Microbial life exists virtually everywhere, from the highest levels of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans. Microbiologists study this diversity of microbial life, trying to identify new microbes and tease out the relationships between microbes and their human and animal hosts. They are employed in a variety of sectors, with job objectives including research and development, teaching and academic research, product development, quality control, and policy and regulation.
Research and Development
Microbiologists employed in private industry R&D jobs nearly all have doctorates and they pursue research in a variety of fields. Typical research areas for private sector R&D microbiologists include product development in food microbiology and industrial microbiology, such as development of antimicrobial compounds, enzymes, vitamins, water purification and treatment technologies and methods for bioremediation.
Teaching and Academic Research
Those who choose careers in academia also usually complete their schooling to earn a doctorate. Besides their teaching and student advising responsibilities, academic microbiologists also typically conduct life-science research. Academic microbiologists are more likely to be involved in "pure science" research in areas such as taxonomy, genomics, proteomics, anaerobic microbiology, microbial evolution, bacterial genetics, virology and biodiversity.
Many microbiologists are employed in quality control roles in the agricultural, food processing, food service and health care industries. Some work as researchers, but most are employed in quality-control inspection capacities. The job objectives of a food safety or health care facility safety specialist are to observe, monitor and identify potentially dangerous microorganisms, track microorganisms across a range of environments, and monitor samples from a variety of sources. A bachelor's degree in microbiology is sufficient for most entry-level food or health care facility inspection positions, but more senior or management positions often require a master's degree.
Policy and Regulation
Some microbiologists work as policy or regulatory consultants. Most food or health safety consultants have at least one graduate degree, and many have earned a master's in public health. Some, especially consultants on the federal level, have also earned a doctorate. Specific responsibilities include providing information and advice to clients and government officials, giving public testimony and undertaking policy research.
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