Microbiologist Career Information

Microbiologists are on the cutting edge of a rapidly expanding role in biology, industry, and environmental science. Their work is on a very high commercial plane, which has greatly expanded the career options in what was once a largely academically and medically based science.

Microbiology has developed as microbial chemistry as unlocked a new range of possible products and functions. In agriculture, for example, soil organisms, which are responsible for the fertility of soils, are now grown and sold commercially. Microbe enzymes and the ability of some organisms to grow useful compounds for industry and medicine have created multiple career paths for microbiologists. 

The Work Environment

The microbiologist remains to some extent primarily a researcher working in a lab environment, although field work is now much more common. Technology has done a lot to enhance the ability of microbiological analysis, and a whole new wave of science has been generated as the capacity to test and analyze microbes and their nature has expanded. Microbiologists work with some of the most advanced research equipment in the world. 

The work involves:

Observation and classification: In the basic research role, microbes are examined in detail and their structure mapped. They're also researched in terms of their environmental role and habitat. This work may involve dealing with whole new organisms, and in some cases dangerous strains of bacteria, which must be analyzed in detail for medical purposes.

Testing: This is a major part of the primary role. Testing microbes includes:

  • Strain identification: As well as basic classification, a single type of microbe may have multiple strains, some of which are more useful for research than others. Differences in the strains of bacteria can involve quite different biological issues. 

  • Growing cultures: Microbiologists grow various strains of microbe for research purposes.

  • Chemical analysis of microbial products: This may involve several strains of microbe, and thousands of tests. 

  • Testing for resistance to chemicals: Often an important part of research, particularly in agriculture, where soil bacteria may be exposed to powerful chemicals.

  • Testing microbe ability to process materials: Some microbes can break down very complex materials. In some cases microbes, or the enzymes they use to break down materials, are valuable in waste management and handling toxic materials. 

  • Virology: A similar series of methods, but based on studying viruses, rather than microbes.

Research: Research is conducted in both academic and commercial environments. The research work of microbiologists includes studies in direct relation to:

  • Industrial research: Chemistry, agriculture, food science, waste management

  • Medical research: Pharmaceuticals, hygiene products, medical sanitation, pathology, epidemiology

  • Environmental research: Botany, entomology, zoology, soil science, ecology, study of invasive organisms and pathogens. 

Wages: $60,000- $110,000. May include commissions and lab contracts. 

Hours: Depend on study requirements. 

The Career Environment

The demand for microbiologists has created a much larger and highly supportive employment market. A range of career options exists which are excellent opportunities for microbiologists to work in their areas of interest. As scientists, microbiologists can benefit greatly from the sheer diversity of their profession. 

Career progression is based on qualifications, specializations and professional achievements. Microbiology is one of the "frontier" sciences, a new scientific horizon. The specializations and achievements are many, across the spectrum. Qualification for doctorate and post-doctorate levels is also relatively straightforward in a research-driven science. Some researchers operate as business concerns, and are hired as consultants or commissioned for commercial and government studies.