Microbiology is the study of bacteria, fungi, protists and viruses. Students seeking an online program related to microbiology have options at both the bachelor's and master's degree levels. Undergraduate programs are typically found as degree-completion programs for students who have already completed a number of biology courses. These programs can be completed in about two years and may have some on-campus lab requirements. These programs usually require an associate's degree and are uncommon, but available. The graduate programs are designed for current biology professionals who wish to expand their education. These 2-year programs can be completed entirely online.
Bachelor's Degree in Biology or Microbiology and Cell Science
A limited number of schools offer online degree-completion programs in biology or microbiology. The programs are designed for students who have already earned an associate degree, or equivalent credits, and culminate in a Bachelor of Arts in Biology or a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology and Cell Science. While much of the coursework can be completed online, these programs may require labs that must be completed either on campus or other approved locations. Although rare, a 15-credit minor in microbiology is also available from some schools that includes courses in general, advanced and applied microbiology, forensic biology and human health.
Students enrolled in a degree-completion program usually take an additional 60 credits of upper-level coursework beyond their associate degree, which may include a capstone project. Online students in bachelor's degree programs can view live audio and video presentations, and communication with professors and teaching assistants takes place through chat rooms or by telephone. Lab courses must be completed on campus, though a school may offer several optional locations or an accelerated residency option for online students.
An online bachelor's program in biology or microbiology often includes basic courses in the biology and genetics of microorganisms. The curriculum may also allow for electives in medical terminology, soil microbes or waterborne pathogens. A sampling of required or optional courses can be found below.
Bacterial and Viral Pathogens
Students learn about the host-parasite relationships found in animals and humans, especially those associated with diseases. Content emphasis is on the unique properties of bacterial and viral pathogens, as well as how they can be identified and isolated.
This course provides students with an introduction to the types of microorganisms found in our environment and addresses issues related to abundance, distribution and occurrence. Students also learn how microbes interact with the environment and study applied environmental microbiology.
Genetics of Microorganisms
This is a molecular biology course that helps students understand the finer points of bacterial genetics. Topics include DNA mechanisms and replication, genetic mapping and mutation.
Prokaryotic Cell Structure and Function
Students analyze the physiology and structure of bacterial cells, including cell walls, flagella and membranes. Content emphasis is on cell division and growth.
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Master's Degree in Biology
A few schools offer online Master of Science programs in biology that include courses in microbiology and related areas. These fully online programs are typically designed for current middle and high school teachers, research professionals or scientists who have already completed a biology education program. At this level, students can study advanced-level topics in evolutionary or molecular biology, biostatistics, genetics or plant biology.
Graduate admission requirements typically include completion of an undergraduate program or coursework in biology. Individual schools may also require a statement of purpose and letters of recommendation. In general, an online Master of Science can take 30-36 credits to complete and may include a capstone experience. Lectures are viewed online or through video on demand; assignments and exams are also received and submitted electronically.
Graduate topics in microbiology are similar to those found at the undergraduate level. Some programs may also provide opportunities for directed readings. Courses unique to a graduate biology curriculum are highlighted below.
Advanced Cell Biology
In this holistic approach to the topic, students learn about the cellular and sub-cellular functions and structures of eukaryotic cells, such as protozoa. They also learn how different cellular processes work together to maintain the cell.
Biology of Size
Through lectures and readings, students find out why size is important to organisms, even bacteria. In this course, they'll learn about the relationship between scientific laws and size, including those associated with diffusion, heat transfer, locomotion and structural strength.
Evolution of Epidemics
This course is designed to provide students with an understanding of how plagues originate, evolve and spread. They will also learn how we can defend ourselves against epidemics and how plagues can influence the future.
In this 2-part course, students learn about cellular pedigrees, including those of archaea, bacteria and eukarya. The beginning of the course covers the classification and properties of microorganisms, after which students learn how the organisms were classified and discuss current gaps in scientific knowledge and research as they relate to microbiology.
Completion of a bachelor's degree program in microbiology or a related field of study is the minimum educational requirement for obtaining an entry-level position in the field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a 4% increase in employment opportunities for microbiologists from 2014 to 2024, which is slower than average when compared to all other occupations (www.bls.gov). In May 2015, microbiologists earned a median annual wage of $67,550.
At the undergraduate level, online degree programs in microbiology are usually developed for those that have earned an associate degree or equivalent credits in biology and have on-campus lab requirements. The master's degree in microbiology, aimed at individuals with bachelor's degrees in the field, can be earned completely online.