Microbiologists are scientists who study microbes, organisms too small to be seen with the naked eye. They also study how microbes interact with their environment. This includes examining how they cause disease and affect the health of plants, humans and other animals. Immunology — the study of how human health is affected by microbes — is an example of this type of specialization. Some microbiologists may focus on studying one specific type of microbe. For example, bacteriologists study bacteria, and virologists study viruses. Or they may study practical applications of microbiology, such as biotechnology, medical microbiology or industrial microbiology.
Most microbiologists have at least a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, or a related science. Some microbiology laboratory technician positions, especially in medical laboratories, are open to individuals with a high school diploma or an associate’s degree. A higher degree, of course, will allow you to work in more challenging positions, with higher salaries. Microbiologists who conduct independent research need to have at least a master’s degree, and often a doctorate degree for academic positions. As part of the degree, these programs offer students the opportunity to take part in research, either as part of an existing project, or their own unique study. The coursework provides a broad overview of science and microbiology topics. Students may specialize in one or more areas, both in their courses and in their laboratory research experiences.
Using the University of Massachusetts as an example of a typical undergraduate degree program-this is a sampling of the courses:
- General Chemistry
- Calculus or Statistics
- General Microbiology
- Organic Chemistry
- Intro Physics
- Infectious Disease and Defense
- Microbial Physiology
The completion of the Bachelor of Science in Biology with a concentration in microbiology allows the student to continue into more specialized study at the Master’s level. The breadth of interests afforded to the graduate student includes environmental microbiology, microbial genetics, genetic engineering, immunology and immunochemistry, medical microbiology, mycology, protozoology, virology and microbial physiology, and biochemistry.
The student’s area of preferred specialization in this field may influence his/her university/college choice for graduate school. For example, Miami University offers a small but “outstanding program” (per their website) with emphasis on Molecular Microbiology, Microbial Pathogenesis, and Environmental Microbiology. These encompass the disciplines of immunology, molecular biology, microbial ecology, microbial genetics, microbial physiology, microbial pathogenesis, bacterial cell biology, bioinformatics, medical mycology, and virology.
Other institutions, such as the University of Wisconsin in Madison, house their graduate program within the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology (MMI). Their MMI scientific instruction is to provide the knowledge and skills to conduct novel and meaningful research, and offer consultation in microbiology and immunology as they relate to human disease.
There is a plethora of schools available in the United States in the field of Microbiology/Immunology. The website, gradschools.com, lists 480 campus and online (3) accredited graduate degree programs in the field of biology and life sciences. Program levels range from Certificate to Doctorate.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for Microbiologists in 2012 was $66,260 with an expected job growth of 7% through 2022. This percentage is slightly below average for all professions tracked by the BLS.
Employment may be found where one least expects it-such as the brewing industry. In January 2015, a major brewer located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has a job opening for an applicant whose degree and/or experience is in Microbiology, Biology or Food Science!