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Biologist, Microbiologist

ActivitiesInvestigate the growth, structure, development, and other characteristics of microscopic organisms, such as bacteria, algae, or fungi. Includes medical microbiologists who study the relationship between organisms and disease or the effects of antibiotics on microorganisms.

OutlookAverage job growth

Median Income$65,920 per year in May 2010

Work Context & ConditionsUsually work regular hours in offices or laboratories and usually are not exposed to unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Those who work with dangerous organisms or toxic substances in the laboratory must follow strict safety procedures to avoid contamination. They must be exacting and thorough in their work.

Minimum Education RequirementsBachelor's Degree

SkillsMonitoring, Critical Thinking, Active Listening, Writing, Equipment Selection, Time Management, Troubleshooting, Mathematics, Equipment Maintenance, Active Learning, Complex Problem Solving, Judgment and Decision Making, Operation Monitoring, Operations Analysis, Coordination, Reading Comprehension, Science

AbilitiesCategory Flexibility, Problem Sensitivity, Written Comprehension, Near Vision, Information Ordering, Inductive Reasoning

InterviewsPatricia Diaz

Job Description
Job CategoryLife, Physical, & Social Science

Job DescriptionMicrobiologists study the growth, structure, development, and general characteristics of bacteria and other microorganisms. They examine physiological, morphological, and cultural characteristics, using microscopes, to identify microorganisms. They may isolate and make cultures of bacteria or other microorganisms in prescribed media, controlling moisture, aeration, temperature, and nutrition; conduct chemical analyses of substances, such as acids, alcohols, and enzymes; and research the use of bacteria and microorganisms to develop vitamins, antibiotics, amino acids, grain alcohol, sugars, and polymers.

Microbiologist may specialize in one of several areas: virology (the study of viruses); immunology (the study of mechanisms that fight infections); or bioinformatics (the use of computers to handle or characterize biological information, usually at the molecular level). Many microbiologists use biotechnology to advance knowledge of cell reproduction and human disease.

Working ConditionsBiological scientists (microbiologists) usually work regular hours in offices or laboratories and usually are not exposed to unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Those who work with dangerous organisms or toxic substances in the laboratory must follow strict safety procedures to avoid contamination.

Some biologists depend on grant money to support their research. They may be under pressure to meet deadlines and conform to rigid grant-writing specifications when preparing proposals to seek new or extended funding.

Salary RangeThe median annual wage of microbiologists was $65,920 in May 2010. 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 $39,180, and the top 10 percent earned more than $115,720.

Education RequiredMicrobiologists need at least a bachelor’s degree in microbiology or a closely related field such as biochemistry or cell biology. Many colleges and universities offer degree programs in biological sciences, including microbiology.
Most microbiology majors take introductory courses in microbial genetics and microbial physiology before taking classes in more advanced topics such as environmental microbiology and virology. Students also must take classes in other sciences, such as biochemistry, chemistry, and physics, because it is important for microbiologists to have a broad understanding of the sciences. Courses in statistics, mathematics, and computer science are important for microbiologists because they must be able to do complex data analysis.

It is important for prospective microbiologists to have laboratory experience before entering the workforce. Most undergraduate microbiology programs include a mandatory laboratory requirement, but additional laboratory coursework is recommended. Students also can gain valuable laboratory experience through internships with prospective employers such as drug manufacturers.
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 virology. Ph.D. programs usually include class work, laboratory research, and completing a thesis or dissertation. It typically takes 4 to 6 years to complete a doctoral degree program in microbiology.

Recommended High School CoursesComputers and Electronics, Biology, Mathematics, English, Chemistry, Physics

Postsecondary Instructional ProgramsEducation and Training, English Language, Mathematics, Biology, Customer and Personal Service

Certification and LicensingNone

Skills, Abilities, & Interests
Interest Area
InvestigativeInvolves working with ideas and requires an extensive amount of thinking.

Work Values
CreativityTry out your own ideas.
IndependenceWork alone.
Ability UtilizationMake use of individual abilities.
Working ConditionsGood working conditions.
AutonomyPlan work with little supervision.
ResponsibilityMake decisions on your own.

MonitoringAssess how well someone is doing when learning or doing something.
Critical ThinkingUse logic and analysis to identify the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches.
Active ListeningListen to what other people are saying and ask questions as appropriate.
WritingCommunicate effectively with others in writing as indicated by the needs of the audience.
Equipment SelectionDetermine the kind of tools and equipment needed to do a job.
Time ManagementManage one's own time and the time of others.
TroubleshootingDetermine what is causing an operating error and deciding what to do about it.
MathematicsUse math to solve problems.
Equipment MaintenancePerform routine maintenance and determining when and what kind of maintenance is needed.
Active LearningWork with new material or information to grasp its implications.
Complex Problem SolvingSolving novel, ill-defined problems in complex, real-world settings.
Judgment and Decision MakingBe able to weigh the relative costs and benefits of a potential action.
Operation MonitoringWatch gauges, dials, or other indicators to make sure a machine is working properly.
Operations AnalysisAnalyze needs and product requirements to create a design.
CoordinationAdjust actions in relation to others' actions.
Reading ComprehensionUnderstand written sentences and paragraphs in work-related documents.
ScienceUse scientific methods to solve problems.

Category FlexibilityGenerate or use different sets of rules for combining or grouping things in different ways.
Problem SensitivityAble to tell when something is wrong or likely to go wrong. This doesn't involve solving the problem, just recognizing that there is a problem.
Written ComprehensionAble to read and understand information and ideas presented in writing.
Near VisionAble to see details of objects at a close range (within a few feet of the observer).
Information OrderingAble to correctly follow rules for arranging things or actions in a certain order, including numbers, words, pictures, procedures, and logical operations.
Inductive ReasoningAble to combine separate pieces of information, or specific answers to problems, to form general rules or conclusions. This includes coming up with a logical explanation for why seemingly unrelated events occur together.

More Information
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Job OutlookEmployment of microbiologists is projected to increase by 13 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. More microbiologists will be needed to apply knowledge from basic research to develop biological products and processes that improve our lives.

The development of new medicines and treatments is expected to increase the demand for microbiologists in pharmaceutical and biotechnology research. Microbiologists will be needed to research and develop new medicines and treatments, such as vaccines and antibiotics that are used to fight infectious diseases. In addition, microbiologists will be needed to help pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies develop biological drugs that are produced with the aid of microorganisms.

Aside from improving our health, other areas of research and development in biotechnology are expected to provide employment growth for microbiologists. Greater demand for clean energy should increase the need for microbiologists who research and develop alternative energy sources such as biofuels and biomass. In agriculture, more microbiologists will be needed to help develop genetically engineered crops that provide greater yields and require less pesticide and fertilizer. Finally, efforts to discover new and improved ways to clean up and preserve the environment also will increase demand for microbiologists.

More InformationAmerican Society for Microbiology

ReferencesAmerican Society for Microbiologists on the Internet at

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Microbiologists,
on the Internet at

O*Net online at