Become a Bacteriologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Mar 05, 2020

Research the requirements to become a bacteriologist. Learn about the job description and see the step-by-step process to start a career in bacteriology.

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Bacteriologist Career Info

Bacteriologists analyze, identify, and experiment on bacteria in the air, water, and earth. They collect samples, perform tests, and record data using a variety of tools and software. Collecting outdoor samples means they may have to deal with unpleasant weather conditions, but most of their work is done in a laboratory during regular business hours. Some bacteriologists are dependent on grant money to support their research, which can add pressure to the job.

Degree Level Bachelor's degree minimum; graduate degree may be required
Degree Field Microbiology, mycology, bacteriology, or closely related field such as cell biology or biochemistry
Certification Voluntary; offered by the National Registry of Certified Microbiologists (NRCM)
Key Skills Strong attention to detail, ability to work under a deadline, critical-thinking skills, writing and speaking skills, and experience with Microbial ID (MIDI) systems, microbial methods, and regulations
Salary $71,650 (Median annual pay for all microbiologists in 2018)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American College of Microbiology

Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Aspiring bacteriologists should first complete a bachelor's degree. A four-year degree program in microbiology covers a wide range of microbes, such as bacteria, viruses, archaea, and fungi. These courses teach students how to prepare and perform lab experiments. A bachelor's degree in bacteriology or mycology is often accepted as a suitable degree for bacteriologist positions. Degrees in other related fields, such as cell biology or biochemistry may also be acceptable.

Taking additional courses in math and science can prepare students for data analysis and other job duties related to this career field. Hands-on laboratory experience is also among the most common skills that employers look for in graduates. Many schools offer additional lab courses, internships, and research training programs that can provide valuable experience.

Gain Work Experience

Many entry-level bacteriology jobs require a bachelor's degree and a minimum of two years' laboratory experience that can be gained while earning a degree. Graduates of a four-year program can work as lab analysts identifying and testing samples, recording results, and performing clerical duties. Candidates usually work under the supervision of a senior analyst. Higher level jobs are available to more experienced bacteriologists, and higher education can help open up more career opportunities.

Get Certified

Earning certification can show a bacteriologist's competency in the field and help with career advancement. The National Registry of Certified Microbiologists (NRCM) offers two certification levels for graduates of a bachelor's degree program in the microbiology field. The Registered Microbiologist (RM) exam requires applicants to have completed at least one year of relevant job experience or lab experience gained through college. The Specialized Microbiologist (SM) exam requires a bachelor's degree and at least seven years of work experience in the field. Both levels have additional eligibility requirements.

Earn a Master's Degree

A master's degree program in bacteriology provides students with advanced microbiology knowledge with a specialized focus. Some specializations offered include bacterial physiology, biotechnology, and environmental microbiology. Some schools offer research-based programs that provide valuable laboratory experience, which is important for continuing education. Admission requirements often include a bachelor's degree in a related field and a 3.00 GPA.

Earn a Ph.D.

A Ph.D. program in microbiology or bacteriology can help prepare graduates for a career in academics or research. They'll possess the advanced skills needed to work independently and teach. Most of the coursework is focused in research, writing, and presentations. These programs aren't necessary for employment as a bacteriologist, but this level of education can open up a wide range of career options and help distinguish graduates in the job market. Typical requirements include a bachelor's degree and acceptable Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores.

To quickly recap, an aspiring bacteriologist should complete at least a bachelor's degree and two years' worth of lab experience before seeking a position in the workforce. Earning a master's or doctoral degree can open even more professional doors in this field.

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