How to Become a Microscopist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a microscopist. Research the education requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career in microscopy. View article »

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  • 0:55 Career Requirements
  • 1:40 Steps to Become a Microscopist

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Microscopist?

Microscopists study a variety of objects and materials that are too small to be seen by the human eye. They use microscopes to determine the makeup and characteristics of materials, usually in a laboratory setting. Microscopists may be employed as biochemists or biophysicists; common employers include research and development departments of engineering, life and physical sciences organizations and companies, as well as colleges, universities, and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

This job usually requires a combination of office and lab work. Lab work can present health hazards, depending on what kind of research microscopists are conducting, so appropriate precautions must be taken. Competition for jobs can be fierce, and many research projects that employ microscopists rely on grant funding.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Ph.D. preferred by most employers
Degree Field Chemistry, biology, or materials science
Experience Hands-on lab experience gained during training; internships a plus
Key Skills Excellent organization and time management skills, good verbal and writing skills, ability to work independently or with a team, ability to work in a fast-paced environment and multi-task', familiarity with laboratory and analytical software, spreadsheets, and database management software; ability to use coplin jars, microscopic slide staining dishes, microscopes, and microbiology analyzers
Median Salary (2015)* $82,150 yearly (for biochemists and biophysicists)

Sources: January 2013 job postings, O*Net OnLine, *U.S. Department of Labor Statistics

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Steps to Become a Microscopist

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree program in biology, chemistry, or material sciences is the starting point for a career as a microscopist. Such programs provide instruction in laboratory settings that can teach students how to properly use microscopes to analyze materials or objects. Students can choose which field to focus their career in and select a program that suits their needs. Biology studies focus mostly on living organisms, chemistry studies are centered on the properties of matter, and material science studies deals with the properties of metals, ceramics, plastics, biomaterials, and more.

Step 2: Earn a Graduate Degree

Students may complete a master's degree program in their chosen field to continue their education. Some schools offer students the choice of a thesis-based or exam-based program. A thesis-based program requires more research and the completion of a written thesis, while exam-based programs focus on coursework. Some programs include providing teaching assistance as part of the curriculum.

Alternatively, many schools allow students to enroll directly into a Ph.D. program with only a bachelor's degree, and students can earn a master's degree on their way to completing the Ph.D. program. A Ph.D. program in biology, chemistry, or material sciences is usually required for a career as a microscopist. These programs generally require students to perform research projects on varying topics, complete advanced coursework, write dissertations, and pass comprehensive examinations.

You may want to serve as an intern. An internship program can provide an aspiring microscopist with the practical training necessary for this hands-on career. Some labs and companies offer internships specifically in microscopy, and employers may favor applicants with such experience.

Step 3: Obtain Employment

Microscopist positions are available in a variety of technology and health research fields. Entry-level positions can help microscopists gain hands-on experience in the basic functions of this career, like data entry and review, sample preparation and analysis, and client assistance.

Step 4: Pursue Career Advancement Opportunities

At least five years of lab experience is commonly required for microscopists to advance and take on tasks like leading investigations, reporting and recording data, performing microscope operation and maintenance, developing microscopy techniques, and supervising or training employees.

Microscopists study objects and materials that are too small to be seen by the human eye. They have advanced degrees, along with expertise in using pertinent software and laboratory tools, and they earn a median annual salary of $82,150.

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