How To Become a Microbiologist: A Complete Guide
Microbiology is the branch of biological sciences that researches different types of microbes, such as fungi, bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and algae. From developing vaccines for diseases to determining protocols for the containment of rare microbe species, microbiologists can specialize in a variety of disciplines that provide careers related to research, clinical roles, and numerous other applications of microbiology.
In this article, we will examine the branches of microbiology and provide advice on how to become a microbiologist.
What Is A Microbiologist?
A microbiologist is a scientist who studies microscopic organisms and processes. Microbiology is a broad discipline in itself and the scale of subjects it includes ranges from molecular and cellular levels to community and infrastructure levels. For example, at molecular and cellular levels, microbiology includes disciplines like genetics (study of genes), proteomics (study of proteins), physiology (study of the functioning of the human body), and pathology (study of diagnosis of diseases). At community and infrastructure levels, microbiology includes subjects like epidemiology (study of incidence, distribution, and control of diseases).
Many microbiologists work in scientific research and continue to specialize in a specific discipline within microbiology where they work towards interpreting behaviors and impacts of microorganisms on plants, animals, humans, and the environment.
Microbiology primarily branches into pure microbiology and applied microbiology. Pure microbiology consists of research-oriented fields while applied microbiology deals with real-life application, engineering, and production. There are considerable overlaps among the individual branches of microbiology. In some cases, there are overlaps with some disciplines that lie outside the domain of microbiology.
Microbiology branches out into numerous fields:
The field of virology specializes in the study of viruses and their effects on the environment. A virologist's roles may include performing research, analyzing experiment results, handling and containing viral pathogens, and presenting research findings to committees, public health officials, and other agents who are involved in health and medical services.
Working with bacteria, a bacteriologist performs functions similar to a virologist. This includes collecting and interpreting data from specimens, performing experimental research, and evaluating research findings. Researchers are often responsible for providing informed speculation regarding the social implications of their findings.
Immunologists study the human immune system and its functionality. They typically work in a clinical setting to observe, diagnose and treat auto-immune disorders and allergies.
Parasitology is the study of biological and genetic aspects of microscopic parasites. A parasitologist may typically monitor the life cycle, characteristics, catalysts, and inhibitors of an infection.
Microbial ecology is the study of interactions between various micro-organisms present in an ecosystem. Microbial ecology aims to understand microbes in the context of their roles, relationships with one another, and their environment.
Molecular biology explores the molecular aspects of biological activity within a cell and in its surroundings. This includes gene modification and replacement, molecular synthesis, and intra-molecular interactions along with their cause and effects. A major portion of research in molecular biology observes the processes through which DNA is transcribed into RNA and proteins.
Related: How To Become A Molecular Biologist (With Duties And Skills)
Skills Required For Microbiologists
If you intend to become a microbiologist, you should develop the following skills and qualities:
Patience: The work of a microbiologist often takes time and consistent effort. You must be patient and practice perseverance to see results.
Attention to detail: Working in sterile clinical and lab settings, you have to focus on minute details of your work to ensure success. Most lab processes have minimal room for error, and you may have to follow several protocols and guidelines accurately on a daily basis.
Technical skills: Microbiologists often have to work with advanced technology and tools. Technical proficiency will make your work smoother and save you a lot of time and effort.
Analytical skills: As a microbiologist, you may often have to collate, analyze and interpret large amounts of textual, numerical, and visual data.
Teamwork skills: Microbiologists rarely work in isolation. You must be prepared to work efficiently with a group of professionals to deliver results.
How To Become A Microbiologist
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to become a microbiologist:
1. Complete higher secondary education
The first step to becoming a microbiologist is to complete higher secondary education with subjects like physics, chemistry, and biology. You typically need a minimum of 50% marks in these subjects to be eligible to apply for a bachelor's degree in microbiology.
2. Get a bachelor's degree
Completing a bachelor's course (B.Sc Microbiology) gives you a direct gateway to enter the professional field of microbiology. You can also find opportunities to do internships and collaborative research during the course. Such engagements further prepare you for working in the field of microbiology.
Related: Top 12 Careers After A BSc In Biotechnology (With Salaries)
3. Get a master's degree
M.Sc. in Microbiology is a post-graduate course that helps students deepen their knowledge in the field of microbiology. A lot of colleges hold their own entrance examinations for postgraduate admissions. Candidates who have a B.Sc. in biological sciences or microbiology are eligible to pursue a post-graduate degree (M.Sc Microbiology/Applied Microbiology) with any of the following specializations:
4. Gain work experience
Parallel to your education or after, you may need to focus on gaining work experience. Microbiology as a subject provides avenues for academic engagement as well as hands-on practice. Depending on where your specific interests lie, you can apply for internships early on to get a clear idea of the field and the job roles associated with it.
5. Get a doctorate degree
If you are interested in pursuing independent research or want to work in a university or government research facility, you will need to complete a PhD in your specific field of microbiology. This includes research training, academic practice, and field/lab-based work. Applications for a doctorate require a post-graduate degree in a relevant discipline with at least 55% aggregate scores and may also include a minimum work experience requirement in the field.
How Long Does It Take To Become A Microbiologist?
You can work in the field of microbiology after completing a bachelor's course, following higher secondary education. Higher secondary education typically involves 2 years of study, with a focus on relevant science subjects. A bachelor's course in microbiology or biological sciences takes 3 years to complete.
If you are interested in pursuing academic or research roles, you may have to complete a master's course which typically takes 2-3 years. To gain further expertise in your specific field of microbiology, you have to complete a PhD, which takes 3-5 years. This is the highest academic level awarded for any course of study and may require you to have a record of work experience in a relevant field.
Related: 12 Types Of Microbiology Jobs (With Duties And Salary)
How Much Does A Microbiologist Make?
After a bachelor's degree, most pharmaceutical or biotechnology labs offer an average salary of ₹2,50,189 per year, with the potential for steady salary growth. Senior microbiologists get an average base salary of ₹3,30,497 per year. Research fellowships are another avenue, where the average pay is ₹4,30,474 per year.
Completing a PhD opens up new avenues on a global scale as it establishes you as an expert in your specific field of microbiology.
Related: 50 Microbiology Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)
Is Microbiology A Good Career?
Microbiology offers immense scope for specialization. Depending on your skills and preferences, you can find employment in a wide range of scientific and clinical environments. Furthermore, microbiologists have career prospects in both the private and public sectors.
These are some of the most common settings for microbiologists to work in:
Research and development in microbiology consist of performing laboratory experimentation and evaluating results for medical, environmental, and public health applications. Microbiologists can take up research roles and work for government agencies, educational institutions, or private organizations.
Related: Essential Research Skills (With Benefits And How To Improve)
Microbiologists such as virologists, immunologists, and epidemiologists use sterile lab settings to test treatment applications for the control, prevention, and eradication of diseases. Many graduates in the field of microbiology start their careers as lab assistants.
Organisms do not exist in isolation. Microbiologists working in the field of environmental studies study the mutual existence of microbes and other organisms that share their environment. Microbiologists observe and interpret the interaction of micro-organisms among themselves (life cycle and genetics) and with external factors like pollution, temperature, and humidity.
Agriculture and food industry
Microbiologists are becoming increasingly crucial with the growth of food production, packaging and export industries. Microbiologists ensure that commodities sold to the public are free of pathogens and harmful substances. Food industry microbiologists are also responsible for providing scientific backing to regulations and safety protocols in the food and agriculture industry. Fields in microbiology that show potential for intensive research include:
Food and dairy microbiology
Biofuels and bioenergy production
Microbial management of organic wastes
Teaching is a brilliant career path for microbiologists who prefer continued academic engagement. In an academic environment, you can pursue your research simultaneously while sharing knowledge and training students. Universities offer a highly conducive work environment and good laboratory facilities in exchange for lectureships. An added bonus for academics in this field is the availability of new ideas and young minds to engage with.
Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate’s experience, academic background, and location
Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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