Microbiologists: Salary, career path, job outlook, education and more

Education Required
Microbiologists need at least a bachelor’s degree in microbiology or a closely related program that offers substantial coursework in microbiology, such as biochemistry or cell biology. Many colleges and universities offer degree programs in biological sciences, including microbiology.
Training Required
Many microbiology Ph.D. holders begin their careers in temporary postdoctoral research positions. During their postdoctoral appointment, they work with experienced scientists as they continue to learn about their specialties and develop a broader understanding of related areas of research.
Job Outlook
The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026: 8% (As fast as average)
(The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.)
Microbiologists typically receive greater responsibility and independence in their work as they gain experience. They also gain greater responsibility through certification and higher education. Ph.D. microbiologists usually lead research teams and control the direction and content of projects.
Certifications are not mandatory for the majority of work done by microbiologists. However, certifications are available for clinical microbiologists and for those who specialize in the fields of food safety and quality and pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Certification may help workers gain employment in the occupation or advance to new positions of responsibility.
Median pay: How much do Microbiologists make?
$66,850 Annual Salary
$32.14 per hour

Microbiologists study microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites. They try to understand how these organisms live, grow, and interact with their environments.

What do Microbiologists do?

Microbiologists typically do the following:

  • Plan and conduct complex research projects, such as improving sterilization procedures or developing new drugs to combat infectious diseases
  • Perform laboratory experiments that are used in the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses
  • Supervise the work of biological technicians and other workers and evaluate the accuracy of their results
  • Isolate and maintain cultures of bacteria or other microorganisms for study
  • Identify and classify microorganisms found in specimens collected from humans, plants, animals, or the environment
  • Monitor the effect of microorganisms on plants, animals, other microorganisms, or the environment
  • Review literature and the findings of other researchers and attend conferences
  • Prepare technical reports, publish research papers, and make recommendations based on their research findings
  • Present research findings to scientists, nonscientist executives, engineers, other colleagues, and the public

Many microbiologists work in research and development conducting basic research or applied research. The aim of basic research is to increase scientific knowledge. An example is growing strains of bacteria in various conditions to learn how they react to those conditions. Other microbiologists conduct applied research and develop new products to solve particular problems. For example, microbiologists may aid in the development of genetically engineered crops, better biofuels, or new vaccines.

Microbiologists use computers and a wide variety of sophisticated laboratory instruments to do their experiments. Electron microscopes are used to study bacteria, and advanced computer software is used to analyze the growth of microorganisms found in samples.

It is increasingly common for microbiologists to work on teams with technicians and scientists in other fields, because many scientific research projects involve multiple disciplines. Microbiologists may work with medical scientists or molecular biologists while researching new drugs, or they may work in medical diagnostic laboratories alongside physicians and nurses to help prevent, treat, and cure diseases.

The following are examples of types of microbiologists:

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