Become a Molecular Microbiologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Mar 05, 2020

Research the requirements to become a molecular microbiologist. Learn about the job description and read the step-by-step process to start a career in molecular microbiology.

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  • 0:03 Molecular Microbiologist
  • 1:00 Career Requirements
  • 1:54 Step 1: Earn a…
  • 3:15 Step 2: Begin Working…
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Molecular Microbiologist

So, you think you might like to become a molecular microbiologist? A microbiologist studies the different characteristics of microscopic organisms to identify aspects such as growth and development. A molecular microbiologist studies the small parts that make up these organisms to identify how microorganisms, such as parasites, bacteria, and viruses, interact with their hosts. Molecular microbiologists are often on the front lines of the battles against the spread of infectious diseases like tuberculosis, HIV, and malaria. Molecular biologists are responsible for planning projects, monitoring treatments, and preparing reports about test findings.

Working with infectious organisms to learn more about diseases can potentially be a very rewarding experience when progress in treating these illnesses is made. However, if laboratory protocols are not followed, handling these organisms can be hazardous.

Career Requirements

So what are the career requirements? Starting with the right education is important.

Degree Level Employers look for someone with at least a bachelor's degree; a doctorate is required to work academia and some research positions
Degree Field Microbiology or a related field
Certification Certification is not required, but is available through professional organizations such as the American Society for Microbiology
Experience Laboratory experience is required. Training is typically provided during school. A record of having published several works may be required to begin a career in research.
Key Skills Analytical, critical-thinking, communication, observation, perseverance, and problem-solving skills; monitoring, writing, and information-ordering skills; ability to use query, database, interface-user, scientific, and medical software programs; ability to use air samplers, sterilizers, infrared spectrometers, and lab staining dishes; knowledge of mathematics, biology, chemistry, dentistry, and medicine
Salary $71,650 (Median salary for all microbiologists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online, American Society for Microbiology

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Prospective molecular microbiologists can earn a bachelor's degree in microbiology or molecular and cellular biology. Students in microbiology programs learn about small life forms and plant biotechnology, while students in molecular and cellular biology programs learn about cells and molecules, both of which are considered the building blocks of life. Instruction in these programs is delivered through labs and lectures. Classes may cover topics such as evolution, anatomy, virology, genetics, and neurobiology.

Here are some tips for success:

  • Complete a research-focused internship. Undergraduate students may elect to complete an internship during their studies. Sometimes, these internships focus on research, thereby allowing aspiring molecular microbiologists to learn about this aspect of the career. Possessing this experience could impress employers.
  • Complete a senior project. Conducting research for a senior project provides students with experience developing and conducting a research project. Engaging in research projects is a common component of many molecular microbiologist job duties. Being familiar with the process of designing and executing a research plan may not only impress employers, but could also prepare students for graduate study.

Step 2: Begin Working in the Field

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a bachelor's degree prepares individuals to work as a molecular microbiologist. These scientists may monitor the effect of microorganisms on plants, conduct research projects, isolate cultures for study, and write technical reports.

Here's a tip for success:

  • Become certified. The American College of Microbiology offers the Registered Microbiologist and Specialist Microbiologist certifications to bachelor's degree holders. Eligibility for the Registered Microbiologist certification requires having 1-3 years of work experience, while eligibility for the Specialist Microbiologist certification requires 7-10 years of work of experience. Individuals must pass an exam to earn either certification.

Step 3: Consider Earning a Ph.D.

Research positions with a high degree of autonomy are usually only available to doctoral degree holders. Earning a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), therefore, may make an individual eligible to advance in their careers. These programs typically last 5-6 years and include writing a dissertation and completing a 1-year residency.

Earning a bachelor's degree, beginning to work in the field, and considering a doctorate are great steps to follow to make the most of a career as a microbiologist.

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