Career As a Microbiologist

by Beth Greenwood
Microbiologists often work with potentially dangerous organisms.

Microbiologists often work with potentially dangerous organisms.

Microbiologists study organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae and protozoa. Most of these organisms are single-celled and can only be seen with a microscope. Microbiologists, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, may be technicians with a bachelor’s degree or independent researchers and supervisors who have doctorates in their fields. The average salary of a microbiologist in 2011 was $71,720, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Study of Disease

Some microbiologists are physicians, while others who are not physicians work with medical teams to study diseases. Parasites, for example, cause a number of diseases such as malaria or Colorado tick fever. The microbiologist might study how the parasite breeds or whether the disease it carries can be directly transmitted to a human. If the infection has a vector -- an intermediate host in which the organism lives until it can infect a human -- the microbiologist might also study the host to determine whether controlling the host will decrease infections. Malaria and influenza are examples of diseases that have intermediate hosts.

Work Settings

Microbiologists don’t work only in laboratories. The CDC reports they may also work in the field, studying conditions surrounding disease outbreaks, such as avian flu outbreaks in Vietnam during 2006. Others may conduct research in natural settings to study transmission of diseases such as HIV, influenza and other viruses from animals or birds to humans. Microbiologists may work in countries that have ongoing epidemics, such as the countries in Africa with many people with AIDS. Some microbiologists also work in regulatory areas. They may help to develop regulations surrounding the use or transport of dangerous substances.

Organizations and Job Titles

Most microbiologists work in research, but many also work in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, according to the BLS. They may also work for the federal government, educational institutions or state governments. Some of the job titles that may require a microbiology degree include laboratory research analyst, lab technician, research technician, clinical microbiologist or clinical trials manager, according to North Carolina State University. These positions might occur in a medical research laboratory, private industry, hospitals or contract research organizations. NCSU notes that medical research scientists and professors usually need advanced degrees, such as doctorates.


Microbiologists may specialize in a particular area or even in a particular disease such as AIDS. Bacteriologists specialize in the study of bacterial growth, development and the effects bacteria have on animals, plants and humans. Clinical microbiologists focus on those organisms that can cause, cure or be used to treat human diseases. Immunologists study how organisms’ immune systems react to bacteria, viruses or parasites, as well as how the immune system defends against infections. Mycologists study yeasts and molds, while virologists study viruses.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

Photo Credits

  • Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images