Become a Mycologist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a mycologist. Research the education and career requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in mycology.

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Should I Become a Mycologist?

Mycologists study all forms of fungus and determine how fungal organisms affect humans and other organic entities. They work in medical, agricultural, industrial, or academic settings. Mycologists spend most of their time in laboratories, though some must do fieldwork to collect samples from lakes and streams. Generally, these professionals keep regular hours. Although they must earn an advanced education in order to run their own labs, mycologists tend to earn higher-than-average salaries, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

People must have a bachelor's degree in biology and microbiology research experience. Many also possess a Ph.D. in a mycological specialty.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; higher-level positions usually require a Ph.D.
Degree Fields Microbiology or a closely related field.
Experience Several years of experience in biological research.
Key Skills Strong analytical and problem-solving skills, ability to work within a team, excellent written and oral communication, familiarity with data analysis software, and advanced mathematical skills.
Salary (2014) $67,790 per year (Median salary for all microbiologists).

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program

Prospective mycologists pursue a degree in microbiology or another field in the biological sciences. These majors build a solid foundation in physics, chemistry, biochemistry, mathematics, and other natural sciences. Some undergraduate biology and microbiology programs offer electives in mycology, which cover the natural and industrial roles of different types of fungus and involve laboratory work. Additional coursework includes medicine, forestry, and plant pathology.

Success Tip:

  • Gain practical experience. Students prepare to enter the field by completing an internship or research project in mycology, microbiology, or a related area. Internships allow students to get hands-on laboratory experience and improve research skills for future positions.

Step 2: Acquire Work Experience

After earning a bachelor's degree, graduates work as laboratory technicians or assistants with research organizations, hospitals, universities, or businesses. Duties include preparing and analyzing samples for fungi and other bacteria. Lab technicians also record analytical data and review work completed by other lab professionals.

Step 3: Earn a Doctorate in Mycology for Advancement

Mycologists looking to work as independent researchers or postsecondary teachers need a Ph.D. Mycology programs are available at this level and combined with forest pathology or other scientific areas, or Ph.D. students need to study mycology through a broader program, such as microbiology and immunology programs. Most doctorate programs allow students to customize an academic program around a specific research topic resulting in a thesis or dissertation. Students also have to participate in core lectures, courses, and seminars.

Success Tips:

  • Get published. The BLS reports aspiring researchers or teachers need to be able to show proof of published materials in order to secure a position with a university. Students look for opportunities to publish their research while completing a Ph.D. program.
  • Improve communication skills. Since these professionals have to present or explain their research, aspiring mycologists seek out opportunities to practice public speaking. Some schools offer research groups that meet periodically and allow students to present their findings on recent or ongoing research projects.
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