Become a Microbiology Research Associate: Career Guide

Aug 22, 2018

Research the requirements to become a microbiology research associate. Learn about the job description and duties, and explore the step-by-step process to start a career in microbiology.

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Microbiology Research Associate

Microbiology research associates plan and conduct studies on microscopic organisms, such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi, often under the supervision of microbiologists. Some of their job duties include classifying microorganisms, developing new drugs, and analyzing data.

Research associates usually work full-time and complete their research during regularly scheduled shifts. Their work hours are split between office and laboratory settings. Because they often work with dangerous bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms, they must be careful to wear protective clothing and gear while working in the lab. Some microbiology research associates have the opportunity to work in the field, collecting new samples to study.

Microbiology research associates need analytical, mathematical, and writing skills, as well as attention to detail. They must have knowledge of scientific, medical, query, and spreadsheet software and be able to operate a variety of specialized equipment, such as air samplers and autoclaves. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that biological technicians in general earned a mean annual salary of $45,230 as of May 2015.

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; an advanced degree may be necessary for professional advancement
Degree Field Microbiology or a related field
Experience Laboratory experience required for most positions, available through undergraduate study or internships
Key Skills Analytical, mathematical, and writing skills; attention to detail; knowledge of scientific, medical, query, and spreadsheet software; able to operate a variety of specialized equipment, such as air samplers and autoclaves
Salary (2015) $45,230 per year (mean for all biological technicians)

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

Let's explore the steps it takes to become a microbiology research associate.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Aspiring microbiology research associates must earn a bachelor's degree in microbiology or a related field. They need a solid foundation in the sciences, as well as instruction in mathematics and computer science. Microbiology majors take courses such as microbial genetics, virology, biochemistry, and physics. Many of these courses include a laboratory component, which is essential for prospective microbiology research associates. Undergraduate students also can gain lab experience through internships.

Step 2: Consider Advanced Degree Options

Many microbiology research associate jobs require only a bachelor's degree. However, some employers look favorably upon or even require that job applicants have a master's degree in the field. These graduate programs can be found both on campus and online, and some can be completed on a part-time basis. Master's students in microbiology might complete classes like prokaryotic biology, advanced molecular diagnostics, and modern methods in molecular biology, as well as research classes focusing on biostatistics and epidemiology. Depending on the program, students might take part in seminars, research forums, or clerkships, and they might be required to complete a thesis.

Step 3: Consider Voluntary Certification

Once a microbiology research associate has gained some professional experience, he or she might opt to pursue voluntary certification. This can help the associate stand out to current and prospective employers, potentially leading to more and better job options and higher pay. Microbiology research associates can seek certification as a microbiology technologist through American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). There are several routes for eligibility, but in general, applicants need a bachelor's or master's degree from a regionally accredited college or university in combination with specific amounts and types of clinical lab experience. In addition to meeting these requirements, applicants must pass an exam to earn the Microbiology, M(ASCP) credential.

In summary, to become a microbiology research associate, you need a minimum of a bachelor's degree in microbiology or a related field. A master's degree and voluntary certification could lead to better job prospects and a higher salary.

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