Most students interested in microbiology complete a bachelor's degree program in order to prepare for entry-level research positions or as a step towards medical school or other graduate-level study. Earning a master's degree or doctorate in microbiology can prepare students for advanced research, management or teaching positions. In addition to classroom lectures and laboratory work, higher-level programs might feature thesis, research project or dissertation requirements.
Bachelor of Science in Microbiology
Microbiologists study microscopic organisms like bacteria, plankton and viruses. They analyze their molecular and cellular structures. The degree program demands attention to detail, excellent communication skills and the ability to work as a team or independently. Most colleges and universities offering these programs require applicants to have a high school diploma or GED.
Coursework for microbiology degree programs emphasizes science and mathematics courses. Students split their time between lectures, conferences and laboratory work. Some course titles may include:
- Microbe physiology
- Organic chemistry
- Statistical analysis
Master of Science in Microbiology
Students that wish to pursue their own research interests or qualify for higher-level management positions in scientific research might want to pursue a Master of Science in Microbiology. A master's degree program features more specialized classes in the field of microbiology and allows students to focus their research on a specific area, like genomic expressions, cellular structure or viral replication. Most programs require students to complete a research-based thesis.
Applicants to a master's degree program in microbiology must have completed a bachelor's degree program in a related subject, such as biology, biochemistry or zoology. Many programs encourage students to have prior research experience as either a volunteer or as an employee. Most schools require applicants to a master's degree program to submit scores from the GRE.
A master's degree program in microbiology emphasizes independent research and hands-on study. Common coursework could include:
- Genomics of microbes
- Microbiology of pathogens
- Advanced cellular structure
- Advanced microecology
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Ph.D. in Microbiology
Doctoral degree candidates in microbiology pursue advanced research on topics like cellular structure or bacterial pathogenesis. Programs require Ph.D. candidates to be highly knowledgeable and demonstrate competence in several areas of microbiology. Candidates are also expected to contribute to the field by publishing research papers, attending seminars and teaching classes.
Students applying for a Ph.D. in microbiology must have completed at least a bachelor's degree in a related scientific field and pass an exam demonstrating their competence in the field. Additionally, most programs require that students have maintained a minimum GPA and have taken the GRE prior to acceptance.
Students in a Ph.D. program in microbiology usually complete a master's degree while working towards the Ph.D. and, as a result, complete much of the same core coursework. Doctoral candidates conclude their studies, however, with a large research project and dissertation. Courses could include:
- Microbiology of marine microorganisms
- Microbiology laboratory methods
- Advanced genetics
- Applied bioinformatics
Popular Career Options
Graduates of a master's degree program in microbiology can pursue several higher-level jobs in research, publishing, consulting and teaching. Several possible job titles include:
- Microbiology laboratory supervisor
- Senior research associate
- Community college instructor of microbiology
- Immunologist consultant
Graduates of a Ph.D. program in microbiology are qualified for advanced research positions, professorships in universities and management positions. Some possible job titles include:
- Professor of microbiology
- Director of clinical research
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Students graduating with a bachelor's degree in microbiology are qualified for entry-level research and lab technician positions in corporate or government-funded research. In some states, graduates are qualified to teach science or biology at the high school level. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for microbiologists were expected to increase by 4% between the years 2014 and 2024. The BLS also reported that as of 2015, microbiologists earned a median annual wage of $67,550.
In a bachelor's degree program in microbiology, students receive an introduction to the field alongside more general studies in related topics. Master's and doctoral programs include more advanced, biology-focused coursework and intensive research requirements, which prepare students for higher-level careers in the field.