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Microbiology Graduate Programs: Degree Overviews

Students looking for a graduate degree in microbiology can enroll in either a master's or doctoral degree program. These programs teach students how to research the behavior of bacteria and small multicellular life forms.

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Essential Information

Students pursuing a master's in microbiology explore the functions of genetics, metabolism, and cell reproduction, and research how the physical structure of micro-organisms affects their relationship with other life forms through lectures and lab sessions. Students must also complete a final major project thesis. These programs can be completed in two years, and a bachelor's degree is required for admission.

Students who are accepted as Ph.D. candidates learn how to investigate biochemical and genetic reactions in microorganisms. Doctoral students may also help teach undergraduate classes. Ph.D. coursework can be completed in a year, but the length of the required research project means time spent earning a degree can vary. While careers are available for microbiologists with a bachelor's or master's degree, independent microbiology research usually requires a Ph.D.


Master of Science in Microbiology

Students usually earn their master's degree in microbiology to pursue additional study in a doctorate program or enter the workforce as a biological scientist. Available concentrations vary by school, but they generally include those in immunology and virology. All students learn about basic research techniques, delivering presentations, and laboratory procedures. Students pursuing a concentration in immunology focus their study on microorganisms in the human body.

Microbiology graduate programs usually have teaching, seminar and laboratory rotation requirements. Students usually complete foundational coursework that deals with genetics, the structure of microorganisms, viruses, bacteria and fungi before conducting research or laboratory work. Other coursework may deal with scientific and research ethics, biotechnology, and electronic imaging. Microbiology coursework may also cover:

  • Pathology
  • Immunology
  • Soil characteristics
  • Microbiology grant writing
  • Fermentation processes
  • Genetic regulation

Doctor of Philosophy in Microbiology

Typically, students must earn their Master of Science in Microbiology or a graduate degree in a related field before applying to a Ph.D. program. Depending on the school, some students may also need to have research experience before working toward their doctorate. Most students earn their Ph.D. to lead microbiology research projects.

This research may focus on how genetic information on the cellular level can be interpreted or altered. Students also acquire the written communication, teaching and presentation skills required for university-level instruction and medical research.

Students usually complete most of their coursework during the first year of a doctoral study. Coursework may focus on different biochemical or genetic reactions that cause disease, inflammation or cellular deformities. Other microbiology courses can include:

  • Viral biochemistry
  • Bioinformatics
  • Statistics

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), biological scientists earned a median income of $75,110 in 2015, and those working in scientific research had a mean income of $82,540 during the same year.

BLS research also indicates that the number of medical scientist positions should increase by 8% between 2014 and 2024, and that median earnings in the field were $82,240 during 2015. Most of this demand will be the result of new research, which leads to additional scientific questions and medical applications.

Continuing Education Information

The BLS reports that most positions as medical scientists require a doctorate. After earning a Ph.D. in microbiology or a doctorate in another biological science field, students may also have to complete medical school to work in some positions. Microbiologists need medical licensure and training to perform genetic, invasive and other procedures on patients.

Careers focused on, or related to, microbiology usually require a graduate degree. Individuals who are interested in biological research and medical advances can earn a master's degree in microbiology, and may decide to pursue a Ph.D., to enter the industry.

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