1,120 on the SAT.

  • Location: Tempe, Arizona
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four to five years
  • Estimated Tuition: $781 per credit

Online or Hybrid Degree Programs in Microbiology

The George Washington University

The George Washington University offers a 100 percent online master’s degree in health sciences in clinical microbiology program. Students completing this degree are eligible to sit for the ASCP (American Society for Clinical Pathology) Technologist in Microbiology examination—a coveted certification for professionals in medical laboratory science.

Applicants to the program must have a bachelor’s degree in a basic or medical science from a regionally accredited institution, a grade point average of 3.0 or higher, a statement of purpose, a completed application, a current resume, two letters of recommendation, official transcripts from every college and university attended, and TOEFL scores for applicants who are speakers of other languages.

​Made up of 35​ credits, the program includes courses such as ​biostatistics for clinical and translational research, epidemiology for clinical and translational research, advanced clinical bacteriology, advanced immunology and serology, and advanced molecular diagnostics. Students are trained to conduct research, apply their knowledge to help prevent and diagnose infectious diseases, store data on the best practices in a laboratory, and follow lab safety guidelines.

Graduates of the program can pursue jobs in research institutions, public health laboratories, diagnostic microbiology laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, governmental agencies, or biotechnology firms. They can take up roles such as clinical research manager, clinical laboratory supervisor, and microbiology technologist.

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $34,300 for the program

University of Florida

The University of Florida offers an online bachelor of science (BS) with a major in microbiology and cell science through the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. This online program is taught by the same faculty that teaches the on-campus classes. The degree combines online courses with two in-person laboratory courses, each taught in accelerated five-day cycles.

In order to be accepted into the program, students must have an associate of arts degree with a GPA of at least 2.0 or they must have 60 transferable hours if transferring from private institutions, four-year schools, or from programs outside of Florida.

Comprising 120 credits, the program equips students with a thorough understanding of cell biology, microbiology, and the bio-molecular sciences. Coursework includes the study of integrated principles of biology, organic chemistry, principles of microbiology, molecular genetics, bacterial pathogens, and an advanced microbiology laboratory.

Students learn skills and protocols used for conducting research in the fields of microbiology and molecular biology, solving problems encountered in microbiology, evaluating information and data in the general areas of microbiology, and learning how to communicate effectively.

At the end of the program, graduates can pursue opportunities in biomedical research, dentistry, pharmacy, medicine and veterinary science. Some of the roles that can be pursued include that of a microbiologist, biotechnologist, laboratory technician, environmental microbiologist, medical technologist, and virologist.

  • Location: Gainesville, Florida
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $552 per credit

North Carolina State University

North Carolina State University has developed an undergraduate certificate in microbiology. This unique program is ideal for students who have attended a school where a major or minor in microbiology isn’t available or for professionals looking to advance their careers. This program is offered entirely online through pre-recorded lectures. Students will interact with their peers and professors utilizing online communication tools, providing a classroom experience without relocating.

As this is an undergraduate-level certificate, admission requirements are relatively simple. Candidates only need to have graduated from high school and have taken a high school level biology or chemistry class and college-level organic chemistry and either genetics or biochemistry course. While this program only requires 12 credits, it does take three semesters to complete the certificate because of course sequences.

  • Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Expected Time to Completion: Three semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: $916 per credit

Oregon State University College of Science

Current Oregon State University undergraduate science students can earn an online minor in microbiology. This minor can be paired with other online degrees such as public health, agricultural sciences, environmental science, or any campus degree program. Skills gained by earning this minor include learning specialized microbiology language, lab safety procedures, and how to communicate scientific concepts.

This minor benefits students who want to pursue additional education in microbiology or need a microbiology background for their career aspirations. Coursework in this program includes allied health microbiology, principles of immunology, disease and society, and parasitology.

  • Location: Corvallis, Oregon
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years in conjunction with an undergraduate degree
  • Estimated Tuition: $318 per credit

The University of Tennessee College of Health Professions

The 22 credit certificate in clinical microbiology for medical laboratory science at The University of Tennessee College of Health Professions is offered in a hybrid online and on-campus format. Over 2,000 students have completed this program since 1922.

As one of the oldest programs in the country, this program has long-standing relationships with clinical affiliates where students will gain hands-on experience in medical laboratories. Typical workplaces for students who complete this program include medical research labs, hospital or private labs, public health, biotechnology labs, and pharmaceutical companies.

Graduates of this program are eligible to sit for the certification exam for medical laboratory scientists (MLS) through the American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP). They are also eligible for state licensure as medical laboratory scientists, which is required in order to work in medical laboratories in this state. Graduates can also take the technologist in microbiology exam through the ASCP.

  • Location: Memphis, Tennessee
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $16,542 per semester

How Long Does it Take to Become a Microbiologist?

A career as a microbiologist generally requires education beyond the high school level. Microbiologists need at least a bachelor’s degree in microbiology or a closely related field that offers coursework in microbiology.

A bachelor’s degree can be completed in four years. Some microbiologists may practice with a two-year associate’s degree in a scientific field, but most have at least a four-year bachelor’s degree from a college or university.

Those with a master’s degree can take up leadership positions in laboratories. Master’s degrees take one or two years to complete.

A doctoral degree (PhD) provides students with a considerable amount of research experience. It is not necessary for students to complete a master’s degree before pursuing a doctoral degree. A PhD typically requires several years of coursework and research and can qualify people for professorships.

How To Become a Microbiologist – Step-by-Step Guide

Microbiologists study the characteristics of microscopic organisms such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Most microbiologists work in laboratories, conducting fundamental research to add to the body of scientific knowledge. The work they do might be hazardous, as they often handle dangerous organisms in the course of their research. Some microbiologists are also involved in collecting samples from sources such as lakes and other bodies of water.

A step-by-step guide to becoming a microbiologist is given below:

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Microbiology or a Closely- Related Field (Four Years)

In order to become a microbiologist, the minimum requirement is a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree might be sufficient for some settings, while a doctoral degree is a necessary requirement for advanced research work.

Step Two: Gain Work Experience in the Field (Varies)

Students may consider working as laboratory or company interns to gain valuable experience in the field. This can help qualify them for graduate programs and certifications related to microbiology.

Step Three: Earn an Advanced Degree in Microbiology or a Closely-Related Field (Optional, Two to Four Years)

Candidates can opt for a master’s degree for better employment opportunities; however, a master’s is not a requirement for entrance into the field. Microbiologists typically need a PhD to conduct independent research and work in colleges and universities.

Step Four: Become Professionally Registered or Certified (Optional, One or More Years)

Some microbiologists also acquire certification. A certification might not be required for employment, but it can help candidates enhance their employability. Check out more information on the American Medical Board of Microbiology and the National Registry of Certified Microbiologists in the certification section below.

What Do Microbiologists Do?

Microbiologists study microorganisms, both living and nonliving, that affect human beings, the environment, agriculture, and many other industries. They observe organisms such as algae, fungi, and bacteria. Their work involves the use of cutting-edge tools and technology, along with knowledge of genetic science and biotechnology.

Depending on their area of expertise, the work of microbiologists typically includes the following:

  • Monitoring and identifying microorganisms
  • Tracking microorganisms in a variety of environments
  • Assessing samples from a range of sources
  • Following regular sampling schedules within a specific environment
  • Using a variety of identification methods such as molecular techniques for testing samples
  • Developing new techniques, processes, and products
  • Planning methods for preventing the spread of diseases
  • Registering new medicines, diagnostic tests, pharmaceutical products, and vaccines
  • Planning, implementing, and evaluating new products in clinical trials
  • Developing products such as vitamins, enzymes, antimicrobials, and hormones
  • Working with specialist computer software for undertaking studies and research
  • Managing and overseeing laboratory work

Microbiologist Certifications & Licensure

Voluntary certifications for microbiologists are available through organizations such as the American Medical Board of Microbiology and the National Registry of Certified Microbiologists.

Earning a certification is not a requirement for gaining employment, but it could give applicants access to better opportunities. The American College of Microbiology certifies candidates within the field through registries and credentialing boards.

Additionally, microbiologists that have a degree may also be qualified to acquire the registered microbiologist credential awarded by the National Registry of Certified Microbiologists (NRCM). In order to earn this certification, candidates must submit educational achievements and work experience, and complete an exam.

Doctoral-level microbiologists directing clinical laboratories can earn a certification through the American Board of Medical Microbiology (ABMM) to complete state licensing requirements. The NRCM also offers certification at the doctoral level.

How Much Do Diagnostic Molecular Scientists Make?

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for microbiologists was $91,840 as of May 2020. The percentiles for the 19,710 microbiologists employed in the US are:

  • 10th percentile: $45,690
  • 25th percentile: $58,800
  • 50th percentile (median): $84,400
  • 75th percentile: $119,770
  • 90th percentile: $156,360

Finally, according to PayScale (2021), the average salaries of microbiologists vary by experience level as follows:

  • Less than one year: $43,000
  • 1 to 4 years: $50,000
  • 5 to 9 years: $59,000
  • 10 to 19 years: $70,000
  • 20+ years: $69,000

Microbiologist Career Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to a career as a microbiologist.

Become a Medical Laboratory Scientist

Medical laboratory scientists work in diagnostic medical laboratories and research laboratories. Their primary responsibility is to perform complicated tests on blood, fluid, or tissue samples. The results are used by physicians to diagnose disease and by researchers to draw conclusions.

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP)

Become a Biomedical Engineer

Professionals who combine engineering, biology, and medicine are called biomedical engineers. Typically they work in research and develop devices to improve human health. They can also be responsible for installing, maintaining, and calibrating biomedical equipment.

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE)

Become an Epidemiologist

Epidemiologists study the health of populations. This can be related to infectious diseases, public health issues, birth defects, or even air pollutants. Epidemiologists can work directly with the populations they are research in a public health capacity, or they may work in research labs analyzing samples and data from afar.

  • Typical Education: Master’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology (CBIC)
Farheen Gani

Farheen Gani

Writer

Farheen is a freelance writer, marketer, and researcher. She writes about technology, education, and marketing. Her work has appeared on websites such as Tech in Asia and Foundr, as well as top SaaS blogs such as Zapier and InVision. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@FarheenGani).

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