What is a microbiologist?
A microbiologist’s main role is to study the microorganisms that cause infections, to understand how they work and how they can be used to enhance the quality of human life. They aim to identify how to control, prevent and diagnose diseases by studying the biology of microbes, and can use this information for a range of purposes.
The exact tasks of a microbiologist will vary depending on the area of microbiology in which they work, but as a general rule they will:
- Plan and perform complex routine and non-routine procedures and methods on microorganisms.
- Track microbes in a range of environments.
- Develop new investigation techniques to assess samples from a range of sources.
- Collect samples from different environments.
- Use the findings of tests to help develop new treatments for diseases and pharmaceutical products – such as medicines and vitamins.
- Report, evaluate and approve analytical data from investigations.
Types of employers
Microbiologists can work across several different areas of life sciences, including medicine, healthcare, food safety and environmental. This means that they are highly sought after within a range of different types of companies and organisations. Typical employers that you could look for jobs with include:
- Pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical companies
- Hospitals and university research departments
- Food manufacturers and food safety organisations
- Waste management companies
- Contract testing companies
- Environmental organisations
- Water companies
- FMCG companies
To find out who’s hiring right now, search microbiology jobs here.
Qualifications and experience required
An undergraduate degree is essential to become a microbiologist. Some of the relevant subjects that employers usually look for are microbiology, biology, microbial science, biomedical science or molecular biology.
Whilst a postgraduate qualification such as a master’s degree of PhD is not normally needed for most roles, some employes such as universities will require one – especially if you are aiming to become a university lecturer or researcher. On the other hand, in order to gain employment within the NHS as a clinical microbiologist, you will need to complete the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) which involves attaining a master’s qualification over three years.
In terms of experience, it is highly beneficial to have prior laboratory work under your belt when applying for jobs, to show both your interest within the industry and your competence with the important skills. This can be gained through a placement year during university or through a summer research project within a large organisation. Some companies offer training schemes and grants to help students and graduates get into the industry.
It is also important to hold membership to a relevant society or professional body, which will help you gain valuable network connections within the industry as well as help you stay informed on career development opportunities.
How to become a microbiologist
The skills necessary to become a microbiologist include:
- Attention to detail and a high level of accuracy
- Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal
- Self-motivated and able to work under your own initiative when necessary
- The ability to work well within a team environment as well as act as a leader
- Organisational, planning and problem-solving skills
- Good working knowledge of analytical techniques, and technical skills
The type of company you are aiming to work for will determine which specific technical skills are required of you. For example, if your role is focused on producing pharmaceutical products for the treatment of human healthcare conditions, you will need to be familiar with concepts such as endotoxin, sterility and identification lab support. On the other hand, if you are working as QC microbiologist, you will likely need a good working knowledge of systems such as Empower and LIMS.
Within an interview, you are likely to be asked questions that explore your knowledge of different laboratory techniques and ability to solve problems through the investigation of microbes. An employer may want to know about your familiarity with different types of microorganisms and the importance of each. They might also want to know about a time you have worked independently or within a team successfully.
There are a variety of ways to search for microbiologist jobs, depending on the type of company you are aiming to work for. University and hospital websites are a great place to start if a medical route is the one for you, or scientific publications such as New Scientist Jobs. You may also find opportunities listed on professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. Specialist recruitment agencies, such as CK Science, are another effective way to search for and land jobs, as they are able to offer tailored support and advice.
Download CV and cover letter templates here.
Starting salaries for microbiologists can vary massively depending on the type of organisation. Those working with hospitals for the NHS will begin working their way up through the pay bands, beginning at around £30,000 per annum. On the other hand, private pharmaceutical companies may pay around £17,500 – £20,000 to graduates just beginning their career.
In some areas, it is possible to progress into managerial positions with more responsibility and leadership over other team members. Working in research would mean being able to specialise in a niche area – such as virology or bacteriology – and bring your skills to make a real difference in other areas of a business.
You could also move into marketing or teaching at university level with extra qualifications.
- Research Assistant – an entry-level role that requires individuals to help plan and conduct experiments alongside scientists, collect and log data and produce findings for researchers to present reports. Read the full job profile here.
- Laboratory Technician – primary role is to support complex scientific investigations by carrying out routine laboratory-based technical tasks and experiments, such as sampling, testing and recording results. Read the full job profile here.
- Biotechnologist – uses techniques of molecular biology to understand and manipulate the genetic, chemical and physical components of living organisms in order to design products and processes that enhance the quality of human life. Read the full job profile here.